W N O


Mexicans always have trouble classifying themselves ethnically or racially on paperwork such as questionaires, job applications, census forms, and hospital admissions forms. You know, the part where you have to choose among White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc. Well, admittedly, Mexicans have it a lot easier now, but things were much different when I was growing up in the 1960s. As the best English speaker in my family, I would often have to translate for my parents in many situations. So, I would have to explain to them where to write their name, address, telephone number, and other pertinent information on the various forms they would bring home to fill out. The one that always stumped us was the section labeled Race. There were only three boxes from which to choose: W N O. No eplanations were given, just initials. W was easy to interpret because it obviously stood for “White.” N was a little trickier for me as an eight-year-old boy. From what I heard, N stood for Negro which was the “official” race category at that time. However, judging by the racial discrimination that existed in the 1960s, I’m sure that what the powers that be really meant by N was the N-word. So what did O stand for? I never quite figured O out. I wasn’t sure if O meant Other or Oriental. Just so no one would laugh at us if we were mistaken about O, we would always check W. We were pretty sure that we weren’t W, but we were also pretty sure we weren’t N. As far as O was concerned, we didn’t even know what O stood for, so how could we choose O. W was the safest choice. And no one ever criticized our decision. Nowadays, I often have the option of choosing Mexican, thereby making my life a little simpler.

Which box do I check?

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David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.

One thought on “W N O

  1. Heck, when I was growing up, i thought the O word was for :
    “Oriental” or “Other”…
    I chose to be “Other”…
    but I also had the “benefit” of also being profiled as chinese…
    I enjoyed the attention so much, that I metamorphized…
    Sometimes, it is easier to fix a problem,
    by viewing it from many angles…

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