It's Not All White

The era of pretending that Mexicans/Central Americans are white is long over

By Patrisia Gonzalez & Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: September 13, 2002

It's Not All White

For years, headlines have warned us of the "browning of America." Not so, says a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. It posits that the United States is in no such danger because Latinos are increasingly viewing themselves as "white." We can now exhale.

It's reminiscent of an observation from Jack Forbes' landmark 1973 book, "Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan." He wrote: "Throughout the Americas, a strange phenomenon exists. Almost every country in the hemisphere is doing away with Indians, either by genocide or by legislation or custom."

In the Americas, being Indian is a condition of extreme poverty and marginalization. As such, if they learn Spanish, become urbanized workers or professionals, according to government, they cease being Indian, guaranteeing that "Indians" can only be poor.

The Times article promotes the historical fiction that the U.S. Census Bureau has been perpetuating regarding people of Mexican, Central and South American origin. In "Aztecas," Forbes writes: "The Aztecas del Norte (an Azteca is a person of Aztlan or 'the Southwest') compose the largest single tribe or nation of Anishinabeg (Indians) found in the United States today." Forbes, perhaps the foremost U.S. native scholar, continues to assert that most Mexicans/Central Americans are indigenous.

Contrarily, the bureau has historically created the methodology to ensure that the majority of "Hispanics/Latinos" get counted as white, even if half have traditionally chosen "other race." This amounts to demographic genocide, though as Forbes notes: "This disappearance is completely imaginary and exists only in the minds of the European-oriented ruling class."

Truthfully, "Hispanics" don't freely choose white (even the designation is Euro-centric and "burrocrat-imposed"). Rather, the bureau continues to herd (or statistically redirect) them into checking the white category. Coupled with a lack of a census educational program that rejects the poison of racial supremacy, many, out of shame or due to no viable options, opt for the white rather than indigenous category. Incidentally, Mexico, conscious of its indigenous roots, doesn't consider its citizens white.

The bureau's mischaracterizations are but the latest in a long line of unsuccessful efforts to completely "de-Indianize" the continent. The first efforts were religiously inspired. A successful conversion by European priests resulted in the creation of Christians. Indians were evil. Christians were of God. The objective was to spiritually or physically stomp out all things Indian, including the Indian.

Despite this, Mexicans/Central Americans remain of primarily indigenous stock. Undeniably, there's been mixture throughout the continent, but generally not enough to supplant the indigenous root. Despite this, the European colonizers invented countless bizarre and unscientific racial categories that persist to this day. They were created not to describe, but to exploit them.

Two economic systems and world views on race collided in 1848 when the United
States annexed half of Mexico. In an effort by Mexico to protect its former citizens from slavery and being warred upon, most Mexicans in the United States were legally designated neither as black nor Indian, but white. After slavery was outlawed and the wars against native peoples ceased, segregation, legal discrimination, land theft and lynchings persisted. Despite the tenuous legal fiction that Mexicans were white, they too were treated similarly. During this era, light-skinned Mexicans (claiming European ancestry) occasionally managed to win the right -- for court purposes -- to be considered white.

At the end of the 19th century, as part of a modernizing project, Mexican intellectuals began to see their country as a mestizo nation or as part of a "cosmic race" (combination of four races). The seemingly enlightened philosophy, in reality, was anti-indigenous, predicated on the idea that modernizing meant leaving its Indian past behind. As Forbes notes, the whole world is mestizo (racially mixed), yet only Mexicans are stigmatized by that Colonial leftover "half-breed" or "not belonging" designation.

Mexican Indian Otomi leader Thaayrohyadi Bermudez notes that government has historically determined who is an Indian: "The ideology of the mestizo was created as a way to divide people. Mestizaje is more ideological than racial or biological." He adds that anyone of Otomi ancestry is considered Otomi.

In 1930, the U.S. Census considered Mexicans a race (Indian) unto themselves.
However, Mexicans ("Latins") in the U.S. and the Mexican government fought that designation and sought to recognize them as "whites" -- not because they
had biologically changed, but because the harsh Jim Crow era was still in effect.

Notice to the bureau: The era of pretending that Mexicans/Central Americans are white is long over. Yet we can predict that the bureau will continue to produce faulty questionnaires, which will in turn produce faulty responses... and the media will continue to reproduce those erroneous results.

* For more literature by Jack Forbes on similar topics, go to:


About Patrisia Gonzalez & Roberto Rodriguez:
Gonzales & Rodriguez can be reached at

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