An Overview of Ethnicity and Race in Eastern Oregon

by Christopher Rich

April 19, 2021

The U.S. Census Bureau collects data on ethnicity and race following standards and classifications set forth by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Data is gathered through surveys where respondents are asked to self-identify. Under the OMB guidelines, ethnicity and race are two separate and distinct concepts. The question of ethnicity pertains only to whether an individual is of Hispanic origin. A person can choose to identify their ethnicity as either not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, or they can choose to identify as yes- Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano; yes- Puerto Rican; yes, Cuban; or yes- another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.

Separate from ethnicity, individuals are also asked to identify their race. Regardless of how they answer the ethnicity question, a person can choose to identify as one or more of the following racial groups: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White, or Some Other Race. This means that people can record their ethnicity and their race in a large number of combinations because the two are not dependent on each other. This also means that individuals of Hispanic origin are included in the race data as well as the ethnicity data. However, because of the racial categories available under the OMB guidelines, the Hispanic population is largely counted in the white category when it comes to race, with a smaller share counted in the some other race category.

Strong Hispanic and Latino Representation in Three Counties

Eastern Oregon’s Hispanic population numbered 37,875 and accounted for 20.7% of the region’s total population in 2019, significantly higher than the state’s overall Hispanic population (13.0%). The majority of Hispanic residents on the east side of the state are clustered in three counties. Morrow County had the largest share of county residents identify as Hispanic or Latino: 36.5% of the county’s total population. Malheur County had a slightly smaller representation at 33.7% of the county’s total population. Umatilla County saw the Hispanic population comprise the smallest share (26.8%) of total population among the three counties. Umatilla however, was home to the largest number of Hispanic and Latino residents at 20,665: twice as many as Malheur and roughly five times that of Morrow.
Hispanic representation is dramatically lower in Eastern Oregon’s remaining five counties. Harney saw the largest share in 2019 with 5.1% of residents claiming Hispanic heritage. Wallowa had the smallest share with 3.1%. Union County was home to the largest population of Hispanic residents among the five county group with 1,276, which accounted for 4.8% of the county’s total population.

American Indian and Alaskan Native, Largest Non-White Race
 
Self-identified racial groupings reveal that Eastern Oregon was predominantly white in 2019, as was the state overall. In Eastern Oregon, 89.1% of residents identified as white, while 84.3% of Oregon residents identified as white. This didn’t change much among the individual counties. Umatilla was at the low end with 85.8% of residents identifying their race as white. Wallowa was at the high end with 94.9% of residents identifying as white.
American Indian or Alaskan Native was the second largest single race designation in the region. Umatilla County, which is home to the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla (Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla), had 3.2% of the county’s population (2,463 people) identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native; the largest share in Eastern Oregon. Harney County, which is home to the Burns Paiute Tribe, had 1.5% of the population (107 people) identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native. Wallowa County, which was once home to the Nez Perce and lies southwest of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Idaho, had the smallest share: 1.1% percent of the population. Outside of Umatilla, American Indians and Alaskan Natives represented on average 1.3% of the population in each Eastern Oregon county.

The Asian population accounted for more than a 1.0% share in Malheur, Umatilla, and Union counties, but less than 1.0% in the other five counties. The Black or African American population accounted for roughly a 1.0% share in Malheur and Umatilla, but less than 1.0% in the other six counties. And the Hawaiian or Pacific Islander population accounted for more than a 1.0% share only in Union County at 1.5%. 
Multiracial Designation Reveals Stronger Diversity

The single race designation fails to show the scope of racial diversity in Eastern Oregon and fails to account for the actual size of the American Indian and Alaskan Native population in the region. This is due to a sizeable share of the population not identifying as one of the OMB’s five standard, single race designations. Instead, 3.4% of the region’s population identifies as Two or More Races while another 3.2% of the population identifies as Some Other Race. These two categories left as they are, obscure the region’s diversity unless we unpack them. 
Within the two or more races designation, there are four standard categories as seen in the accompanying chart. The share of residents who identify as White and American Indian or Alaskan Native is sizeable in each county. A small share of Black or African American and American Indian or Alaskan Native is also seen in three counties. Harney County, for instance, had 4.7% of the county’s total population identify as White and American Indian or Alaskan Native in 2019, while only 1.5% of the county’s population identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native only. This addition reveals that 6.2% of the county’s population actually identifies as having American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage, a much more sizeable share than the 1.5% seen by only examining the single race category. Details from the two or more races category in Umatilla reveal the share of the population with American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage is 5.2% rather than 3.2%. Morrow County gains another 2.1%, Grant County gains 1.7%, and Union County gains 1.4% bringing the three counties to 3.5%, 3.0%, and 2.6% respectively. Eastern Oregon overall gains 1.7%, bringing the total share of residents with American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage to 3.8%. The Asian population also sees an increase, as does the Black or African American population with the addition of the White and Asian, and the White and Black or African American details.
Perhaps one of the most significant obscurities comes to light when we begin to examine the some other race category. This category captures the number of residents who don’t identify as any of the OMB’s standard racial categories, for example, people who identify as Brazilian, Belizean, or French Guianese. The some other race category, also contains people who select this category without also identifying their heritage or country of origin. The Census Bureau has conducted research to discover the racial heritage of this group and found that the majority of respondents in the some other race category are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Many people who identify as Hispanic or Latino feel they are not represented by any of the standard racial categories so they choose to identify as some other race. Those who identify as some other race and also provide an answer that identifies Hispanic or Latino origin, such as Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Cuban are recategorized as White. Those who identify as some other race and don’t provide a specific answer remain in the some other race category.

The Census data on ethnicity and race does allow us to sort by Hispanic or Latino origin and race together in a limited capacity without double counting. In essence, this allows for a comparison of the standard racial categories, with the inclusion of Hispanic or Latino (of any race) as if this was also a racial category. With the inclusion of this category, we get a large shift in the White share of Eastern Oregon’s population. Viewing race in this way reduces the share of the region’s population by white residents from 89.1% to 72.9%.
Moving Forward

This is just a broad overview of ethnicity and race in Eastern Oregon focused on where the majority of this data comes from and how the data is categorized. More detailed data is also available and I hope to use it to continue this topic throughout the year. Check out the race category definitions below for a better understanding of which people groups are included in the different racial categories.

American Indian or Alaska Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.

Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.


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