This is a column about who we are. For the first time, in counting noses in 1980, the Census Bureau asked people about their nationality backgrounds. Fully 83 percent of the 226 million who were counted by the census listed at least one ethnic or nationality group.

And, as recently reported in this newspaper when the census report was released, the No. 1 ancestry of Americans was English, with 50 million, followed closely by German with 49 million, Irish with 40 million, Afro-American with 21 million, French with 13 million, Italian with 12 million, and so on. Other interesting figures: Polish and Mexican tied with 8 million, and American Indians totaled 7 million.

The Asian population was, to me, surprisingly small: 894,000 Chinese, 975,000 Filipinos, 791,000 Japanese. There were 215,000 Vietnamese.

These figures and those of a total of some 100 nationality groups add up to far more than the national population because most of us are of multiple background--in my case, for example, at least four. Interestingly, neither the District of Columbia nor the two nearby states came close to mirroring the national population mix. The District was blacker, Virginia more Anglo-Saxon, Maryland more diverse.

All figures used in this column reflect those who reported "at least one" ancestry group. Therefore they do not double-count those who listed a multiple ethnic background.

Incidentally, there were no figures related to religious backgrounds; Jews, for example, are listed from their countries of national origin, notably Russia, Germany and Poland. This area's Russian ethnic population was statistically insignificant.

Of D.C. residents who listed their ancestry, 67 percent described themselves as Afro-Americans. Given the popularity of the book and TV series "Roots," in which author Alex Haley traced his specific African background, it is noteworthy that only a tiny fraction of Washingtonians could list a specific place of origin on that continent.

No. 2 among District residents' nationality groups were English,9.3 percent, followed by: Irish, 7 percent; German, 6.6 percent; Scottish, 2.2 percent; French 1.9 percent, and Italian, a surprisingly small 1.6 percent. The city's 6,855 American Indians accounted for 1.3 percent. The smallest minority in the city was Saudi Arabians: a total of 4 people.

One figure obviously is flawed. Estimates of the city's Hispanic population range anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000, many of them illegal immigrants. The census listed only 10,432 Hispanics, a scant 1,210 of them Salvadorans.

Germans, with 29 percent of the total, rank first in Maryland's population, apparently representing both the Jewish population of the Baltimore area and the German Protestant concentration in central Maryland. English were second with 26 percent, followed by Afro-Americans with 22 percent, Irish with21 percent, Italians with 5.1 percent and Poles with 4.7 percent. The latter two are concentrated in Baltimore, giving them political clout.

Maryland's 94,534 American Indians accounted for 2 percent.

In Virginia, the Old Colony, ethnic English still predominate, with a startling 40 percent of the population. Germans were second and Irish third, in a virtual tie with 20 percent, and Afro-Americans accounted for 19 percent. Poles accounted for 1.8 percent, less than half of the proportion in Maryland.

Virginia, which has organized Indian tribes and reservations, listed 137,616 American Indians, 3 percent of its population. It also has 8,937 Vietnamese, far more than Maryland (3,588) or the District (308).

Another surprise to me: New York state is home to an astonishing23 percent of all 12.2 million ethnic Italians. California, the nation's most populous state, has the largest English, German, Irish, French, Scottish, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Armenian populations.

Personally, the census figures tell me that I'm certifiably a minority. I'm one of only 91,193 Americans who claims joint German-Irish-Swedish ancestry. And I'm one of only 9,220 with a Manx background as well. An ancestor named Burke tended a lighthouse on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.