Local organizations collaborate for 2010 census

Communities of color in Minnesota were undercounted in the 2000 U.S. Census, and as a result, the state’s councils of color have joined together to help prevent the same occurrence in the 2010 census.

Representatives of the state’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American communities announced last week at the State Capitol the Census 2010 initiatives for their respective groups during a February 24 press conference.

Census Bureau officials say that there is a two-step process: Census questionnaires are mailed or delivered to households between February and March 2010, then between April through July 2010, census takers visit households that did not return their questionnaire by mail.

The accuracy of the census count will be significant on how over $300 billion in federal dollars will be distributed to communities throughout the U.S. and Minnesota. Census data helps determine locations for schools, roads, hospitals, childcare and senior citizen centers; and it determines how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as how legislative districts are divided. Because of the belief that undercounting residents of color did occur in 2000, Minnesota is one of a handful of states in jeopardy of losing a congressional seat.

“The thousands of dollars that each individual represents are important dollars to our community, to our children’s future and to our future,” added Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) Executive Director Lester Collins. Therefore, the various ethnic groups in Minnesota have formed “complete count committees” in their respective community.

“The purpose of the complete count committee is to incorporate local knowledge, influence and resources to educate residents on the census,” explained Keesha Gaskins, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. Her organization will work with the state’s councils of color, Census Bureau officials and the Minnesota State Demographic Center “to ensure that all Minnesotans are accurately counted,” she added.

Collins admitted that the press conference originally was scheduled by the CBM to announce the Black community’s complete count committee. “But we thought it was important to show a united front as it relates to how important it is for communities of color to be counted,” he said.

“The Latino community has grown almost three-fold in Minnesota,” said Chicano Latino Affairs Council Executive Director Rogelio Munoz. However, “Latinos were not on the [2000 Census] map,” added Minnesota Latino Complete Count Committee coordinator Mario Vargas.

The Black community also was undercounted, added Collins. “Our numbers were estimated in 2000 at about 218,000 — about a 28 percent supposed increase from the 10 years before. I can tell that definitely was representative of an undercount.”

“We were indeed undercounted [in 2000],” said Council on Asian Pacific Islander Minnesotans Executive Director Ilean Her. She added that her organization will attend long-existing community celebrations and soccer tournaments to inform residents on how important it is to fill out census forms next year. “We are working with the [complete count committee] project [so] that there will not again be an undercount,” she added.

Added Yorn Lan, executive director of the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota, “I think I can help educate others about the issue and share my feelings with others. By doing that, I think we can reduce complaints and increase numbers.”

According to African Complete Count Committee’s Ghass Mends, the African-born population in Minnesota has increased, especially among East and West Africans.

“I am appealing to all African community members to put culture aside to make sure that everyone in the household is counted,” he pleaded, emphasizing that they should not fear census workers “when they come to your houses to talk with you and ask how many people are in your house. If everybody is counted, then we have a good chance of getting all the [federal] aid for social services, housing and health care.”

Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Executive Director Annamarie Hill said that her organization began working with the Census Bureau two years ago and has met with all the state tribal council leaders. Leaders in the faith community also can help spread the word, said Lee Buckley, Governor Tim Pawlenty’s special advisor on faith and community service.

Even though all census responses are kept confidential and by law the Census Bureau cannot share an individual’s answers with anyone, including welfare, immigration and law-enforcement agencies, the task of convincing many ethnic persons to participate in next year’s census still remains challenging.

“It always has been a challenge for communities of color,” noted Collins. As a result, the Census Bureau currently is seeking applicants from the various ethnic groups as workers. Recruiting for census takers will begin this fall, officials pointed out.

“These jobs are important,” Collins pointed out. Nonetheless, the fear factor among many persons of color regarding the census can’t be ignored, continued Collins.

“I can understand the concern… That’s the reason why it is important that in terms of [census] counters and people who do come to the homes that they are at a community level. Even if I might have a distrust for the census itself, if [a fellow person of color] tells me it is a good thing, I am going to go ahead and fill out the form, give you the information and make sure that my brothers, sisters and everybody else in the household also is counted.

“We are trying hard to make sure the people who knock on your door, the people who count your census, and the people who work on the census on your behalf look like the many people [of color] who are in this room.”

Finally, Collins said that it is not too early to begin working on next year’s census. “With the type of money represented by the census — medical assistance, daycare, after-school programs, community centers being open — these dollars are just as important. The thousands of dollars per individual and the congressional representation that we could lose is so important,” he concluded. “We are trying to make sure that every individual in the household is being counted.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman [at] spokesman-recorder [dot] com.

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