January 29, 2010 | The Herald (Monterey County) | Original Article

Stand up, be counted

The 2000 Census registered 401,762 people living in Monterey County. But initially, the effort failed to count at least 9,000 residents. And, some believe, many more people remained unregistered.

The county has difficult populations to reach — migrant workers, non-English speaking immigrants, and rural dwellers. At the opening of the U.S. Census Salinas office Friday, attended by nearly 100 people, politicians and community advocates urged people to spread the word about the importance of the decennial count and to make sure all residents respond to the 10-question questionnaire.

"Service providers understand that, when you don't have an adequate count you have to make cuts to good programs," said Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas.

The census is a constitutional mandate first carried out in 1790 under President George Washington. Population numbers are used to allocate an estimated $400billion in federal funds annually. Because Congressional seats are assigned according to the size of the population, a state's delegation can grow or shrink after the census.

Information gleaned from the census is used by federal and non-government organizations to determine the need for services such as schools, roads, hospitals, child care and job training facilities.

"It's not just an important activity, but required by the Constitution," said San Benito County Supervisor Reb Monaco. "I encourage each resident to take the census seriously."

The Salinas office, on the corner of Alvin Drive and North Main Street, will be the hub for Monterey and San Benito counties, a place where more than 120 people already work and dozens more are expected to be hired.

This year, Mexican indigenous leaders plan to urge people to respond to the census and fill out question No. 9 — the question that asks about race — with the name of their own indigenous group.

"We want people to say if they are Zapotec, Triqui, Mixteco to see if we can reflect those numbers," said Rufino Dominguez-Santos, executive director of the binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities.

There are large pockets of Oaxacan immigrants in the county, clustered in Greenfield, King City, Castroville and Salinas.

Juanita de Jesus, a Triqui community outreach worker, said she is already helping spread the word in Hollister, where many Oaxacan indigenous migrants live.

"We're already helping out," she said.

Latinos, the largest ethnic group in the county, are one of the hardest-to-reach populations. In the 2000 census, of the more than 9,000 people initially undercounted, almost 7,000 were Latinos.

"There was much undercounting in Monterey County, especially in south Monterey County," said Lydia Zendejas of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. The group has set up a Central Coast operation to reach out to the local Latino population.

"There are lots of nontraditional housing units, like labor camps," Zendejas said. "There's the Oaxacan community, the migrant workers, and our intention is to educate the community in making sure they fill (the form) out."

Officials believe undocumented residents could be afraid of the federal government, but they insist the information gathered in the census is not shared with any other agency — not the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Sheriff's Office.

"Regardless of legal or socioeconomic status, everybody deserves to be counted," said Salinas Councilman Sergio Sanchez.

In an effort to bridge the cultural gap in immigrant families, the census has sent information packages to schools so teachers can impart the importance of the census to students, and they in turn instruct their families about this activity.

The postage-paid, 10-question census form will go out the first week of March to all households in the country, either by mail or by a visit by a census worker. April 1 is Census Day, and households that have not sent their responses will be visited by a census worker beginning late April.


Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or cmelendez@montereyherald.com.