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Why Brazilians Are Not Considered Latinos in the United States

We are from Latin America and we speak a Romance language, Portuguese, but according to the American government and the US Census Bureau, we are not considered Latinos.

I’m Thais Carrança, a reporter for BBC News Brazil in São Paulo, and I will explain why, officially, Brazilians are not considered Latinos in the United States.

You might be wondering many things.

Like “I went there and was treated as a Latino” or “I live in the United States and always check the Latino box on forms” or “but we are Latinos, who are the Americans to come and tell us what we are?”

So, the first important thing is that we are going to talk about the definition by the American government and the US Census Bureau, which conducts population surveys there, similar to our Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

However, this doesn’t mean that Brazilians are not seen as Latinos in American society.

This actually shows how sometimes people’s perception of their own identity doesn’t necessarily align with the official definitions by governments.

It’s also because being Latino means different things to different people.

According to the US Census Bureau, people of Spanish culture or origin are considered Latinos.

This means that Brazilians, who speak Portuguese, are excluded from this definition.

The origin of this lies in a 1976 law passed by the US Congress, which mandated the collection of data on a specific group: “Americans of Spanish origin or descent.”

The following year, in 1977, based on this law, standards for ethnic and racial data collection in the US were published, with five classifications: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, or White.

Twenty years later, in 1997, this classification was revised, and the category Hispanic changed to “Hispanic or Latino.” This was because “Hispanic” was a term more commonly used in the eastern part of the US, while “Latino” was more prevalent in the western part.

They believed that more people would respond to the surveys this way.

But this created confusion for the classification of Brazilians.

While for the American government, the “Hispanic or Latino” classification still referred only to people of Spanish-speaking origin, for us, the term “Latino” relates to the fact that we are Latin Americans and speak a Romance language, Portuguese.

This confusion became evident in 2020 due to an error in an official survey in the United States.

The US Census Bureau usually performs a reclassification in subsequent federal surveys.

Here’s how it works: those who identify as “Hispanic or Latino” but also indicate being Brazilian or from any other non-Spanish-speaking country, such as Portuguese, Filipino, or Jamaican, are reclassified as “non-Hispanic or non-Latino.”

However, in 2020, the US Census Bureau published data without performing this reclassification.

It revealed that 70% of Brazilians living in the US consider themselves Latinos.

In previous years, less than 4% were classified as such due to the reclassification process we explained.

In other words, this error revealed a disconnect between how Brazilians identify themselves and the official classification by the American government.

I asked Brazilian statistician Raphael Nishimura, a researcher at the University of Michigan and a US resident for 13 years, if there is any chance of the US government changing this classification to include Brazilians among Latinos.

He told me that since the Hispanic population in the US is enormous and Brazilians represent less than 1% of that group, there is not much incentive for such a change.

What do you think of the US government’s classification? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you, and

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