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In the early 1990s, when I worked in a newspaper newsroom, I had a co-worker named Patty who happened to have a regular white-bread American dad and a Japanese-American mom. Patty worked at the Sports desk and I worked at the Metro desk. She could duke it out with the boys about NFL and college football. I still thought pigskin was something you fry and eat. She was assertive and loud. I was reserved and soft-spoken. She banged the ATEX keyboard with great gusto and power. I constantly complained that the old dinosaur of a keyboard was killing my wrists. We had journalism school at the University of Central Florida in common, but, outside of that, little else to chat about. Still, we were friendly.

For some odd reason, people thought we were twins. They used to mix up our names. They stopped me in the hall and asked if I had a sister in Sports. We were both puzzled by this, but thought it was cute and played along (at least I did). We guessed people saw two petite young women with dark brown hair, round faces and non-descript eyes and they found us a bit similar. In a they’re-both-hard-to-describe sort of way. From far away. Under the fluorescent lights of a labyrinthine newsroom where people could get disoriented and confused. Perhaps back then my cheeks were rounder and higher than they are in my more mature stage, and her hair was fuller and wavier according to the day’s fashion…  

She was there one night when a group of us were hovering near the tube waiting for proofs to be sent up from the production department (sigh, the old days before we went digital and everything was ACTUAL cut and paste and halftones and TCE-leaking darkrooms…we’ll save that for a future piece on urban pollution) and the history columnist, of all people, asked if I needed a green card to work in the U.S., just recently having come from a newsroom in Puerto Rico. Patty and other well-informed people jumped to my defense and chastised him for not knowing that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. All I had left to say was mention the Jones Act of 1917, which made my grandparents citizens. I think Patty mentioned her mom didn’t need a green card either. She, and others, certainly became indignant on my behalf. I ended up defending the history writer and keeping the rest of them from beating him with the nearest ATEX keyboard (those things were about three inches thick).

The point of all this, besides telling you about the darn ATEX, is that ethnicity, nationality, color and race (or any combination thereof) cannot be assumed. They never could be, and lately the old labels seem more irrelevant than ever. Yet the census bureau persists on asking us fifteen different ways what “color” and/or “race” we are, after they ask us some iffy ethnicity questions. Every time they try to be more “politically correct,” the questions become more laughable. I looked for an “Amerasian turning Puerto Rican*” category on the census form but couldn’t find it.

I wonder how my “sister” is doing these days. I wonder what she puts down on the census form.

*I actually feel more Puerto Rican the longer I live on the mainland as opposed to the island. This would be the reverse of Esmeralda Santiago, author of the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.