Profile Rises for Multiracial People ; Americans of Mixed Ancestry Come from a Wide Variety of Communities and Tend to Be Young

Article excerpt

Multiracial Americans - one of the nation's most dynamic groups - pose a growing challenge to traditional notions about racial identity.

They're adding new hues to the complexion of America. They're blurring distinctions among black and white, Asian and native American - which may one day help erase racism in the United States.

But much remains to be known about them. Even simple questions like, "How many multiracial Americans are there?" are proving tricky.

New state figures from the Census Bureau, however, offer some clues about this group, which includes golfer Tiger Woods and singers Paula Abdul and Mariah Carey. According to the data released so far, multiracial Americans are young, tend to live in cities in the West, and come from a wide variety of communities: from military bases to college towns to blue-collar, industrial cities.

Officially, one in 40 Americans calls himself or herself the product of two or more racial groups, according to the 2000 census. And 14 of the nation's 100 largest cities boast a multiracial group that represents 5 percent or more of their populations. Eleven of the cities are in California.

But such numbers are almost certainly skewed, demographers say, because many Americans confuse race and ethnicity when filling out forms. For example, the Census Bureau regards Hispanics as an ethnic group, like Polish or Chinese, rather than a race, like white or Asian. So the bureau expected Latinos to mark their race as white or black and their ethnic origin as Hispanic. But the bureau now concedes that many Hispanics marked themselves as white or black and "some other race" for Hispanic. In effect, they're "phantom multiracials."

Places that rank high

Count only non-Hispanics, and another picture emerges. Only seven large cities can boast a 5 percent or greater share of multiracials. Four of them are in California.

The US city with the biggest share of non-Hispanic multiracials is Honolulu (with 13.7 percent). That's no surprise, given the city's heavy Asian population. Neither is Anchorage (5.5 percent), with its large share of Alaska natives.

The rest of the list wasn't as predictable, however. The usual melting pots, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, are bested by lesser-known California cities such as Glendale (10.6 percent), Stockton (6.0 percent), Sacramento (5.7 percent), and Fremont (5.1 percent).

You can probably discount Glendale because of phantom multiracials in the form of Armenians. "So many recent immigrants were confused," says Julie Park, research manager for the race contours project of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "We hypothesize that the majority of the people who marked multirace are actually Armenians who marked 'white' and 'some other race,' delineating their ethnic background."

Surprisingly, only one large US city east of the Sierra Nevada boasts a non-Hispanic multiracial population larger than 5 percent. And it's not New York, Chicago, or Miami. It's unheralded Jersey City, N.J.

Once a center for organized crime, the city now hosts a crazy quilt of people - from poor Egyptians looking for a new life to New Yorkers in search of cheaper housing.

Nationally, multiracial Americans represent the second-smallest racial group after native Hawaiians (which include other Pacific Islanders). …