Census and Sensibility
Tobey Barus is an alumna of the Wexner Heritage Program Denver 08 Group. She is an active volunteer in the Denver Jewish community through her work with Jewish Mosaic, Allied Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center’s Family Programs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last spring a census taker visited our home. (We weren’t dodging the census—it just never showed up!) As he rattled off the list of questions he said, “And I see a mezuzah on your door, so I guess nobody here is Hispanic.” I thought this was odd, given that he had taken the time to ask what our sex was, apparently knowing that this may not always be obvious, yet seemed so confident in this assessment. How did he know that we both identified as Jewish?
Religion is not a question on the census. In fact, with the exception of the question of Hispanic origin, there is no mention of ethnicity either. Our mezuzah may have been a vestige from a previous owner, or something we had admired on another house and decided to add to our own (I know of one non-Jewish person who did this). I explained to him that we are all Jewish in our house, however my mother is Mexican-American, so I also proudly identify as Hispanic (I consider myself to be a Mexi-Jew).
One might say that the face of our Jewish community is changing, however, through my Wexner studies I have learned that there has always been diversity among Jews. This encounter certainly made me more aware of assumptions I make in my Jewish and non-Jewish interactions.