Census Critical for Latinos

By Julia Gonzales
Coordinator of the LatinoJustice Youth Civic Engagement Network

When my friends and I think about the challenges facing our Latino community, we come up with a list of reasons why we can’t stand idly by: a climate of hate and violence against Latinos, the disappointing halt on comprehensive immigration reform, disparate educational opportunities for young people, and forced separations of friends and family.

For Latinos, it is a lot to contend with, and a 10 question US Census survey appears tedious and relatively low on our list of priorities. But we should place it at the top.

One of the best ways for us to confront these injustices and better our communities is to ensure that we are represented in government, that we get all of the services we are entitled to and that our voice is heard. The 2010 US Census in an opportunity to ensure these things.

Experts predict that less than half of Latinos will definitely participate in this year’s census. As a young Latina, I am very concerned for the future of my community should prediction turn to fact.

But concern gets us nowhere. Action, on the other hand, begets change. And as a community we have to make Census participation our personal mission.

Many of us come from large families – my father had 51 first cousins. If I call every member of my family to ensure their participation I have already made an impact. And I will. Between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, people in the grocery line, or the people who work at our favorite deli we can – and must – ensure an accurate count of our communities.

My friends and I are telling everyone we know and even some people we don’t know that they have to fill out their census forms. Through letters, social networking and even talking to strangers on the subway, we are making it our personal mission to make sure that Latinos are accurately counted.

For every 100 people that go uncounted in the census, a community stands to lose $1.2 million dollars in federal funding over the next decade. Census data supports the creation of public sector jobs, it funds the schools and programs for early childhood education, it funds hospitals and Medicaid, and it documents discrimination and enforces civil rights laws.

One of the most important things to note is that the Census survey does not ask about legal status, and Census representatives are prohibited by law from inquiring about it. The actions of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, and in towns whose police are allowed to work as immigration agents have made it difficult to differentiate between federal immigration agents, the police, and the Census Bureau. In this instance, the future of our communities depends on our ability to make that differentiation.

Some in our community are calling for a boycott of the 2010 Census. They claim their boycott is a rallying tool to demand immigration reform. But a lack of participation in the Census renders our communities politically irrelevant and voiceless.

The boycott also sends the wrong message to the Latino community about participation in civic life. As the number of Latinos increase respective to the rest of the population, so must the number of representative seats in our districts. When we have the power and the motivation to elect officials charged with the task of representing our needs in Congress, we will begin to see the improvements our communities crave.

The Census is a survey, and I know that surveys don’t make for sexy action items when it comes to social justice movements. But for a young aspiring lawyer who hopes to be an agent of change in my community, there is nothing more relevant to social justice. We must all fill out our Census surveys and ensure that everyone we know and love do the same.

Read more about the Census 2010 Latino Outreach and Civic Participation Project

Julia Gonzales, originally from Oakland, CA, is a senior at Columbia University. She is currently the Coordinator of the LatinoJustice Youth Civic Engagement Network.

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