I’ve been censed before, millions of times. Census-censed, of course, though I occasionally enjoy bathing in the odor of burning incense.
Experiences of this kind (censuses, not sessions of aromatherapy) have been the daily hey-yo back home for the past eleven years — in addition to some constitutional amendments, a couple of referendums and as many (re)elections as possible, all thrown in a blender.
But the neo-socialist-Bolivarian circus I have for a country has actually taught me three valuable lessons about citizenship:
1) to participate in politics,
2) to get over the frustration of participating in politics, and
come to Yale participate again.”
I also have a counting compulsion, and would claim to know the number of squares on the surface of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library if that wasn’t embarrassing.
Point is, I was not surprised by the rush of excitement I felt after reading Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars Ann Kuhlman’s e-mail to “The International Community” a few weeks ago.
“The United States is conducting a Census!” she exclaimed in her opening sentence.
“41 characters with spaces!” I exclaimed in my head. “A CENSUS!” I continued mind-exclaiming.
Kuhlman added: “Every person … must complete the Census … regardless of their immigration status.”
I almost teared — for the first time, sitting on my generic, quasi-rocking chair felt like home. Just like gingerbread cookies smell like Christmas, fun-sized candy bars taste like Halloween and number nines are purple.
As a consequence of living where I live, governmental affairs have become a defining aspect of my identity. I’m an OCD political animal.
And even though the census has nothing to do with suffrage, in retrospect, being invited at all is definitely an upgrade from last year’s presidential election. I will never forget the Tory who scornfully informed me: “Aliens don’t vote,” while pointing at my Obama button.
Also, it’s a census. Hello? Counting compulsive here. The only way this could have gotten any better is if I had been in charge of doing the counting myself.
My alarm clock purred at 8:51 a.m. on census morning because it takes me eight minutes to get ready and one minute to go to the Master’s Office.
Jim Berry ’12 greeted me as I walked into the office. With a smile and a “take some candy before you leave,” he handed me a form and a pen.
It was finally happening: question 1, question 2 (I could almost see the Census Bureau laser sensing my “x” in the box labeled “Male”), question 3.
Then, question 4, which I thought was oddly specific: “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?”
Being of Spanish parentage, born and raised in Venezuela, I ticked the last box (“Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin”), and added “V E N E Z U E L A N.”
The next question left me actually bamboozled: “What is Person 1’s race?”
I hate this question only because I never know how to answer it. I tend to go for “Latino,” “Hispanic” or even “Chicano,” but none of these was an option here.
I went to Jim, who was wearing a tight-striped polo with 22 alternating stripes (12 blue, 10 white).
“Jim, I have a question,” I said as I recounted the stripes.
“What up?” he replied, with an air of professionalism that didn’t fit the slang.
“Do I have to answer both Question 4 and 5? Because I don’t know what to say for Question 5, and I already answered 4.” I was right the first time: 12 blue, 10 white.
“What?” he was lost.
“I already said I was Latino once, Jim.”
“Read here,” he said, pointing at the two lines of text above the fourth question.
It read: “NOTE: Please answer BOTH Question 4 about Hispanic origin and Question 5 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”
I looked at my options: not white, not black, not Native American. Not Chinese, or “Other Asian.” Certainly not Chamorro.
“Jim, am I white?” I said pitifully.
He was getting sick of me, so he snatched the form out of my hands, looked at the options, and declared: “Yes, Gabriel. You’re white.”
My first thought was: “But I’m not.” The second, “I don’t think Yale knows that.”
But they do!
I checked “White,” gave Jim the form, and ran upstairs to log into the SIS Web site. I found it under Personal Data / Biographical Information: “Are you Hispanic or Latino?” “Yes.”
“Regardless of your answer to the prior question, please check one or more of the following groups in which you consider yourself to be a member:”
“White,” it said.
Doubtful, I went to class hoping to one day figure out my race in North American terms — because the meaning of “Hispanic / Latino” has been reduced to describing only my accent. And not even.
Contact GABRIEL BARCIA at firstname.lastname@example.org .