According to U.S. Census Bureau data released earlier this year, more Hispanics are identifying as American Indian than ever counted by the federal government before. And there is a variety of social and political reasons behind the phenomenon.
The overall federal data suggested that the number of Hispanics who identify themselves as American Indians has tripled since 2000, and now stands at 1.2 million.
The mainstream news media is catching on to the trend. A recent report in the Herald Tribune noted that 70 percent of the 57,000 American Indians living in New York City are of Hispanic origin. The New York Times also presented a recent report, published July 3, that highlighted Indians who live with dual identities, celebrating both Hispanic and Indian cultural traditions.
The Times reported that American Indian totals “are still a small fraction of the overall Hispanic population of the United States, which eclipsed 50 million this year. But the blip in the census data represents raised awareness among native Latinos who believe their heritage stretches farther back than the nationalities available on the census form.”
José C. Moya, a professor of Latin American history at Barnard College, told the Herald Tribune the following in explaining the phenomenon: “There has been an actual and dramatic increase of Amerindian immigration from Latin America.” He noted, too, that according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, half of all Hispanics having moved to New York in the last 10 years have been Mexican, adding that in 1994, with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the traffic between Mexico and the U.S. increased.
The Tribune reported that in response to NAFTA, Mexico’s “government started to strip Indian landowners of a long-held legal protection from privatization. The resulting conflict awakened ethnic tensions that dated back centuries, and spurred a populist support of indigenous heritage.”
Peru-born Carlos A. Quiroz, told the newspaper that the ethnic/racial options on the census forms are not acceptable, so he selects “Non-Hispanic” American Indian, which is usually the intended choice for North American Indians. He does not believe that “Hispanic” is an ethnic category.
“Hispanic is not a race,” Quiroz was quoted as saying. His ancestors were the Central Andes’ Quechua people. “Hispanic is not a culture. Hispanic is an invention by some people who wanted to erase the identity of indigenous communities in America. We don’t believe we have to accept this identity just because we speak Spanish.”