Latinos can be from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Cuba, Spain and, of course, Mexico. They can be of any skin color, though social activists and other head counters often refer to them as "brown." The number of people claiming Hispanic ancestry rose 23% between 2010 and 2020, according to the new Census Bureau numbers. The group now accounts for nearly 19% of the total population.
The favored headline out of the Census report, however, is that the white population actually shrunk a little between 2010 and 2020. Drill down, though, and you see that the number of people identifying as mixed-race exploded over the past 10 years. No doubt there are more mixed-race Americans today, but a 276% increase undoubtedly includes many who used to identify as simply white.
That may reflect, as University of Texas demographer Rogelio Saenz put it, "a greater degree of appreciation for the multicultural, multiracial roots that people have."
Complicating matters, Latino immigrants are often of mixed heritage the day they arrive. Why then can't we stop this racial counting as the French have done? If we must lump people into categories, let's stick with ethnicity, defined as a common cultural tradition.
Nebraskans of Czech heritage still bake kolaches for old time's sake. Italian Americans in New Jersey serve lasagna. Likewise, American-born Latinos may make fajitas if their forebears came from Mexico, or, if the Philippines was the country of origin, adobo.
In any case, "foreign" foods don't stay foreign here for long. Tacos now vie with hamburgers and pizza as American staples.
The Census report was predictably turned into a discussion of immigration, but even here, the numbers lead to imperfect conclusions. Historically, Mexican Americans are the only group that started their American citizenry not because they immigrated but because the border moved to include them.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo turned over California and much of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Colorado to the United States. It set the border with Texas at the Rio Grande.
In 1854, the Gadsden Purchase enabled the U.S. to acquire another 30,000 square miles of Mexico, roughly the size of Scotland. That area is now southern Arizona, including Tucson, and southwestern New Mexico.
This is in no way an endorsement of the Reconquista, a radical movement that seeks to return parts of the American Southwest to Mexico. The border is where it now is, and we should want an immigration program that is humane but also respects the law. I'm just saying that Latinos are hardly "newcomers" to the American scene.
It's obvious that children of today's immigrants who work, speak English and pay rent are more like the children of past immigration waves than different. Many Latinos may be browner than Americans with roots in Europe, but so what. Americans whose forebears came from southern Europe tend to be darker than those of northern European stock.
The Census also reports a doubling of the Asian American population. Many in this group have deep roots in North America, but the recent influx of Asian immigrants is producing children who melt right in.
As the generations progress, who knows how many racial mixes will be reported to the Census Bureau? But that's if they're still asking the same questions. America was founded as an idea, not on the basis of DNA. As long as Americans believe in the democratic ideal, their pigmentation should not matter.
Thus, we should urge both the left wing and the right wing to drop their obsession with racial identity. Start by x-ing out a few items on future Census questionnaires. As for "Latino," let's acknowledge that it's a highly flawed descriptor.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com.