You’ve seen the commercials. You’ve walked past the posters. Yet your Census 2010 form is still sitting on your kitchen table. “I’ll get to it soon,” you think to yourself. The truth is, now is the best time to fill it out and submit it before the Census deploys workers to knock on your door. Ten questions in ten minutes. Latinos must take this historic opportunity to be counted.
As a nation, we need an accurate depiction of our nation’s makeup. Over the last two decades, the Latino community has become a national community, living in our country’s smallest towns and its biggest cities, in states from coast to coast.
But in the 2000 Census, an estimated one million Latinos were not counted, costing billions of dollars in federal funding. For example, Los Angeles County, home to 4.7 million Latinos, lost $600 million in deferral funding since the last Census. The schools, roadways, and other services in these communities missed the opportunity to benefit from this crucial funding. An accurate count of Latinos benefits all the members of the communities in which we live, and the country as a whole.
We can talk about money, but a full Census count of Latinos is also important for the empowerment of our community. Latinos turned out to march in cities across the country in 2006 to show the nation that we would not be silent in the face of attacks against our community. We voted in record numbers in 2008 to elect candidates who would effectively represent us in our government. Being counted in the Census is the next logical step.
An accurate count of the Latino population in 2010 could lead to a gain in congressional seats in states such as Texas, Arizona, and Nevada, where the Latino population has significantly tipped the balance of the political scales.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, has joined elected officials and national Latino groups on a variety of campaign efforts aimed at motivating the 47 million Latinos in the country to participate in the 2010 Census. Our communities are an integral part of the face of America, yet we continue to deal with setbacks to proper documentation of our growth and diversity.
The visceral tone of the immigration debate coupled with misinformation has caused anxiety among many in the Latino community. Those who are undocumented hesitate to participate out of fear that their information may be shared within other government agencies and result in detention or deportation. Census information is protected and confidential, and the Constitution says every person must be counted. That means Census officials will not, and cannot, share a person’s information with any other jurisdictions. In fact, they face a harsh penalty if they do. Just recently, Secretary Napolitano confirmed this vow of confidentiality in a letter to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Along with dispelling myths about legal status and the Census, it is also important to address the questions that might confuse our community. For many Latinos, who are often products of centuries of racial intermingling, the race options in Question 9 alone do not work. We all know that Latinos are an ethnic group and can be of any race, including White, Afro-Latino, and Native American. That’s why it’s so important in 2010 that Latinos answer both Questions 8 and 9 on the Census form about ethnicity and race, especially since this data is used to enforce important laws such as the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
In the 2000 Census, 97% of people who responded “some other race” were Latino, according to a report presented to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year. In fact, 42% of Hispanics selected “some other race,” adding to crucial undercounting. Any person who answers yes to the question of Hispanic origin may also further explain that he or she is Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, or Puerto Rican, or write in any other Latino heritage under the sun—Argentinean, Chilean, Ecuadorian, Colombian, or Spaniard, to name a few.
We must not underestimate the importance of getting a correct count of Latinos in the U.S. The Hispanic community cannot afford to be misrepresented and undercounted when billions of dollars and the further empowerment of the Latino community are at stake. This year, don’t wait. Be counted now.