Applying for a job is stressful, the uncertainty of the process and financial pressures usually surrounding it exacerbate all emotions. Cumbersome job applications take us through the cliff notes of our life and present us with questions that we give little thought to day-to-day. As I turn the corner of 30, one of the most uncomfortable questions for me to answer on job applications and on my first census is race. What race am I?
Growing up, we lived in Miami, Florida, a city known for its diversity, culture and Latin flavors. My ethnicity is Hispanic, my mother is from Nicaragua and my father from Cuba. I have always been surrounded by Caucasians, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics from all of the Americas and have been unaffected by race. Until now, my parents completed the last two censuses for our household, and I always perceived myself as White of Spanish descent. When I turned 26, I decided to move 3 hours NW from Miami to the beach town of Sarasota for a new job opportunity. Here, I quickly realized that my corporate status and education had no bearing on what would happened next. It started at a mall where I went to buy hundreds worth of personal items and the store attendant gave me a strange look before asking for my drivers license and proceeding to question if that was me on the picture. It was the first time I went out and people looked at me funny and held on to their purses tighter as I passed them by. Also, it was a time I was confused as being the maid of a friend. There is nothing wrong with being a maid, but apparently it was derogatory to the group of people who addressed me as such. It was the first time in my life that I had to work 10x harder than to “look the part”, whatever that means. I realized that I was no longer insulated from the world that I had only heard of in movies and civics class. This was when the word race became real to me (I know, late).
Life experiences took me through my journey on race and “racism” (which I will table discussing for another day) and that brings me to the now. A few weeks ago I received the infamous notice to complete the U.S. Census 2020. What is the U.S. Census 2020? This is a survey conducted by the U.S. federal government that intends to count every living person at their correct household in the U.S. for the purpose of helping to guide where the $675 billion+ of federal funding may be distributed to states and communities each year. This survey is conducted once every 10 years and regulation requires that everyone complete it. The data collected is used to develop statistical research regarding population demographics and race. Census 2020 is the first time that I am responsible for completing the survey for my household, and boy was it a thought-provoking moment. The survey starts off confirming household address, number of household size, and names and DOB’s of the household members. Afterward, each member has to identify with one or more of the 10 plus options for race and ethnicity. This is probably the most comprehensive set of options I have ever had to choose from, which made the experience pretty smooth to complete. However, it left me wondering more about where the concept of race originated and why it is still relevant today.
Research shows that the concept of race is one that has evolved modernly into groups classifying individuals based on superficial physical characteristics, such as skin color, hair type, eye color. The term became particularly popular during the early twentieth century when immigration to the United States boomed from all parts of Europe, Asia and Mexico. At this time, the prospect of being classified as White came with privileges, now commonly known as “white privilege”, that allowed individuals to become U.S. citizens. This became the standard, a baseline in an arbitrary categorization. Interestingly enough, my sociology class discussion this week came fully prepared with a chapter on Race & Ethnicity and a video to summarize.
Traditionally, the census has felt like a big deal and for me it was this year because of all the emotion it stirred up for me. However, this census feels overshadowed by the calamity and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impact of the ongoing health crisis, Census2020 deserved discussion because our actions today will define governmental assistance and community viability for the next decade and that is certain to outlive the current situation.