Barone: Are Portuguese Hispanic?

By Michael Barone

The Census Bureau is planning to categorize people of Portuguese descent as Hispanic, but some Portuguese-Americans don’t like that a bit (h/t Steve Sailer). Evidently the leaders of this group did not try to ascertain opinion among Brazilians or those of Brazilian residing in the United States, even though Brazil has 20 times the population of Portugal.

By the way the list of Portuguese descended Americans who are obviously hugely disadvantaged in life because of their heretofore unacknowledged Hispanic status include the actors Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves and singers Katy Perry and Steve Perry. Affirmative action to the rescue!

Now that we’re elevating Portuguese-descended people to an affirmative action category, what about Morocco-descended people? Many of them must be descended from Muslims expelled from the Iberian peninsula after the Reconquista of 1492. That unfortunate political decision—one which people would surely not make now—deprived them of an obvious claim to Hispanic status, but they still have a plausible claim to it.

Of course it doesn’t really matter whether the Census Bureau classifies your ethnic group as Hispanic or not, because Hispanic identity is determined by a separate question to which anyone can answer yes. I could claim to be Hispanic because I had great-grandparents who immigrated from Sicily, which was ruled for 300 years by the kings of Spain (that’s about as long as they ruled Mexico). The Hispanic category was invented by the Census Bureau for the 1970 Census and no one has ever been sure exactly who is supposed to be covered. Former Congressman Tony Coelho, who is of Portuguese descent and who represented a district in California’s Central Valley with many Mexican-descended Hispanics, applied for membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He was denied entry. To prove he qualified, he submitted a map of the provinces of the Roman Empire in which “Hispania” covered the whole Iberian peninsula. They let him in. It may have helped that he was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute  

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