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.