Who and What the Hell Is a White Hispanic?

Since The New York Times’ ridiculous piece in May claiming that more Latinos are identifying as “white” between the 2000 and 2010 Census, Latino and non-Latino commentators alike have been weighing in on the many shades of color within the Latino community and the role of the “white Hispanic” within it. An intense discussion about race also continues on social media. This is not a discussion of Afro-Latinos against white Latinos or the white Spanish against the indigenous. It is more about how Latinos are making sense of the confusing label of the “white Hispanic.” What does it mean to be labeled or take on the label of a “white Hispanic?” Some in our own social media community have attempted to make sense of the term “white Hispanic” as a role within and on behalf of our community. Others have seen it as a product of confusion, while even others have dismissed the identity altogether. In this post, I will go through each of the different ways that the social media community has attempted to understand the question: who and what the hell is a “white Hispanic?”

Via NY Times

Via NY Times

“White Hispanics” as Latinos, Too: Many Latinos on social media have been quick to come to the defense of lighter-skin Latinos who they are “part of the community” and embrace their culture like all Latinos. One Latino Rebels follower commented, “There are no white Latinos. Being Latino is mutually exclusive with whiteness.” In other words, you are either Latino or white, but you can not be both at the same time. Many white Latinos have used the recent discussion to stake a claim that they too are Latinos despite their light skin. One blogger on Major Magazine wrote, “My strong ties to my Mexican roots do not only stem from my sincere love for Latino culture but from aching need to prove that I am not white.” In essence, these social media users have used the  white Hispanic debate as a way to draw a line around their community and to ensure that white Latinos are inside of the line with the rest of the Latino community. These users do not believe the concept of the “white Hispanic” is real or valid, yet they believe in the concept of an unified Latino community. To them, “white Hispanic” is simply a meaningless term to divide their authentically defined community and culture.

“White Hispanics” as Brokers to and for Whites: As César Vargas appropriately points out, many of these “white Hispanics” claim that they are equally oppressed as their darker skinned brethren, because white Latinos have to struggle to prove their authenticity to both the Latino community and the non-Latino community alike. As he positioned, “white Hispanics” do not experience racism or have the same outcomes as darker Latinos, yet they are not perceived as a threat to the whites in control. He argues instead that “white Hispanics” can use this opportune time to discuss how white privilege is not just a privilege for non-Latino whites and that “white Hispanics” should own and discuss their dual privileges due to their dual access to the Latino and white community. Hence, their Latino identity, coupled with their lighter skin, allows them to be placed as brokers to the darker Latino community for the white-controlled society.  A  broker (just like a housing broker) reaps profits from both parties. Vargas assigns the role of the “white Hispanic” as a broker: whose white skin gives them dual privileges and access to both communities that could be used for either personal or communal gain.

“White Hispanics” as Buffers between the White Elite and Darker Non-Elite: As a critical complement to Vargas’ essay, The Blinker’s Geoffery Mullings argues that “white Hispanics”are socially positioned somewhere between being a beneficiary of white privilege and victim of cultural racism. To use their term, “white Hispanics” are buffers—liaisons between the white elite and the darker non-elite. While “white Hispanics” may have some upward mobility, they will never be fully accepted into the white elite and hence will never be in a position of power or control. The article’s example cites the career of Spanish Cuban and “white Hispanic” Rafael Pineiro, the First Deputy Commissioner and highest ranking Hispanic in the NYPD. After Pineiro was passed up as the possible first Hispanic NYPD Commissioner for Bill Bratton, Mullings positions that Pineiro was never seriously considered as the NYPD’s top dog and that he was politically useful to be the Executive Officer for the Latino-majority Bronx and second-in-command during the racially charged times of “stop and frisk.” According to Mullings, Pineiro’s lighter skin allowed him to make contact with the top but his Spanish-Cuban ancestry never gave him full access to the top.

“White Hispanic” as a Product of Confusion: Sociologist Hector Cordero-Guzmán’s Latino Rebels essay attempts to make sense of the category of the “white Hispanic.” He does not seek to understand who is a “white Hispanic” or what role they are assigned amongst the Latino or non-Latino white communities. For him, the “white Hispanic: is a result of social confusion of Latinos having to inhabit the border of two different cultures. In one culture, Latinos may see themselves as one identity, yet in another culture, they may take on a different identity. To bolster his point, he cites results of the racial classification of Puerto Ricans from the 2012 Census’s American Community Survey. He writes, “The percentage of Puerto Ricans in New York City choosing the ‘White’ category was 44.7 %. In Puerto Rico, the percentage was 82.3%.” Amongst the same population from the same survey, why would Puerto Ricans in one place have a completely different selection of their racial category than in another place? Cordero-Guzmán chalks it up to context:  that is, racial identification will change based upon where you ask the question.

For example, in the U.S., there is the one-drop rule. If you have even one ancestor who is African, Asian, or indigenous, you’re automatically non-white. In Puerto Rico, the one-drop rule is that you are considered white if you have even one white ancestor in the previous four generations (known as the Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar laws). In the U.S., a Latino historically is not white since Latinos by definition are a mixture of Spanish, indigenous, African and Asian blood. Yet in Puerto Rico, a Latino is white if they have just one white ancestor. For academics like Cordero-Guzmán, the  “white Hispanic” is a negotiation between two conflicting racial classifications.

In conclusion, why did I decide to go through a typology of the meanings of “white Hispanic?” The social media discussion demonstrates that even we Latinos do not know who or what the hell is a “white Hispanic.” Some of us try to make sense of the term by dismissing its validity as a real category or identity but also as a chance to make sense of the boundaries of who is and not in our communities. Commentators like Vargas and Mullings seek to assign “white Hispanics” with a role such as broker or buffer in order to deal with the ambiguity of the term. By assigning “white Hispanics” a role, one can make sense of what is expected of them and bring clarity to their function in and for the community. Others like Cordero-Guzmán accept that the “white Hispanic” is an ambiguous term, because race is ambiguous.

One thing in clear from the comments on social media: We as Latinos many not know what a “white Hispanic” is, but we want to control its meaning to the world. We want to define the term, instead of letting some government bureaucracy or armchair ivory tower theoreticians or misinformed journalists define it. If the term is going to be “out  there” in the world, we want the term to derive meaning from our LIVED experiences of navigating the made-up racial categories.


You can follow Christina Saenz-Alcántara on Twitter @ctsaenz.

Tell Us What You Think!
Greg Medina says:

littlems09 melchior6 …Dear Miss Littlems09…NOTHING that Melchoir6 wrote was an attack on you or anyone else.  He simply stated his experience, which apparently is not yours and your didn’t like his opinion. But THAT doesn’t invalidate his experience, his comment or his reality.   He was NOT putting anyone down…I think it’s time to put on your big girl pants. 

And he states that many people identify as white because when they look in the mirror THAT is what they see…should they identify as Eskimo?  Pygmies?  Unicorns?

Would that please your generic “La Tino” sensibilities. Live YOUR life, takes lots of selfies and enjoy yourself.  Life is not that long that we have time to oversee anyone else’s reality, especially those that don’t ask you to.

Greg Medina says:

AtraMorsTemnota…you know what’s annoying.  A know-nothing idiot on the internet with a name that looks like a fucking typo, who doesn’t identify “itself” with regard to any cultural, ethnic or racial context…typical internet hyena, biting others and running back into your anonymous cyber hole filled with your stupidity, racism, shit and ignorance. Get a life, an identity and a back-bone…right now, NONE of these are yours…you fool!  Oh and BTW, the last time I looked, Spain was still in Europe and NOT in a “La Tino” BS fiction in the US.

Greg Medina says:

AtraMorsTemnota Greg Medina rafa621 …

WOW…you must be so busy meeting all the 100s of MILLIONS of people throughout all of Latin-America, performing mitochondrial DNA analyses on all of them and STILL have enough time to write your ignorant, misinformed and stereo-typed “opinions” about people you have never met and never will. 

These “illegals’ ” first civic act in the US is to wipe their beaner holes with American immigration policy, our sovereignty and our national autonomy.
Yeah, that’s someone we need to allow into the country all right.
What next?
Allow every muslim crazy to live in YOUR house?

There isn’t a country in the world that would allow its borders to be relegated to “racists” plots of “duh man”…NOWHERE!

Do you really think that Mexico would allow 30 MILLION Americans to sneak across its borders, swamp their healthcare network, collapse their schools with our “special needs” and bring MORE gang culture to shoot-up the presidential palace of their WHITE leaders?  Think about it…it isn’t that hard to do.

Ask Canadians if they would allow 10s of MILLIONS of Americans to sneak into their country to RE-WRITE their cultural tenets.

But with apologists like you these ILLEGALS will always find a lawn to mow, a pool to skim and a dish to wash for you, so you can pay them 10cents on the dollar and feel so generous and superior.

Yeah, you must be so proud of yourself.

Greg Medina says:

AtraMorsTemnota Greg Medina …thank you for interpreting my life for me, now get back to OJ,Whoopie and Oprah who just “look black” but are really Eskimos…fool!  And YOU don’t get to tell me who my “countrymen” are.  I do!

AtraMorsTemnota says:

Greg Medina rafa621 Guess what? More Latin Americans are “Indian” than “pure white”! Why is that something to be ashamed of? Hmm, maybe if it weren’t for whites in their respective countries hoarding all the resources and wealth to themselves, or whites in the US wanting to cut corners, they wouldn’t even be here! Don’t get upset that they’re known (or do you expect life to work like a Eurocentric telenovela?)

These “illegals” work harder than you ever will, and have earned the respect of many Americans. You have your elitism, but nothing more. And if you’re so proud of being European, why not move there? I guarantee you that someone will turn their noses up at you, too. Loser.

AtraMorsTemnota says:

mischling2nd They were legally considered white to become citizens of the United States, since they annexed land they were already living on.

AtraMorsTemnota says:

anglozombie We don’t need Anglo-Americans to school us on our own ancestries. “White” is totally dependent on context. Even if someone has European roots, by virtue of them being from outside of Northwestern Europe (and a place like Latin America, at that), they’re seen as foreign. Hell, even Spaniard nationalists are trying to convince everyone that they’re “pure” Germanic with blue eyes, or that the Moorish invasions never happened. Why prove yourself to anyone?

AtraMorsTemnota says:

Greg Medina Get a life! No one cares how “white” you are. It’s hilarious how offended Spaniards and “white” Latinos become when they aren’t immediately accepted into the ranks of Anglo society. Guess what? You’re from Latin America, so that alone sets you apart, even if you look like Louis CK. If you wish to blame someone, blame the Spaniards for colonizing the land. Or immigrants for showing up. You’re at such pains to differentiate yourself from your fellow countrymen, that you play into their game.

AtraMorsTemnota says:

Oh, hrrr. Poor white Hispanics, not treated as royalty in the USA like they’re used to back home. Your insecurity annoys me, just like with Spaniards constantly competing with northern Europeans, and convincing everyone that they’re all blue eyed germanics

Greg Medina says:

Zeldahfan…Zeldahfan…I have worked and taught at Ivy League and Big 10 Schools and I can tell you that the ignorance and stupidity you describe is EPIDEMIC in the US.  And if it is that LOW on college campuses, you can only imagine the level of ignorance everywhere else in the country.

But don’t think for a minute that these race morons are just American “whites”.

If you read this blog on a regular basis you will see that this level of race duplicity and double-talk ALSO comes from the mouths of latin-american-rooted “La Tinos” who have swallowed waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much of the “we-all-be’s-duh-same” in the La Tino wheel of identity whoring.

I have personally met WHITES from Latin America backgrounds (Cuban, Puerto Rican and even Argentinian) who sell-out their European background and say they “just look white”.  The do this to get in on the Affirmative Action gravy train.

In one case, a WHITE Puerto Rican with FOUR red-haired sons and a coincidentally “just looks white” BLONDE American wife dared to tell me that he just “looks white” and so do his sons, bu that he was a descendant of Taino royalty.

I looked at him and said “race bigots like you are the reason that the race “dialogue” in America continues to go nowhere! You play the race card and then you cash-in all your race chips and continue living your “just looks white” WHITE life’.  Needless to say he doesn’t speak to me any more…no effin’ loss!

He is on campus as a “person of color” collecting his fat salary and “just happens” to live in the WHITEST neighborhood in town…probably another “inconvenient” fact of his despicable existence.

Another race clown I met was a WHITE Cuban whose 4 grandparents were born in BARCELONA and on campus he was a generic “La Tino of color”… I kept quiet for quite a while but then one time when I ran into him and his 2 WHITE parents at the airport, his mother who had met me before, called me offer to give me a hug.  I just couldn’t resist calling him out in front of them and I said (in Spanish)…”you know, if I didn’t know any better I would swear your parents were white”.  They heard me and turned to him and asked what I was talking about.

He turned BEET RED because NOW he had to explain the lie he had been perpetuating on campus about his family being “people of color”. Needless to say he didn’t speak to me after that either. And I won’t bore you with how BLONDE and white his 3 daughters are either!

That is why it is so important that when we encounter these race clowns, that we CONFRONT them.  I have lost “friends” who would tell me that I was “confused” or that I “should get over it”.   NOT A CHANCE!

I honor people’s identities and I expect NO LESS in return.

Zeldahfan says:

I actually went out of my way to make an account here just to type THANK YOU BECAUSE YOU SEEM TO BE THE ONLY ONE WHO MAKES ANY SENSE IN THIS PAGE!
When will ignorant people learn that ETHNICITY DOES NOT MEAN RACE?!
There are WHITE hispanics just as there are BLACK hispanics!! How are we any less white than other white nations?! Everyone in the universe is as mixed as mutts if we’re going to talk about mixes!!
When people tell me I’m not white just because I’m cuban, yet before I told them I was Cuban they assumed I was Irish or some european (which is IRONIC because my cuban family descend from european spaniards), it makes me want to gauge out someone’s eyes!!! How can anyone be so ignorant?!

Greg Medina says:

KhatariLamarHorne…sure cause it worked so well for Obama’s father, OJ, Tiger Woods and Seal didn’t it…all those kids are on shrink offices for the rest of their lives…nice try.

KhatariLamarHorne says:

I’ll just be glad when everyone’s kids have kids with other races and it keeps happening so noone knows what they are and we can stfu about race

Greg Medina says:

adamstraw1 …yup, you’ve known Americans all right…they are sooooooo proud of their cultural ignorance they try to get the rest of the world to believe it…they are an embarrassment around the world…just appalling.  Not too long ago, I met an American black couple in Spain who asked me Iwhat I was doing there.  It seemed that when they learned I was born and raised In Puerto Rico, I could only be in the Bronx….where I have NEVER lived!

Greg Medina says:

anglozombie…I agree with you, but trying explaining to the typical idiot Midwesterner who thinks that if you don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, you are not white…they have not left the continental US EVER and really believe that!  It was not that long ago in the US, ESPECIALLY in the Midwest, that Irish, Italians and Jews were NOT considered white…now go tell that to the Kennedys, the Italians in Brooklyn and Bernie Sanders they are not white…no one with a brain would utter such stupidity today.

Greg Medina says:

mischling2nd …dont’ be stupid…just as in the States, there are blacks, whites, asians, indigenous and mixtures of all of the above in Cuba…do you think that Cameron Diaz just thinks she’s white?  Do you think that Oprah just thinks she’s black?  Open a book already!

Greg Medina says:

rafa621…if you are white, you are white…I think you meant that you are not ready to be culturally ignorant as MOST Americans who think that all people from Latin American cultural backgrounds are brown Mexican-Indian illegals dying to mow their lawns and wipe their Korean adoptees’ asses for 25 cents an hour!

Greg Medina says:

Carinel Mary…I was lucky…in my part of Puerto Rico, we had books and the internet…and NO ONE I know thinks such “estupideces” as the ones you wrote here…perhaps you were thinking of Jamaica or Haiti…or perhaps you live in the imaginary Capitol of Puerto Rico, known as The Bronx?  Que canto de babodidades, chica…mi gata sabe mejor que tu, idiota!

Greg Medina says:

melchior6…American media is constantly presenting images of brown indians sneaking into the US from Mexico and Central America…for MOST Americans, THAT is the image of a “Latino”…when they meet WHITES from Hispanic or Latin America backgrounds their heads explode and they run-off to the Taco Bell drive-up window to be reassured that their understanding of “Latinos” is still on the menu there…clowns without a circus…just so pathetic and stupid….the funny thing is …those brown Indians were NEVER “Latinos” in their own country…blame this stupidity on ignorant Washington DC, bean-counters who have not left their office cubicles in DECADES, but dare to come-up with categories to “box-in” TENS of millions of people who are racially, ethnically and culturally different one from the other…they apparently forget that Mexico had a white president recently (Vicente FOX), that  most of Brazil’s presidents have been German, that Puerto Rico is majority of European descent and NOT at all like Haiti or Jamaica and that White Cubans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio don’t just “look white” they ARE!!!  

Americans are an embarrassment around the world…Not too long ago when I was in Puerto Rico (where I am from) an American from Santa Barbara, California asked me at a restaurant, “when did your people stop wearing grass skirts?”  STUNNED, I turned to this idiot Midwestern regugee and her idiot husband and told them…”we stopped wearing grass-skirts about the same time that Americans invaded the Island in 1898 and stole us from Spain!”  

They got up and left. (thank god!!!)  These same idiots also had asked me why Puerto Ricans looked “so white”…My response…for the same reason YOU do…They will never forget their White Puerto Rican experience…

Greg Medina says:

TESMITH47 …tell that fiction to Obama…he really believes he is “black” and the ignorant “1-Drop-Fools” follow him to that ignorance…but hey…it got him into the White House didn’t it?

Greg Medina says:

asdfasdf22 …the English used to (and some still do) refer to the Irish as a separate “race”…do you think that the Kennedys ever fell for that Bullshit???  Get a life, or better yet open a book on the races of man…you will be shocked to learn that neither Spanish nor Irish have EVER been a “race”…idiot!

asdfasdf22 says:

Caucasian Spanish Americans are just the descendants of the mid 19th century Spanish Atlantic immigration.  Today, the Spanish American descendants of Native North Americans, often get confused by their dark skin.  They are clueless, White Hispanics just represent a massive historical part of the Spanish ‘race’

adamstraw1 says:

Chile has the largest palestinian population outside of the middle east. Argentina has one of the largest Italian populations outside of Europe. Brazil has the largest Sub-saharan population second to Nigeria, Brazil also has one of the biggest German populations, Colombia has one of the largest Lebanese populations in the world, Argentina has also one of the largest Irish populations, and I could go on.

adamstraw1 says:

” If you are from Guatamala, then you,re probably Mestizo. Same with Mexico” No ti doesn’t. That’s a fallacy.

TESMITH47 says:

i think that in america there are two criteria determining if Hispanic folks get to be white Hispanics, 1 if they look white enough 2 if there are enough Black folks  around such that the Black folks are the very different out group.  all this is tempered by the Hispanics persons level of understanding of racial dynamics in white supremacist america!!!! my observation  as a  African American

littlems09 says:

melchior6 Upper class are you for reals? Its ok I know who I am and your meta message will not hurt me because I know who I am and the people that made me. 

Parents are from El Salvador (Indigenous Salvadorean) and Nicaragua even though my grandfathers were from Turkey. Spanish is a European language, not native to the Americas, as my friend states it everybody great grand papa is from somewhere from Europe.  so what? As Hispanic’s we must learn where we are from do understand where we are going. Understand our history the good the bad and the very ugly. 

We don’t have to put down others at the end of the day we put down ourselves. 

melchior6 says:

It’s funny. Do people forget that many  Hispanics have European ancestry? Most people in places like Argentina, Uruguay and many of the upper the classes in other Latin American countries are mostly of European extraction. So it makes sense that many would identify as white. It seems that many in the US don’t want to acknowledge the European heritage of Hispanics, like it’s politically incorrect or something.

soundgarden says:

This was awesome. You’re absolutely right.

Prg234 says:

Look at this issue from a slightly different point of view: there is no such thing as a Hispanic or Latino race, and the claim for either of these labels as an ethnicity is weak at best. I submit that these labels are designed to make us the “other” and to limit our equal claim to being just simple Americans of many races and cultures from around the world. I am a white American who happens to be of Cuban birth. I know black, indigenous, white,and Asian Americans who happen to be of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Peruvian,Argentinian,etc…heritage.

anglozombie says:

Rather certain latinos like it or not. The ones who have white skin are clearly white. Spanish people are white by definition.  Argentina is white. Brazil has a good portion of white people. The browner skin mexicans are mestizos. Which are mixed with white.

mischling2nd says:

The Latino Escape Hatch. Throughout most of the 20th century, Latino elites in the United States (and the government of Mexico itself) argued that all Hispanics should be classified as “white” on all official records – regardless of appearance or ancestry. So a blond person with the “tarbrush” could be labeled “Negro” in Texas while a dark-skinned Mexican with no white blood or European ancestry would be officially labeled “white” – even if he was treated more like a Negro than a white person. Now that is big time passing!

mischling2nd says:

Go tell the Cuban-Americans they’re not “white.”


ElizabethBlondieLewis says:

I don’t understand the term “reverse racism” because racism in any form is not acceptable to me. This isn’t a case of racism but of bigotry; Rigo, do you know the difference?
Maybe you should ask the next time you get a weird look in your own hood, not being shy I have asked. There’s no assumptions in my case.

rafa621 says:

I totally agree that it’s all about context, but even then, if I must make a more nuanced distinction: I never self-identify as “white” because I know damn well that “white” has nothing to do with dermis or race or even ethnicity, but instead it has everything to do with the politics of race and economic supremacy.
It wasn’t that long ago when jews, italians and irish were not considered “white.” It would appear that these immigrant groups began to assimilate into the dominant culture in a seeming correlation between their mass arrival and an almost imperceptible tipping point that signaled economic upward mobility on a large scale. 
Coincidentally, these groups also go on to make up a significant portion of the American middle-class at about the same time that the US embarked upon a massive, postbellum suburbanization during the second half of the 20th century. That also suggests to me that there is an economic component (or class identity) to the notion of whiteness and as such we begin to witness the widespread epiphenomena presented via inter-ethnic marriage: a rapid decrease in ethnic idiosyncrasies in favor of what some might call the overall blandness of general purpose “white.” 
Therefore, since I’m not ready to do away with my own Puerto Rican/Latino idiosyncrasies I guess I am not ready to be white. I can live with that.