Census Faces Problems Counting Some Latino Communities in the United States

Census Faces Problems Counting Some Latino Communities In The United States

GUADALUPE, Arizona.— The two white, Jesuit-mission-style churches and old log houses of this largely Hispanic and native-descendant community seem out of place among so many luxury apartment complexes in Phoenix. .

Founded by Yaqui Indians who fled Mexico more than a century ago, Guadalupe is named after the patron saint of Mexicans, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and is very proud of its history. This community known for its Easter festivities with dancers dressed as deer looks askance at outsiders as it prepares for the 2020 census.

Community leaders hope they can undo whatever fears there may be about this once-every-ten-year count that may decide whether Guadalupe receives more federal funding that underpins a tiny $ 12 million budget that often falls short of plugging wells. on the streets and fix drainage pipes.


“Every source of funds is important to a community as small as this,” said Guadalupe Administrator Jeff Kulaga.

Across the country, small and poor communities like Guadalupe, each with a different ethnic makeup, pose a tough challenge for census workers. Language problems, poverty, passing residents, and mistrust the government make it difficult to count, according to an analysis of statistical information from across the country by the Associated Press.

Almost a third of the 6,500 residents of Guadalupe are descendants of indigenous peoples and 70% identify as Hispanic. A third fight poverty in a community where the average income of a family is about $ 32,000 a year and the value of properties does not reach $ 90,000. Only 60% of adults finished high school.

A similar situation occurs in Immokalee, Florida, where a recent wave of Guatemalan indigenous immigrants speaking only Mayan dialects poses new challenges in a tomato-producing region that Edward R. Murrow highlighted in his 1960 documentary on migrant farmworkers. Harvest of Shame.

The closest hospital is 30 miles away in Naples. This agricultural community of 25,000 inhabitants is so isolated that people have to ask to be put on the roads to go to the supermarkets closer to the coast. More than 43% of its residents live in poverty. A similar percentage did not finish the ninth grade.

Small, poor, mostly Hispanic communities are traditionally poorly accounted for, according to the AP analysis, and pose special problems to census workers, whose mission is to make sure that federal funds reach the communities that need them most.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to count these groups,” said D’Vera Cohn, a census expert at the Pew Research Center. “Perhaps this is due to mistrust in the government or because they are people who are not fixed, but go from one side to another and who do not speak English.”

The Census Bureau is investing $ 500 million in advertising. Of these, $ 50 million is earmarked for ads targeting Hispanics and allaying the fear that they will be asked about their citizenship.

“In 2010 we had a lot of money that was wasted, that did not reach the communities. That’s vital, ”said Vincent Keeys, president of the office of the National Association of People of Color in Collier County, Florida, during a recent conference of nonprofits and government agencies in Immokalee.

The language and customs of the people can be an obstacle in Guadalupe, where most residents speak Spanish in addition to English and where many tribesmen prefer to communicate on Yaqui Easter.

“If you look at the place, you realize that it was not well served by the census in the past,” said community organizer Petra Falcón, who has been working in Guadalupe for decades. “There are high rates of teen pregnancy and suicide, and low wages.”

Tribal officials say they are preparing presentations and hiring Yaqui Easter translators to explain the process to the elders, including the direct connection between a tight count and getting the things the community needs. T-shirts with indigenous designs are being sold that exhort people in English and Yaqui to participate in the census: “It’s in your hands,” say the t-shirts.

“We analyzed the 2010 census a lot and we believe that now people feel more comfortable,” said Letticia Baltazar, a researcher specialized in the tribe.

The Yaqui Easter have about 20,000 members in the United States, including several thousand in Guadalupe.

In Immokalee, the main obstacles are language and the limited formal education of a community with many motor homes in which women carry their babies on their backs and men ride bicycles.

More than 72% of residents are Hispanic, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala. The number of Guatemalans tripled from 2009 to 2016 and is expected to continue to rise as more Central Americans have arrived in the last two years.

The fact that many people live in the same house and the fear of questions about immigration status can complicate the count of communities created in the 19th century by Seminole indigenous people. There are more than 250 tribesmen in a reservation.

“When you deal with communities that live in the shadows, your needs are often not well understood, whether a Walmart, a hospital, or bike lanes,” said Juana Brown, director of charter schools for the Redlands Association of Christian Migrants. from Immokalee.

Brown’s organization collaborates with the Census Bureau to educate migrant families. A social worker offers workshops on the subject and schools distribute information from the census in the hope that students clear up any doubts their parents may have.

While nonprofits tell people that the information they give will not be shared with immigration service authorities, many people believe they will be asked for their Social Security number.

“We came here illegally and this seems like an easy way to catch us if we fill out the forms. But now I understand how it works, ”said María Juárez, who is from San Marcos, Guatemala, and works in the tomato harvest.

Near Phoenix, Yaqui Easter José Román, 43, says he will fill out the form, but believes that many people will not do so in Guadalupe. The government recognized the tribe only in 1978, almost a century after its ancestors escaped repression in Mexico and Arizona, and its recent history is characterized by conflict.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio raided two days in Guadalupe in 2008 looking for undocumented immigrants, after which he was charged with discrimination, as his agents mostly stopped Hispanics for traffic violations and other minor misdemeanors.

“Guadalupe always had to fight battles,” said Santino Bernasconi, deacon of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church.

The church is a great landmark for people like Frank and Ester Cota, octogenarians who got married there and baptized their children. Today they volunteer at the church.

They say that the community has resisted the construction of new works and of a highway that crosses the town, and that this may help explain why some residents resist participating in the census.

“A lot of people, especially the Yaqui, are not very trusting,” said Frank Cota, who does not belong to that tribe. “But they have to participate. It is for their own benefit. “