I was born a mutt. My mother is of German descent and my father is Mexican-American. Whenever I get paperwork asking me to identify my racial and ethnic makeup, I immediately flashback to my youth and see my dad's stern face, his thick mustache bristling with annoyance as he would say, "Mija, you're not Hispanic. You're a Mexican!"
My dad isn't the only one that has a pet peeve about the distinction. According to a recent Pew Research poll, half of Hispanics don't like being called Hispanic. They don't like being called Latino either. Only 24% prefer a pan-ethnic label.
So if Hispanics don't like being called Hispanic or Latino, what do we call them?
Most would prefer to use their country of origin, but since that can't fit neatly on a census form, the U.S. government settled on "Hispanic" in the 1970s as the official phrase for all people of Latin American descent (even though Hispanic is technically an ethnicity and not a race). While the term "Latino" is more popular in America, it was scrapped because it sounded too much like "Ladino", an old Hebrew dialect spoken by Spanish Jews.
The "Hispanic or Latino?" question usually conjures strong preferences in Spanish-speaking communities -- one signifies a connection to ancient Spain, while the other represents roots in Latin America.
In 1997, the Office of Management and Budget had to amend its own classification to include "Latino", explaining that "Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion."
If that's not confusing enough, consider this: Filipinos speak Spanish and were colonized by Spain, but are considered Asian-American. Brazilians speak Portuguese, but are still considered Latinos. Even according to the government's own definition, anyone can identify as a Hispanic or Latino simply by saying they are one. Huh?
And what about those of us that happen to be multiracial? What do we call ourselves? Is there not a better way?!
Luckily, the New York Times has solved this mystifying racial and cultural enigma by giving us the term "white Hispanic." Though it's become popularized of late by the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Gray Lady has used the term several times before -- twice in 2011 and even as early as 1980.
"Aren't Hispanics already white?" you ask. Just tune out the cognitive dissonance you're experiencing.
Forget that it's redundant. Forget that it doesn't make sense. Forget that it violates the New York Times own style guide. It just sounds good.
So thanks to the paper of record, I can now identify as white Hispanic. And I'm not alone. Jessica Alba, Selena Gomez, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Cameron Diaz -- all notable white Hispanics.
Applying the New York Times logic on racial categorization is also helpful in identifying other multiracial blends.
President Barack Obama? White black. Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter? Also white black.
Golfer Ernie Els? White African. Mariah Carey? Black Irish…well…the other kind of black Irish.
Lenny Kravitz? Black Jew. Tiger Woods? He's black Asian. Or is it Thai African? Or would it be American-Indian Asian? Or white black? Well….you get the point.
By using the New York Times guidelines on race and ethnicity, you too could discover that you are white Hispanic like me. Though, I usually just prefer to be called an American.
Alexis Garcia is a political producer and correspondent for PJTV.com. She also worked as a communications aide for the Giuliani and McCain-Palin 2008 presidential campaigns.