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Are You Legally “Hispanic” if You are One-Quarter Mexican but Don’t Have Ties to the “Hispanic Community?”

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In Major Concrete Constr., Inc. v. Erie, 521 N.Y.S.2d 959 (NY. App. Div. 1987). a New York appellate court upheld an administrative ruling that an applicant for Minority Business Enterprise certification with the Erie/Buffalo Joint Certification Committee who was 25% Mexican, 25% Irish, and 50% Italian did not qualify as Hispanic. The local rule for “Hispanic status” was that an applicant must be “[a] person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central or South American or other Spanish culture, regardless of race.” The applicant claimed that he qualified as Hispanic because his grandmother was 100% Mexican. However, he admitted that he did not keep any ties with the Hispanic community, did not belong to any Hispanic groups or clubs, did not have any Hispanic friends, and that no Hispanics live in his neighborhood. His attorney told the Committee that he was of Italian background. The Committee denied his application on the grounds that: (1) he is only 25% Mexican, (2) he keeps no contact with the Hispanic community or its culture, and (3) neither he nor members of members of his family identify as Hispanic. A trial court reversed, but the appellate court reinstated the denial, finding that the decision was supported by a rational basis, all that was required under relevant administrative law.

Note that in other jurisdictions, being of Spanish descent or culture is sufficient to claim identity. At some point, I’ll blog a federal administrative decision that a Sephardic Jew who didn’t speak Spanish, didn’t have a Spanish-sounding surname, and had no ties to the “Hispanic community” was Hispanic for purposes of federal MBE qualification.

General research note: Like almost everyone, I thought that ethnic/racial identification in the U.S. for legal purposes was solely a matter of self-identification. I’ve learned that this isn’t always true, and I’ve been researching various rules, administrative rulings and cases accepting or rejecting someone’s claim of minority status.

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About The Author

David Bernstein

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