The first time I came to the United States on a business trip, my secretary had organized an appointment for me with a large client. When I showed up, the person I was meeting looked at me with much surprise and greeted me awkwardly. 


As the meeting went on, he explained that he had expected to meet a Mexican woman, and instead I was a Frenchman. In truth, there is almost no Michel in this country, but there are a lot of Michelle, and the vast majority of the Lopez are from Mexican origin, so his mistake was pretty logical. We laughed.

A few years later, after I settled in California, I had to fill up US census forms in 2000 and 2010.

In 2000, one of the questions was “Is this person Spanish/ Hispanic/ Latino?”. That made me wonder. Am I Spanish? Well, I’m two generations removed from Spain and was raised in France. So I’m not a Spaniard, but maybe I’m Spanish if this means Spanish descent? I’m clearly not Latino, as I’m not from Central or South America. I guessed I must be Hispanic, without being quite sure.

But then I wondered, why would this be relevant? I don’t speak Spanish, I have never lived in a Spanish-speaking country, I don’t have a passport delivered by a Spanish-speaking country, not mentioning that I don’t want to be racially profiled, and I don’t want anybody else to be racially profiled for this matter! But I guess I don’t have a choice. OK, OK, Hispanic, check.

In 2010, they decided to change, and instead of asking “Is this person Spanish/ Hispanic/ Latino?”, they asked “Is this person of Spanish, Hispanic of Latino origin”. I guess with this last word, the sentence became both grammatically correct and more sensical. I could only reply Yes, refuse to answer or lie. OK, OK, Spanish origin, check.

I wish I could have answered that I’m a non-Latino Hispanic-origin Spanish-descent liberal French-born male human being who is proud of each of these characteristics! But I’m docile with authority and I obliged!

Actually, there is even more ambiguity once we realize that if Latino means “coming from Latin America”, then Brazilians should be included, although they don’t speak Spanish. Conversely, if Hispanic means “from Spanish descent”, then all Native Americans coming from South America are excluded.

Also, there is also a disclaimer that reads “For this census, Hispanic origins are not races”. I get that, but isn’t that obvious that countries, languages and skin colors are pretty different concepts? Oh well, I guess that I’ll be waiting for the 2020 census with the hope that this question will have become obsolete!

See the relevant parts of the US Census Bureau 2000 questionnaire and 2010 questionnaire.