Big Increase of Brazilians, Belizeans Counted as Latino Due to U.S. Census Processing Error
Updated: Apr 22
If you answered ‘Yes’, and wrote in a federally defined non-Hispanic country, your response would be changed to ‘No’. However, those changes were not made “inadvertently” in a 2020 U.S. Census survey.
The number of Brazilians describing themselves as Hispanic or Latino skyrocketed in a U.S. Census Bureau survey due to a data-processing error as a federal definition precludes the South Americans and others from choosing this classification. The number of Belizeans also grew significantly, reported Pew Research Center.
When people report their Hispanic or Latino ethnicity as Brazilian, they are later recategorized, or “back-coded” as not Hispanic or Latino. The same is true for people from other federally defined non-Hispanic countries such as Belize, Portugal and the Philippines. This "back-coding" did not happen in a 2020 survey, resulting in a larger number of Hispanics/Latinos.
Before “back-coding”, the U.S. Census Bureau counted between 8 percent to 9 percent Portuguese respondents as Hispanic/Latino as compared to 1 percent to 2 percent.
“For this analysis, Portugal includes the related areas of Cabo Verde and the Azores,” according to How a Coding Error Provided a Rare Glimpse into Latino Identity Among Brazilians in the U.S. (April 19), Pew Research Center. (Cabo Verde, or Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The Azores, also an archipelago in the Atlantic, is an autonomous region of Portugal.)
Portugal’s census does not collect data on ethnicity or race. I am a resident of Portugal and participated in the 2021 Census.
Officially, Brazilians, Belizeans, Portuguese, Filipinos, and those from some countries in the Caribbean are not considered to be Hispanic or Latino.
“Portuguese Americans – and other groups that defy simple categorization – complicate America’s approach to race and ethnicity, which tends to classify people as either minority or nonminority,” according to How Should Portuguese Americans Be Classified?, The Atlantic (April 10).
April 27 Deadline for Input on 2030 Census
Major proposed changes to the forms for the U.S. 2030 Census and federal government surveys would change how Hispanics/Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent are counted in statistics across the United States, reported National Public Radio (April 7).
The Office of Management and Budget asks members of the public to weigh in with their feedback on these, other proposed changes and their own suggestions by April 27.
Different Things to Different People
In 2020, at least 416,000 Brazilians described themselves as Hispanic or Latino on the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS), compared to 14,000 Brazilians in 2019 and 16,000 in 2021, reported How a Coding Error Provided a Rare Glimpse into Latino Identity Among Brazilians in the U.S. (April 19), Pew Research Center.
Senior Demographer Jeffrey Passel at Pew Research Center said: “We think the number ‘identifying’ as Hispanic has been pretty much the same across all of the ACS years. The difference is in how many were ‘coded’ as Hispanic. In 2020, it was ‘more than two-thirds’ but in 2019 and 2021 (and most other years from 2001 onward), less than 3 percent of Brazilians were ‘coded’ as Hispanic.”
The surveyed groups include immigrants from the specific country and U.S.-born respondents reporting a single ancestry.
“The 2020 survey results highlight how respondents’ view of their identity does not necessarily align with official government definitions. It also underscores that being Hispanic or Latino means different things to different people,” according to Latino Identity Among Brazilians.
“Some draw distinctions between the definition of Hispanic, which for some excludes Brazilians, and the definition of Latino, which for some includes Brazilians but excludes people from Spain. All this makes measuring Hispanic or Latino identity in surveys a complex and delicate undertaking.”
Also in 2020, the number of Filipinos who identified as Hispanic or Latino was 30,000 higher than in 2021. The number of Belizeans was almost 12,000 larger than in 2021. The number from the federally defined non-Hispanic countries of the Caribbean -- including Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana and the Virgin Islands – was 28,000 higher.
The federally defined non-Hispanic Caribbean region excludes Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Dominica.
In 2020, 70 percent of Brazilians considered themselves to be Hispanic or Latino as compared to 41 percent of Belizeans, 3 percent of Filipinos and 3 percent of those from the federally defined non-Hispanic Caribbean countries.
In the same year, enough Brazilians identified as Hispanic that they would fall in the middle of rankings of U.S. Hispanic or Latino origin.
In total, the Hispanic or Latino population in the five federally defined non-Hispanic groups -- Brazil, Belize, the Philippines, non-Hispanic Caribbean and Portugal – exceeded that of 2021 by about 471,000 people.
“Overall, the U.S. Hispanic population is large enough that the coding mistake in the 2020 data amounted to little more than a rounding error in the overall population. The 470,000 people erroneously counted as Hispanic or Latino in 2020 represent less than 1 percent of the 61.1 million total Hispanics living in the U.S.,” reported How a Coding Error Provided a Rare Glimpse into Latino Identity Among Brazilians in the U.S.
The annual American Community Survey gathers information previously contained only in the census conducted every 10 years, including ancestry, citizenship, educational attainment, income, language proficiency, migration, disability, employment and housing characteristics, Public- and private-sector institutions and not-for-profit organizations use the data to allocate funding, track shifting demographics, emergency planning and learning about local communities, according to In Order That They Might Rest Their Arguments on Facts: The Vital Role of Government-Collected Data, Brookings Institution (March 2, 2017).
Some of the many faces of Belize
“Back-Coding” Oversight in 2020
“During the data editing process for the 2020 ACS (American Community Survey), the Census Bureau inadvertently left Brazilians and some other groups out of its back-coding procedures. The error resulted in large increases in the number of people counted as Hispanic or Latino within these groups,” according to Latino Identity Among Brazilians.
Respondents who check one of the “Yes” boxes are coded as Hispanic with one exception. If a respondent checks the “Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” box and writes in a federally defined non-Hispanic origin, such as Brazil or Belize, the response is changed to “No, not of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin”.
“This edit has been part of Census Bureau procedures for every decennial census since 2000 and every ACS (American Community Survey) since it began in 2001,” reported Latino Identity Among Brazilians.
“Note that a write-in response is encouraged but not required, so if nothing is written in, no edit is done. This may result in some Brazilians or members of other non-Hispanic groups being coded as Hispanic if they do not write anything. The ‘other’ Hispanic groups are assigned specific codes such as Venezuelan for some tabulations, but for the groups not recognized as Hispanic, we can only determine their origin from other data items.”
Back-Coding Began in 2000
When national data on people of Hispanic origin began to be collected in the 1980 and 1990 decennial censuses, the U.S. Census Bureau did not change the responses of people from the federally defined non-Hispanic countries.
As a result, many Brazilians, Belizeans and Filipinos, who said that they were Hispanic, were counted as Hispanic.
In the 1980 census, for example, 18 percent of Brazilians were counted as Hispanic as compared to 33 percent in 1990. Back-coding began in 2000.
“By the time the American Community Survey was fully implemented in 2006, these shares fell to around 4 percent or less in most years – with the exception of 2020.”
Similarly, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 27 percent of Belizeans as Hispanic in 1980 and 32 percent in 1990. With back-coding, it has counted about 8 percent of Belizeans as Hispanic in the years before 2000.
Among Filipinos, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 12 percent as Hispanic in 1980 and 6 percent in 1990. However, it has counted fewer than 2 percent as Hispanic since 2000, except for 2020.
“The data on Portuguese respondents tells a similar story. In 1980 and 1990, the bureau counted between 8 percent and 9 percent of Portuguese respondents as Hispanic. But since 2000, it has coded only 1 percent to 2 percent of Portuguese respondents that way every year. The number of Portuguese respondents coded as Hispanic in the 2020 ACS (American Community Survey) did not differ significantly from the number in 2019 or 2021.
“This could indicate that Portuguese-origin respondents are generally choosing to self-identify as non-Hispanic or that the data was correctly back-coded for this group.”
Five Excluded Groups
“We focus our analysis on five origin groups from which many respondents seem to have identified as Hispanic or Latino but do not meet the federal government’s official criteria of origins linked to Spanish culture,” according to Latino Identity Among Brazilians.
U.S. government guidelines – last revised in 1997 – read:
“The term ‘Hispanic’ refers to persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures, according to Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, Office of Management and Budget (October 30, 1997).
It is unclear as to who or how these five non-Hispanic groups were singled out as they are not mentioned in the Office of Management and Budget’s standards for classification.
Latino Identity Among Brazilians continued:
“Brazil: Though it is the largest country in Latin America, with a population of more than 200 million, is culture and history are linked principally to Portugal, not Spain.”
In What’s the Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?, Britannica wrote:
“In general, ‘Latino’ is understood as shorthand for the Spanish word latinoamericano (or the Portuguese latino-americano) and refers to (almost) anyone born in or with ancestors from Latin America and living in the U.S., including Brazilians.
“The 2010 U.S. Census listed both terms together and specifically mentioned the Spanish-speaking countries/territories of the Caribbean but vaguely excluded non-Spanish speaking countries (many Brazilians, for example, were unsure whether to check the box). In day-to-day life, many Latin American immigrants and descendants simply prefer to state their country of origin directly.”
Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, Office of Management and Budget (October 30, 1997), accepted the additional terminology for different reasons:
“Terminology for Hispanics – OMB does not accept the recommendation to retain the single term ‘Hispanic’. Instead, OMB has decided that the term should be ‘Hispanic or Latino’. Because regional usage of the terms differs – Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion – this change may contribute to improved response rates.”
“Belize: Formerly British Honduras, Belize is the only Central American country that does not have a “Spanish culture” and is not Spanish speaking.”
I am Belizean.
The Statistical Institute of Belize reported the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Belize:
“Respondents were allowed to indicate membership in up to two ethnic groups, and just over a half (52.9 percent or 170,446) of all Belizeans see themselves as belonging, at least in part, to the Mestizo/Spanish/Latino ethnic group. The second largest ethnic group is the Creole, at 26 percent (83,460) of the population, followed by the Maya at 11.3 percent, who along with the Garifuna (6.1 percent) form the two indigenous groups in Belize.
(East Indian is 3.9 percent: Mennonite is 3.6 percent; Caucasian /White is 1.2 percent, and Asian (Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese) is 1.0 percent.)
“Despite English being its official language, only 63 percent of Belize’s population over the age of three years speak English well enough to have a conversation (and the possibility exists that some respondents who indicated they speak English might in fact have been referring to Creole.) Spanish is the next popular language spoken, with more than one half (56.6 percent) of the population reporting that they are able to conduct a conversation in Spanish, and this is followed by Creole, with 44.6 percent. Of note, despite the Garifuna population being almost twice as large as the Mennonite population, a larger proportion of the population speaks German (3.2 percent) than Garifuna (2.9 percent).”
Latino Identity Among Brazilians continued:
“Philippines: Many Filipinos have Hispanic first names and surnames, a legacy of the Philippines’ history as a Spanish colony for three centuries. But the country, located in Southeast Asia, is not considered to have a Spanish culture.”
In the Manilastandard.net (June 3, 2021) the story, Spain remains: The major Spanish influences in the Philippines, says, among five other factors, that “Spanish influence is evident today in law, religion, education, language, family names, architecture, the arts, music, cuisine, and customs which have been adopted and blended into the present-day Philippine culture.”
Latino Identity Among Brazilians continued:
“Non-Hispanic Caribbean: Though sometimes treated as part of Latin America, many countries in this area do not have a close link to Spanish culture.
“For this analysis, the non-Hispanic Caribbean excludes Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Dominica (the latter because of apparent misreporting or miscoding of Dominica as Dominican Republic) as well as ‘generic’ areas coded in the ACS (e.g., ‘Other West Indies’).
“It includes the remaining specific Caribbean countries (for example, Haiti and Jamaica) and other U.S. territories, as well as Guyana (plus Suriname and French Guiana in the 1980-2000 decennial censuses).”
However, most of these countries do have a link to Spanish culture based on history. The Spanish colonized, for example, Haiti and Jamaica. Spanish surnames are not uncommon, and many speak Spanish.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1982 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and a Colombian native, told The UNESCO Courier: Many Voices, One World that “it’s a mistake to think of history of Latin America as starting with the Spanish conquest. That’s a colonial viewpoint.
“I certainly don’t think one can say there is a homogenous Latin American culture. For example, in Central America, the Caribbean region, there is an African influence that has resulted in a culture different from that of countries with a sizable indigenous population, like Mexico or Peru. You could make a similar point about many other Latin American countries.”
Latino Identity Among Brazilians continued:
“Portugal: A European country that shares a border with Spain, its people primarily speak Portuguese and not Spanish. For this analysis, Portugal includes the related areas of Cabo Verde and the Azores. “
The inclusion of Cabo Verde and the Azores for Portugal is curious. Cabo Verde is one of many former Portuguese colonies, while the Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal as is Madeira, which was not included in the analysis of Portugal. Perhaps, Cabo Verdeans ad Azoreans have made their presence felt by writing in their nation and region, respectively, on U.S. Census surveys. It is interesting that Cabo Verde’s Portuguese name is used, not the English “Cape Verde”.
“Today, Portuguese Americans are not a minority under federal guidelines, but their classification varies by state. Some states, such as Florida, categorize Portuguese Americans as Hispanic, while others, such as California, do not. In a few places, including Massachusetts, laws and regulations treat them as a disadvantaged group for at least some purposes," according to How Should Portuguese Americans Be Classified?, The Atlantic (April 10).
“My grandfather Jose was a dark-skinned, thickly accented man who lived in Escondido, California, where 52 percent of the 150,000 inhabitants are Hispanic. But Jose, born in Portugal, was not Hispanic, at least not according to present-day federal definitions. Throughout the 60 years that my avo lived in the United States, such federal classifications changed constantly. He was once a minority, now not. For a while he was Hispanic, until he was white. The question of who Portuguese Americans are has become an existential debate for members of the community, with profound consequences for their daily lives.”
Pew Research Center surveys show a preference for other terms to describe identity. A 2019 survey found that 47 percent of Hispanics most often describe themselves by their family’s country of origin, while 39 percent use the terms Latino or Hispanic, and 14 percent describe themselves as American, according to Who Is Hispanic? (September 15, 2022).
Both the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” exclude indigenous people. Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, Office of Management and Budget (October 30, 1997), states:
“The Interagency Committee recommended that data for Central and South American Indians be included in the American Indian or Alaska Native category. Several comments from the American Indian community opposed this recommendation.
“Moreover, comments from some Native Hawaiians pointed out what they believed to be an inconsistency in the Interagency Committee’s recommendation to include in the American Indian or Alaska Native category descendants of Central and South American Indians – persons who are not original peoples of the United States – if Native Hawaiians were not to be included.”
Deadline Extended for Input on 2030 Census
As mentioned earlier, major proposed changes to the forms for the U.S. 2030 Census and federal government surveys would change how Hispanics/Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent are counted in statistics across the United States, reported National Public Radio (April 7).
“A new checkbox for “Middle Eastern or North African” and a “Hispanic or Latino” box that appears under a reformatted question asking for a person’s race or ethnicity are among the early recommendations announced in a Federal Register notice, which was made available on January 26 for public inspection ahead of its official publication.
“If approved, the changes would address longstanding difficulties many Latinos have had in answering a question about race that does not include a response option for Hispanic or Latino, which the federal government recognizes only as an ethnicity that can be of any race.”
The Office of Management and Budget asks members of the public to weigh in with their feedback on these, other proposed changes and their own suggestions. On April 7, the office extended the original deadline for public comments by 15 days to April 27.
The Office of Management and Budget is expected to make a final decision on the working group’s proposals by the summer of 2024.
In 1930, U.S. Counted Mexicans
Terminology and situations change over time.
“The first year the Census Bureau asked everybody in the country about Hispanic ethnicity was in 1980. Some efforts were made before then to count people who today would be considered Hispanic. In the 1930 census, for example, an attempt to count Hispanics appeared as part of the race question, which had a category for ‘Mexican’, according to Who Is Hispanic? (September 15, 2022), Pew Research Center.
In 1790, Belize Counted Free persons, Slaves and White persons
The first recorded census in Belize was held on October 22, 1790. It showed a total population of 2,493 classified by male/female/children and description of inhabitants as Free persons (340), Slaves (1,923) and White persons (230), according to the Statistical Institute of Belize.