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In New York, Hispanic Small-Business Owners Must Prove Their Ethnicity

Who is Latino? Who counts as Native American?

The debate over who is considered a minority was brought to the spotlight by the Senate race in Massachusetts. Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren claimed she had Native American heritage, but there's no records to indicate that. Still, Warren insists that she learned of her background through family stories and that she is proud of her heritage.

Today, The New York World ran a story that talks about the real-world implications of these questions. Essentially a New York City program that assists minority business owners is asking Latinos to provide proof of their ethnicity by showing a birth certificate and an affidavit confirming their ethnic identity.

The World reports:

"'It's ridiculous that I needed an additional document to prove that I am eligible for the program as a Hispanic,' says Leon-Veras, who employs 120 people in her janitorial services business based in Washington Heights.

"Like Leon-Veras, all Latinos who apply for a certification under the city's Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Program — known as M/WBE — have to provide an affidavit along with their application. None of the other ethnic groups the program serves, including Asians and blacks, must do the same.

"Created in 2005 under Local Law 129, the city's small business program for minorities and women aims to promote "fairness and equity" in city procurement. The city sets goals for the share of government agency contracts that will go to black, Hispanic, Asian and female-run businesses, giving certified businesses a competitive edge in obtaining some government contracts."

We'll let you click over to the story because the intricacies raise interesting questions. But we'll leave you with this thought: The law considers that "Hispanics," whose parents descended from Spain or any other Spanish-speaking European country are not eligible for the program. But those with roots in, for example, Singapore, one of the world's wealthiest countries, seem to be eligible.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.