March 12, 2010 | Latina Magazine | Original Article

The Final Countdown: The 2010 Census

To be counted or not to be counted? That’s the question facing millions of Latinos as the 2010 Census forms are mailed out starting this month. What we decide will move billions of dollars and could shift the balance of power in Congress. It’s no surprise then, that most of this year’s Census news is all about us—from a raging controversy over whether any Latinos should allow themselves to be counted, to a spicy telenovela ad campaign the Census Bureau hopes will convince us to participate.

Starting last fall, the nationwide count sparked a huge brouhaha. On one hand, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) began asking Latinos—especially undocumented immigrants—not to participate in any Census until Congress passes immigration reform. Part of their complaint: The reform issue is being ignored, as our elected officials focus on health care, the economy and Afghanistan. There is also fear that Census data will be used to target Latino areas for immigration crackdowns. “We are saying to people, ‘Do not open the door, do not respond to the questionnaire, don’t expose yourself more,’ ” says the boycott’s spokesman and CONLAMIC president, the Reverend Miguel Rivera.

But other Latino leaders, including the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), are against the boycott, calling it “flawed logic” and “irresponsible.”  They’ve created a coalition in favor of the Census: Ya Es Hora / Hágase Contar. Targeting Hispanics—especially those in newly emerging Latino neighborhoods across the nation, such as Georgia, Nevada, Utah and South Carolina—the campaign educates and motivates Latinos to participate through a combination of grassroots community organizing and Spanish-language programming.

In Congress, some conservatives want to include only citizens in the Census—leaving out at least 12 million Latinos. Democrats recently blocked such a proposal by Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter. Some Census supporters say not counting the undocumented would hark back to the time when African American slaves counted for only three-fifths of a person and Native Americans didn’t count at all.

So why all the fuss? The answer boils down to money and power. Census stats determine how the government will hand out $400 billion in funds for schools, firehouses, clinics and other basic community services. And because the Latino population has zoomed up by an estimated 14 million people since 2000, an accurate count would make our neighborhoods’ slice of the American pie grow significantly larger.  The count also determines how many officials each state gets in the House of Representatives, all of which means Latino-heavy states stand to gain unprecedented power—but only if we all participate.

Experts estimate the last Census missed approximately 1.3 million Latinos. That was likely because some indocumentados feared participating and because some other Latinos didn’t understand English. As a result, this year the Census Bureau is sending out some 13 million questionnaires in both Spanish and English to heavily Latino neighborhoods across the country.

To further ease fears, the bureau has also poured millions of dollars into an ad initiative of its own, stressing that the forms are confidential and won’t ask about immigration status. The untitled campaign is its biggest ever—running from January to June—and includes everything from TV and magazine ads to murals painted in Latino neighborhoods. One particular tactic has Dominican actress Michelle Vargas, star of Telemundo’s Más Sabe el Diablo, applying for a job with the bureau as part of the novela’s plot.

With all of this outreach, Census Bureau and Hágase Contar leaders are hoping that Latinos will participate at higher levels than ever. “We cannot have a successful 2010 enumeration without a full count of the Latino community,” warns Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund. Talk about strength in numbers.