Sunday, March 6, 2011

Labeling "U" Colombian

I've been annoyed by ethnicity questions when filling out forms since I have been old enough to fill out my own forms myself. Why does the doctors office need to know my ethnicity? Some might say that maybe because certain ethnic groups are more to certain diseases, but the thing is the doctor never looks at what box I checked anyway. They just look at me and assume that because I look and act pretty much like a white girl, that I am a white girl. They don't even notice the 50% Hispanic or the Native American. The boxes never give a place to check "Mixed" either, which is ridiculous because I would venture to say that there are a lot of mixed race people in this great big melting pot we live in.

Many times I would just ignore the question, or write in something sarcastic like "human" but I recently learned that for some programs, if the participant does not chose an ethnicity, then the person inputting the data has to look at them and guess because their programs do not allow people to refuse to be labeled. Labeling ethnicity is mandatory? Hmmmm.

Maybe the information is useful to some far away person crunching numbers in a cubicle to help them "see" what culturally appropriate materials are needed. I'm not sure that actually works that well though, as the organization I work for is located in a mostly white, English speaking area. I can see, hear and recognize that pretty easily. Yet, when we are sent new batches of "welcome baby cards" to send our clients, they feature 98% brown and black babies. It doesn't really matter because they're all cute anyway, but it makes me wonder why we have to ask people about their race then, and what they do with the information.

Most "official forms" clearly state that race, ethnic group and economic status won't influence eligibility anyway, so why label us then?

Recently, I noticed that they are now considering Hispanics to be white anyway. Hispanic is like a sub-category of white I guess. One of my aunts who is over 60 years old, and very much looks Hispanic, seemed a little surprised when she filled out her most recent census forms, to find out that she was now white after all these years.

I was even more surprised when filling out registration forms for the charter that we homeschool through. After sub-categorizing us as White Hispanics, they wanted to define what kind of Hispanic. On the one hand, it was nice to see that they had "Colombian" listed, as we are probably the only Colombians who live within 200 miles. On the other hand, they listed it as "Columbian" with a "U" in the middle.'s bad enough when a government form from an institute of education has typos, but if you need to label my heritage, you could at least take the time to make sure you spell it correctly.

I mentioned this to a few people. The first person questioned me saying "Are you sure? Isn't it like Columbus?"

"NO! Columbus has nothing to do with Colombia! For goodness sakes, look at your bag of coffee! Those people know how to spell Colombia!"

I went on to look at the registration forms for another charter that we had considered using, and low and behold, they also thought I was "Columbian." Nice- and these are the people who think they are in charge of children's education.

I'm not sure whether I'm more amused or annoyed. I'll bet there is a lawyer out there who would try to convince me that monetary compensation would help to soothe the emotional trauma caused by this racial incident, but since that really isn't my style, I'm just going to go with laughing over these silly people and the silly mislabeled boxes they try to fit us in.