Census in the time of coronavirus: More than ever, everybody counts.

The events of 2020 have made us even more committed to change, whether that’s through protesting, donating, voting, or raising awareness. One simple but powerful action is to make sure the real face of America is represented by filling out the 2020 Census.

Ramon Peguero, Executive Director of UnidosUS Affiliate The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families in New York City, explains they are working remotely on the census because “we not only want to breathe, we want to be seen.” El Centro de Servicios Sociales in Lorain, Ohio, has also taken on this work and is ensuring our community sees the importance of getting counted. Last weekend, they prepared a caravan that visited areas in their city with the lowest response rates.

By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

“For the last three months we’ve been hit with three pandemics. The first was the COVID-19 virus, followed by an economic pandemic that is ravishing our community, and finally the evil head of the long-standing pandemic of injustice and racism that led to the senseless murder of George Floyd on the hands of four individuals that had sworn to protect and serve,” Ramon Peguero made this statement last week when UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía checked in with Affiliates to assess how our communities across the country are dealing with the civil unrest in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

 

During his presentation, Peguero stated how his organization continues to focus on their census work, because one way to begin tackling the issue of systemic racism is making ourselves count, and our Affiliates haven’t backed down from this effort: “The census is an important tool to ensure that the resources are given to us,” he said.

GETTING TO OUR COMMUNITY

Ensuring our community completes the census comes down to trust, and trust without outreach cannot be achieved. “The communities that we serve, the Latino community, tends to have a negative view of government, in particular those in the community that are undocumented or mixed-status households: they do not want to give their information out to government entities.” Peguero is adamant about making sure Latinos are counted, and The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF) has been working for months to ensure that happens.

In conversations with the city of New York around census work, they stressed the need to give grants to local nonprofits that would look like those they are trying to reach: “We are the face that looks like them, that has been in the community, that they trust. So, they have been very much more open to working with us to fill out the census than if it would’ve been a government entity or agency or somebody with a census tag coming and knocking on their door,” Peguero continues.

All the way in Lorain, Ohio, Victor Leandry, Executive Director of El Centro, tells a similar story: trust is at the center of reaching out to Latinos about the census. When they started this work in May of 2019, they recognized that “the buy-in for the census was going to be an issue in this community,” Leandry shares.

A volunteer helps during the Lorain Caravan(a).

In a recent conversation his team had with a women’s support group El Centro just created, some shared they had already filled out the census, while others expressed their concerns about security, “about their information being shared with other institutions,” Leandry explained. After talking with El Centro’s team, all of the participants left that meeting feeling better about filling out the census: “That is the message we are trying to push with our Latino community: it is safe to fill out the census. Please do it.”

THE ADDED CHALLENGE OF CORONAVIRUS

When the stay-at-home orders started to take place, our Affiliates’ census work faced another hurdle: the presentations, the face-to-face interactions, the walk through the form together, etc., are on hold now.

When they had to close their doors to the public, Leandry from El Centro knew that would be one of the biggest challenges: “People weren’t going to be able to walk in through our doors and get our help filling out the census.” To overcome this challenge, he’s now asking all his staff members to add the question about the census when they check in with their clients, and stay on the line with them if necessary to help them fill it out: “We cannot continue waiting to see when we are going to open the doors,” Leandry expresses with concern.

CHCF in New York has undertaken this new challenge by texting their clients: “We have sent close to 10,000 messages to our community. We have also been using WhatsApp to connect with these families,” Peguero explains, to which they have added direct phone calls on a regular basis. “We have 10 dedicated staff members to the census. They have a list of about 200 people per day that they would call to ask: ‘Have you filled out the census?’” If they haven’t, they also stay on the line with them and help them complete it over the phone. “So far, we’ve been able to reach over 35,000 people and we are hoping to continue,” Peguero states.

THE LORAIN CARAVAN(A)

A line of the Lorain Caravan(a) cars promoting the census.

Last December, when Lorain still didn’t have a Complete Count Committee—an official committee of local and government leaders committed to raising awareness of the census—Leandry volunteered to help organize the first few meetings and “ended up running the whole committee for Lorain county,” he says, amused. Their committee includes directors of hospitals, superintendents of school districts, nonprofit executive directors, and county commissioners. The group created subcommittees that are now very well-organized and, as of May 26, have helped 70% of the county fill out the census.

The Committee won’t stop until they reach 100%, and last weekend they organized the Lorain Caravan(a), where El Centro, the Community Foundation of Lorain County, the City of Lorain, the Lorain Public Library System, and other organizations drove through the neighborhoods with the lowest census response rates to bring awareness to the community.

They delivered about 250 information bags to the families on the routes, handing them out on their porches, keeping physical distance. The bags had information on the 2020 Census in English and Spanish, masks that read “Lorain + Census = Change” and other items provided by NALEO Educational Fund, the Young Latino Network, and other Lorain and Cleveland-based groups.

Victor Leandry is also proud to share that now there are census billboards in Spanish in Lorain county, one of the issues he’s identified as a difficulty to reaching the Hispanic community in his area: the lack of information in Spanish.

Lorain has now a census billboard in Spanish.

If you or someone you know needs information about the census in Spanish, please visit hagasecontar.org or call NALEO’s toll-free hotline, 1-877-El Censo. Remember that you can fill out the census through October 31 by mail, phone (call 844-330-2020 for English or 844-468-2020 for Spanish) or online at 2020census.gov. Make yourself count!

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