Are Brazilian Immigrants Latinos?

I can never keep straight whether Brazilians are supposed to be Hispanic/Latino or not — and therefore a legally protected class eligible for affirmative action and disparate impact discrimination lawsuits. That`s because the U.S. government is woozy on this question. Brazilians don`t speak Spanish so they can hardly be said to be Hispanic, but they are from Latin America, so maybe they are Latino?

The 2010 Census said:

“Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race

Okay, so Brazilians are from “South or Central America,” but they aren`t from “Spanish culture or origin.” There`s no logical AND in the definition that says they have to be “Spanish culture” but it`s kind of implied.

So, it`s a mess. But, after all, there are only 195,000,000 people in Brazil, so why should the U.S. government bother to make up its mind before even more get here? After all, we can all predict that once enough Brazilians are in the United States to make up a sizable political bloc and they realize the advantages of being a protected class, they will be definitively defined as entitled to all the preferences currently going to Latinos. That`s how things work in the U.S. As Christopher Caldwell said in a slightly different context:

“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can`t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can`t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.” 

Update: I found an essay from the always helpful Pew Hispanic Center on “Who Is Hispanic?” Basically, it comes down to shamelessness:

Here’s a quick primer on how the Census Bureau approach works.
Q. I immigrated to Phoenix from Mexico. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My grandparents were born in Spain but I grew up in California. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. I was born in Maryland and married an immigrant from El Salvador. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. My mom is from Chile and my dad is from Iowa. I was born in Des Moines. Am I Hispanic?
A. You are if you say so.
Q. I was born in Argentina but grew up in Texas. I don’t consider myself Hispanic. Does the Census count me as an Hispanic?
A. Not if you say you aren’t.

(No, I didn`t make that up. Let me take a moment once again to salute the Pew Hispanic Center, which is about ten times better than they would have to be.)

At present, not many Brazilians in the U.S. say they are Hispanic/Latino. That would be a good reason to emphasize the word “Hispanic” over “Latino,” since the former probably turns off Brazilians. We are not miserable Hispanics, we are proud Lusitanics!

Anyway, I bring Brazilians up because the Economist had an article on race in Brazil, “Affirming a Divide.” Whether or not Brazilians are Hispanics, they share a lot of cultural traits with Latinos: namely, they are racist as hell. It`s just not old American-style one drop anti-black racism. Instead of a color line, they have a color continuum, which allows practically everybody to discriminate enthusiastically against somebody a little darker or woolier-haired than themselves. You can even hope to rise up the color continuum. Ambitious Brazilians can get their hair relaxed, stay out of the sun, maybe use one of those scary-sounding skin bleachers like Sammy Sosa did, and, voila, they are whiter than they used to be. Similarly, if sisters can be racially different in Brazil is one is fairer and straighter-haired. And if not you, then perhaps you can marry a fairer person so your children will be fairer. And even if you can`t do that, perhaps one of your children will look whiter just due to random genetic luck. So, there is always hope for social advancement!

Not surprisingly, this works as a pretty effective Divide and Conquer strategy for the whites who run Brazil. Thus, only over the last decade has the Brazilian government begun gingerly experimenting with race and class-based affirmative action, and still does very little in the way of suing for discrimination.

Also, not surprisingly, it`s easy to cheat the new quota system in Brazil: get a tan, get your hair permed, and maybe you`ll get in under a quota. They are supposed to have panels to inspect people who claim to be black enough to qualify for a quota. That would make a fun Brazilian reality TV / makeover show: You could follow two groups: a bunch of blackish people trying to lighten up to get past the velvet rope at a fancy nightclub, and a bunch of whitish people trying to darken down to win quota spots at a university.