Contradictions and inconsistencies exist in official use of terms for ethnic groups in the United States (Ahdieh and Hahn, 1996; Hahn, 1992, 1999; Hahn and Stroup, 1994). Pan-ethnic categories such as Asian American and Hispanic are largely arbitrary constructions created by demographers and social scientists for purposes of data development, analysis, and policy (Suárez-Orozco, 2000:14). For example, “Hispanic” was introduced by demographers working for the Bureau of the Census in the 1980s as a way to categorize people who are either historically or culturally connected to the Spanish language. Note that “Hispanic” has no precise meaning regarding racial or national origins, and is rejected by many individuals in favor of other terms, including Latino, Mexican American, or Puerto Rican. In addition, Latinos are white, Black, indigenous, Asian, and every possible combination thereof, and originate in more than 20 countries. They may have just arrived or been in this country for generations, speak Spanish but no English or English but no Spanish. An African-American may have been born in Nigeria, Panama, Barbados, or Britain; have lived in the rural south for generations; or be from the urban north. A Chinese Buddhist and a Filipino Catholic are both considered Asian American, though they may have little in common in terms of language, cultural identity, and sense of self (Suárez-Orozco, 2000:14).
This problem with current categories is recognized in the 1977 Office of Management and Budget (OMB, 1977a) directive, which states:
This directive provides standard classification for record keeping, collection, and preservation of data on race and ethnicity in Federal program administrative reporting and statistical activities. These classifications should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature, nor should they be viewed as determinants of eligibility for participation in any Federal program. They have been developed in response to needs expressed by both the executive branch and the Congress to provide for the collection and use of compatible, nonduplicated, exchangeable racial and ethnic data by