There Are Between 28 and 33 Hispanics in the House

by Katherine Connell

An AP report today highlights the difficulties inherent in ethnic bean counting. Apparently the question “How many Hispanics are there in the U.S. Congress?” is not so easy to answer. Most people agree that there are three in the Senate, but the House is another story:

The House Press Gallery, an administrative office of Congress that helps media and House officials get the data and background they need, counts 33 Hispanic representatives in the 113th Congress, not including delegates. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit affiliated with the caucus, puts the number at 31. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials tallies 28.

The criteria the organizations use to identify someone as Hispanic differ and illustrate the difficulty of pinning down what the word means and who it applies to:

NALEO defines Hispanic or Latino as someone who can trace their ancestry to a Spanish-speaking country and identifies with that culture, said Arturo Vargas, NALEO’s executive director.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute has no formal guidelines for compiling its list; it simply counts members who self-identify as Hispanic, including Portuguese, spokesman Scott Gunderson said.

The House Press Gallery, which keeps demographic data on House members, identifies as Hispanic anyone whose linguistic origins come from Spain or Portugal. Press Gallery staff declined to discuss details about their list.

So the AP contacted the offices of the congressmen who appeared on some lists but not others to try to clear up the issue. The answers they received were far from straightforward. Republican congressman Trent Franks does not consider himself Hispanic but has been a member of the Congressional Hispanic Conference since 2003 because he considers Hispanics to be “a critically important part of the . . . conservative coalition in America,” his spokesman said. And his wife is an immigrant who speaks four languages including Spanish, if that’s relevant.

Democratic representative John Garamendi has a paternal grandfather from the Basque region and does not identify as Hispanic. Representatives Jim Costa, David Valadao, and Devin Nunes all have Portuguese ancestry. Nunes isn’t opposed to being considered Hispanic though he finds the term “too broad”; he checked off “Hispanic, other” and filled in “Portuguese” on his Census form. Valadao, whose parents emigrated from Portugal, describes himself as “an American with Portuguese heritage.” Costa does feel that he is Hispanic and has had “that immigrant experience,” his communications director said.