Jorge Luis Ribas, an assistant professor of anatomy at the federal government's Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, refers to himself, as an American citizen and a trained veterinarian. He didn't know until recently that the federal government has another name for him. They list him in his personnel files as "Hispanic."
Because Ribas believes that minority designations only perpetuate "tokenism" in employment, he has asked the federal government to reclassify him from "Hispanic" to "White."
"I'm not trying to seek any advantage in any way," Ribas said yesterday. "I just want to compete with everyone else."
Ribas, a Silver Spring resident, was among the Hispanic leaders who protested to Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist last month after county employe Robert E. Lee changed his name to Roberto Eduardo Leon and requested he be reclassified as a member of the Hispanic minority group.
In a meeting with Gilchrist, the protestors asked that Leon's reclassification be nullified because they said he had found a "loophole" in the system that made him eliglble for promotion over other white males and abused the purposed of affirmative action programs.
Leon was granted the change because he had a Spanish grandfather, county officials said at the time.
Ribas, a native of Ecuador who gained his American citizenship in 1972, said he never knew he was classified as a Hispanic until earlier this year when some colleagues referred to him as "numero uno" (number one) and hinted that he would receive preferential treatment in promotions.
"I was perturbed, because that is the first time I had encountered "numero uno," said Ribas, and assistant professor at the Defense Department's University since 1976.
To monitor minority hiring, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management requires a "visual" assessment of new employes to determine if they fit the "Hispanic" or "Spanish surname" category.
Ribas, who has dark hair, a Spanish sounding name and speaks with a moderate accent, says he is "offended" by the designation "only by looks."
"Hispanic is not race but an ethnic group," he said.
The information is used only for "program statistics" applied to job preference in and cannot be an individual's assignment or promotions, said Philip Schneider of the Office of Personnel Management.
"The case has never come up before," Schneider said.
He said Ribas has a right to appeal but its affect will be unclear because the regulation has never been challenged.
The agency already is experimenting with a pilot program in which employes are asked to state orally their own minority group. "You wouldn't believe it but there is a 5 percent error in visual identification,". . . with long hair and bulky sweaters and now that everyone's carrying handbags," said Andrea Diane Graham of Schneider's office.
"But I don't become a white male by saying I don't like being a black female anymore," she said.