Posted on March 17, 2020

US Census Faces Challenges Counting Small, Poor Latino Towns

Anita Snow and Adriana Gomez Licon, Associated Press, March 16, 2020

The two white-washed, mission-style churches and old, wooden homes in this town of mostly Latinos and Native Americans seem misplaced near luxury apartments in Phoenix and a suburb surrounding it.

Founded by Yaqui Indian refugees from Mexico more than a century ago, Guadalupe is named for Mexico’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and is fiercely proud of its history. The town known for sacred Easter rituals featuring deer-antlered dancers also is wary of outsiders as it prepares for the 2020 census.

Town leaders hope to ease any reluctance to join the once-a-decade count, which could decide if Guadalupe gets more federal money to feed a tiny $12 million budget already pressed to fill potholes and mend sewage lines.

“Every revenue stream is important to a community as small as this one,” Town Manager Jeff Kulaga said.

Across America, small, poor communities such as Guadalupe, each with its own unique ethnic makeup, pose formidable challenges for census workers. Language barriers, poverty and a population that’s often more transient and distrustful of government can make them especially hard to count, an Associated Press analysis of nationwide data has found.

The census has already postponed sending workers to count off-campus college students amid the coronavirus pandemic. As people are asked to keep their distance from one another, counting places like Guadalupe could grow even more difficult.

Nearly a third of Guadalupe’s 6,500 residents are Native American, and about 70% of all races there identify as Hispanic. {snip}

It’s a similar story in Immokalee, Florida, where a recent wave of immigration by indigenous Guatemalans who speak Mayan languages has created new challenges in a rural tomato-growing region. {snip}


Such small, poor and largely Latino communities historically have been undercounted, the AP analysis shows, posing challenges for census workers in the count that aims to ensure federal dollars get to communities needing them most.


The Census Bureau is spending $500 million in advertising — $50 million for ads designed to soothe fears among some Latinos, including the incorrect belief they will be asked about citizenship.


Language and cultural barriers can make communication difficult in Guadalupe, where most people speak Spanish in addition to English or older tribal members prefer communicating in the Pascua Yaqui language.


Tribal officials said they are preparing group presentations and hiring Pascua Yaqui translators to explain the process to older members — including the direct connection between being counted and getting the community things it needs. Art designed by tribal youth adorns T-shirts, encouraging members in English and Yaqui to be counted: “It’s in your hands.”


In Immokalee, the challenges lie in the language and educational limitations of the community where women carry their babies on their backs and men ride bicycles along rows of old mobile homes.

More than 72 percent of its residents are Latino, with large numbers of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. The number of residents of Guatemalan origin tripled from 2009 to 2016 and is expected to keep rising, with more Central American families arriving in Florida over the past two years.


Although nonprofits assure people their information won’t be shared with immigration authorities, some erroneously thought they would be asked for a Social Security number.