Census changes cut into numbers of some Hispanic groups

The Associated Press
Friday May 10, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Changes in census forms between 1990 and 2000 led to huge undercounts of several Hispanic nationalities, a study released Thursday estimates. 

Without the changes, more than 1 million Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans and people of other nationalities would not have identified themselves in Census 2000 simply as “other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino,” according to the study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Latino think tank. 

In greater Los Angeles, the number of people of Central American ancestry is nearly 50 percent higher than Census 2000 reported, the study found. 

“We knew all along there were a lot more of us than the census counted,” said Carlos H. Vaquerano, executive director of the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund in Los Angeles. 

Representatives of some Hispanic ethnic groups have said that their lower-than-expected Census figures could have implications in areas including public funding, political representation and immigration policy. 

Census 2000 surprised many observers because nearly 18 percent of Latino respondents put themselves in the generic “other” Latino category. In other government surveys, only about 10 percent of Hispanics identified themselves that way. 

The study said the reason for the difference was likely a change in the way the census asked the question of Hispanic origin. 

In both 1990 and 2000, Hispanics who were not Cuban, Mexican or Puerto Rican had to write down their ancestry — instead of just making a check mark — for their national origin to be counted. 

But in 1990, the write-in space was accompanied by these instructions: “Print one group, for example, Argentinian, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Spaniard, and so on.” In 2000, the space simply read, “Print group.”