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Identifying Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans in Surveys

*Susan M. Gabbard, Aguirre Division, JBS International 
Daniel Carroll, US Department of Labor 
Annie Georges, Aguirre Division, JBS International 

Keywords: Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans, ethnic group identification, survey questions

Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans migrants are an emerging and expanding population that travels between the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., it is important to get accurate counts and accurate demographic profiles of these transnational communities not only to inform policy but also to plan for educational, health, translation and other services. The standard OMB race question undercounts indigenous respondents who are often unfamiliar with U.S. racial categories and facing discrimination in both the U.S and their country of origin are sometimes reluctant to self-identify. The authors analyzed data from two question experiments that were embedded in the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) with the goal of improving identification of indigenous Mexicans and Central American in surveys. The NAWS was used as agricultural work is often an entry point for these groups. As a first step, the NAWS added questions on both adult and child language use to better identify the indigenous language use. The results showed that this improved the count of indigenous and that neither the race or language question alone was sufficient to define this group, Demographically distinct groups identified themselves using race only, language only or both as identifiers. Child language increased the count as some individuals listed Spanish as their adult language Among other things this difference was related to state of origin in Mexico. The second questionnaire experiment added questions asking about locale (municipio) of birth of respondent and, to help identify second generation immigrants, respondent’s parents. This data was then used to match U.S. respondents to the geographic taxonomy on indigenous identification developed by INEGI, the Mexican statistical agency. This shed additional light on the multiple ways of identifying indigenous respondents, particularly for those identifying using the race question.

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