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Multiracial people make up an increasing percentage of the population, and the census allows them to more completely embrace their racial identity.

With limited options in the decades before the 2000 census, multiracial people were forced to deny a portion of their ethnic identity or be defined as the white majority would define them with words such as “mulatto.”

The first census in the United States was held in 1790. Our perceptions of ethnicity changed drastically over the decades that followed.

According to the Pew Research Center, early versions of ethnic categories on the census included instructions that those of “mixed blood” were considered “Negro” or “Indian.”

The first category available to Asians was simply “Chinese,” and Asian Indians were referred to as “Hindus.” In 1930, those of Hispanic ethnicity had the option to identify only as white or Mexican.

It is important that all Americans be able to define and embrace their own ethnic identity. This creates a more accurate picture of who we are as people, as a society and as a culture.

The census now offers the opportunity to rethink ideas such as race, ethnicity and identity.

For centuries, the United States has been commonly referred to as a melting pot of cultures, and the census now allows people of various races to be counted and to share in the allocation of resources based in part on the decennial national population survey.

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