April 11, 2010 | The Middletown Press | Original Article

Race and the Census: Man claims it’s not about color - just the numbers

When Ariel Martinez entered kindergarten, the Rs in his name rolled off his tongue.

Then, as he grew older, his name was still spelled the same, but it had a different ring to it when he spoke: (Martin)-ess.

Now, as a grown man and father, Martinez is teaching his son to embrace the family’s Hispanic heritage. When the 2010 census form arrived in the mail, he had another lesson for his son.

“I am an American because I was born here. I’m proud to have the ancestry of being Puerto Rican. My parents are Puerto Rican,” Martinez said. “The census thing is about being counted. It’s not about race. It’s about numbers.”

Martinez serves as executive of director of New Life Corp. in New Haven, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and families reach economic security through financial literacy programs, free tax preparation services for lower income earners and employment services.

New Life is helping the Census Bureau urge participation, which has been low among minorities since forms started reaching households in the latter half of last month.

“Fill it out regardless of race, creed or color,” Martinez says to the public.

The U.S. Census Bureau, however, will pay close attention to race, creed and color. The 2010 count is expected to show rapid growth in the past 10 years of Asian and Hispanic residents. The information does more than reflect the changing face of America, it allows the government to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

State and local governments will use the data to plan and administer bilingual programs, assess fairness of employment practices and monitor racial disparities in health, education and other public services.

Until the 2000 Census, residents had to singularly choose black, white, Asian or American Indian/Alaska Native when responding to questions on race. Hispanic is not treated as a racial designation and is handled in a separate question.

The new form unveiled a decade ago allows people to check multiple boxes, giving flexibility to identify themselves more broadly.

For example, multi-racial individuals who check off “black, African American or Negro” among their selections still are counted in the total for the black category.

Ana Maria Garcia, partnership coordinator for the Census Bureau’s Boston regional office, said the change has not resulted in a statistical dilution of racial groups, which was a concern particularly among blacks 10 years ago.

Evelyn Tucker of New Haven, who is multi-racial, said she prefers being able to pick black, white and Native American to more accurately reflect her ancestry.

Due to the association of the word “Negro” with periods of oppression and brutality in the country’s history, some are offended the word continues to appear on the census form.

“I didn’t even notice it,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t bother me.”

The bureau posts a statement on its Web site saying, “The Census Bureau is testing the removal of the term “Negro” from the question on race, and results of this research will inform design changes for future surveys and the 2020 Census. We are sorry if some are offended by the use of this word in the 2010 Census and hope that it will not stop them from returning their forms and being fully counted by the census.”

Garcia said people who continue to identify themselves using the word Negro tend to be older and live in the South. “It actually reflects what people relate to,” she said.

Eugene Hancock of Bridgeport, who regularly shops at the weekend flea market on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard in New Haven, said he checked one box and considers himself an African American. “That word Negro goes back centuries,” he said.

Fred Roberts, a New Haven-based freelance photographer, said his choice was clear. “I’m 100 percent black,” he said.

Orlando Rodriguez, co-author of the report “Projected Population in 2010 for Congressional Districts in Connecticut,” said the state’s population is growing modestly, but is growing among Hispanic and Asian immigrants.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing more ethnically diverse people. Years from now, we might not see a Hispanic category. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hispanic was gone in 2020, definitely by 2030,” he said.

The Hispanic origin question lists Hispanic, Latino, Spanish, Mexican, Chicano, Mexican American, Puerto Rican or Cuban.

Racial categories are determined by Congress prior to each count.

“The census is self-reported. It’s how you view yourself. As our society becomes more mixed, the whole issue might just go away,” said Rodriguez, who is Cuban.

Andrew Orefice, a resident of New Haven’s Westville neighborhood, where the community management team is helping raise awareness about the census, said he does not believe race is the most important element.

Heritage, he said, is more important to him in a cultural sense, such as when he is trying recipes. “I like to cook, so I’ll generally look up recipes that are traditional to, say, the Italian side or the Lithuanian side of my family. I get a kick out of that and my family gets a kick out of that on holidays,” Orefice said.

The rate of population growth in Connecticut is fastest among Asians but the numbers of individuals coming to America is higher among Hispanics. Approximately 15,000 immigrants per year are coming to the state from mainland China and South Asian India, Rodriguez said.

Fertility rates are low across all racial groups, he said. “We don’t have enough children to replace the number of people who are dying.”

Additionally, there are more people moving out of Connecticut and into other states than those moving here from other states, he said: “The South is different. That’s where people are moving, that’s where immigrants are going.”

Rodriguez conducted the research last year, while serving was demographer and manager with the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut. He is now a senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children.

Rodriguez and Martinez said both the Internal Revenue Service and the Census Bureau steer clear of immigration law enforcement.

One of the myths dampening the response rate among illegal immigrants is that participating could lead to deportation. Garcia said the bureau wants to count everyone living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

“If you want to stay under the radar, respond to the census questionnaire. No one’s going to knock on your door. Just respond to form and be done with it,” Rodriguez said.

The Center for Urban Research at City University of New York Graduate Center analyzed participation rates through April 6, by variables such race and Hispanic origin. Researchers found that counties with higher percentages of whites had higher participation rates than counties with higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics.

As of Saturday, the national participation rate was 65 percent.

New Haven’s participation rate was 52 percent, compared to Hartford and Bridgeport, both at 49 percent. Middletown’s participation rate hit 65 percent.

Adam Dolan, of Middletown, said he received two census forms in the mail, one of which he answered without any trouble. But Dolan does not feel the census is of any particular significance to him, he said.

“I don’t trust any of the statistics the government puts together,” Dolan said.

“I had no problems,” said Branford Dixon, also of Middletown. “I got it in the mail and already sent it out. It said if I didn’t fill it out, then I’m breaking the law.”

This past week, officials from the U.S. Census Bureau counted homeless people in Middlesex County.

“Everyone is important. Everyone counts,” said F. Ellen Whaley, the manager of the Norwich office, which covers all of the 64 cities and towns in New London, Middlesex, Tolland and Windham counties, plus Glastonbury and Marlborough in Hartford County.

Whaley stressed that this year’s census questions are not intrusive, only asking for a respondent’s name, age, race, birth date and where they live most of the time.