By Alexa Figueroa

Alexa Figueroa is a student at the University of Maryland, double majoring in journalism and Spanish.

College application season is approaching, and every Hispanic person intending to apply is familiar with the dreaded question on every form — the question about race, with a set of predetermined options. This question stops us in our tracks; we either choose an option that is relevant to our background or, if you’re like me, you leave it blank. 

When the time comes to choose a race, people who identify as Hispanic will want to pick that, except it’s not a race — it’s an ethnicity. 

As described in a 2012 article by the Pew Research Center, Hispanic people don’t see themselves fitting into the standard racial categories and instead identify most closely with the country their family is from, and so saying that they are Cuban, Dominican or Mexican (and similar). According to study results published by Pew, more than half choose to identify their race as “some other race” or volunteer “Hispanic/Latino.” 

Many Hispanic people come from a mestizo background, a mix of European and American indigenous descent. Others may describe themselves as having a mix of European and Black African roots. But the word mestizo is a social construct and isn’t commonly used anymore. 

We can’t discuss identity without considering the various groups that exist in Latin America. In particular, Afro-Latinidad — individuals who are of African and Latin American ancestry — suffer significant disadvantages due to racism in Hispanic communities, a prejudice they often first experience in Latin America that may continue to shape their lives here in the U.S. 

Black Latinos, many of whom identify as Indigenous, as well as Black and Latino, experience higher rates of discrimination than non-Black Latinos, according to a June 2022 analysis by Michelle Bueno Vásquez published in The Washington Post

When an individual faces discrimination, choosing white as a race can be used as a strategy to counter that discrimination, as described by Gene Demby in a 2014 piece for  NPR’s “Code switch” podcast.

It is not surprising that this strategy of claiming whiteness has been adopted by members of some Latino groups. The experiences we face, the racism we experience and the erasure that has been plaguing us for centuries all factor into our identity. Somos hispanos  — we are Hispanic — but sometimes we are much more than that. 

For the majority of Hispanic people, white doesn’t begin to describe how we identify ourselves. Checkmarks can’t take into account the culture we grew up in or the language we speak. For all of these complex and intertwined reasons, many of us now simply check Prefer Not to Answer.