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Any census in asking?

22 January 2010

With the plausible excuse that a shorter census form means less expense, and the government needs to save money, INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geography, for its initials in Spanish) has shorted the 79 question 2000 census form to a mere 29 questions.

There is some speculation that the present administration would just as not know about some information  which would force them to rethink some social policies.  By not asking questions about family nutrition and food supply (asked in previous censuses), there is some question of how serious this administration is about farm policy, for example.

The choices given for “Religion” (Catholic, none or other) appear designed to skew answers towards the first of those choices.  This reinforces the assumption that “Mexico is a Catholic country” which — while probably true in that the majority of people identify themselves as “Catholic” it tells us nothing about their beliefs, practices or true self-identity.  However, it does make it easier for the present PAN administration to ignore minority concerns and have some rationale for continuing to promote “traditional (Catholic) values”.

The form does include typically “Mexican” — and socially useful — questions like what kind of roof is on one’s home (cardboard and palm-leafs are among the possible responses), whether one has an indoor privy, and what type, if any, of health insurance plan one is covered under.  We have a couple of different national health plans, none of which are completely universal.

Mexico does not recognize “race” in any legal sense, and the question would never be raised.  People who tell you — and tell you with complete sincerity — that this country is some percentage European, some percentage “mestizo” and some percentage “indigenous” are full of shit.  Any numbers they claim to have seen are pure guesswork at best.  Mexico does consider CULTURAL identity, which is largely self-defined.  If Nahuatl twins both marry the daughters of Spanish immigrants, and one twin moves to Mexico City, where his children speak Spanish, and live a modern, urban lifetyle, those children are probably not indigenous, where the children of the twin who stays in his village, and speak Nahautl, probably are.  Bloodlines have nothing to do with it.

There is only an indirect method of determining this, and the only question that relates to culture seems skewed to under-counting minorities.  There is a question asking if a person speaks a  “lingua o dialecto indigena“, otherwise, nothing about minority cultures.   The Secretariat of Public Education, in Catàlogo de las lenguas indígenas nacionales (Diario Official de la Federación, 14 de enero de 2008) specifies that there is no such thing as a “dialecto” — only “variantes” (seeing there is no way to decide which of the eight different forms of of Zoque, there, logically can’t be one that is “standard” making the other seven mere “dialects” that can be safely ignored by educators).

The United States Census Bureau, which — reflecting U.S. culture and history — obsesses over “race” and racial identity is in something of a pickle this year regarding those Mexican immigrants (and children of immigrants) who self-identify in the Mexican sense as “indigenous” but may also, in the U.S. sense, be considered “Native Americans.”  While there are some people, like Apaches, that have always lived in both countries (or, like the Yaquì, have been long established in the United States), there are those like recent Mixtec immigrants… who speak a number of related “native American” languages, but are not historically indigenous to the United States.

As it is, the Mexican census will  give an incomplete picture of national minorities, completely ignoring the unofficial, but widely spoken, European languages.  Working for a publisher in one of those minority languages  (English, German — including Platdeutch, Italian, French, Basque and Catalan are spoken in various parts of Mexico) I’d like to know how many of us there really are.

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