US cen­sus faces chal­lenges count­ing small Latino towns

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Anita Snow and Adri­ana Gomez Li­con

GUADALUPE, ARIZ. >> 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. A third strug­gle with poverty in a com­mu­nity where the me­dian an­nual house­hold in­come is around $32,000 and the av­er­age owner-oc­cu­pied home is worth less than $90,000. Just 60 per­cent of adults fin­ished high school.

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 that Ed­ward R. Mur­row high­lighted in his 1960 doc­u­men­tary about mi­grant farm­work­ers, “Har­vest of Shame.”

The near­est hospi­tal is more than 30 miles away in wealthy Naples. The farm­ing town of 25,000 peo­ple is a “food desert,” forc­ing fam­i­lies to hitch­hike to su­per­mar­kets closer to the south­west

Florida coast. More than 43% are in poverty. A sim­i­lar per­cent­age did not fin­ish ninth grade.

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.

“It is an in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive job to count these hard-to-count groups,” said D’Vera Cohn, a se­nior writer spe­cial­iz­ing in the cen­sus for the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. “It may be be­cause they dis­trust the gov­ern­ment or are tran­sients mov­ing around or peo­ple who don’t speak English.”

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.

“In 2010, we had a lot of money on the ta­ble that was just lost and didn’t come to the com­mu­nity. It is so crit­i­cally im­por­tant,” Vin­cent Keeys, pres­i­dent of the

NAACP in Florida’s Col­lier County, re­cently told lead­ers of non­profit and gov­ern­ment agen­cies in Immokalee.

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.

“If you look at the town, you can see it hasn’t been served by the cen­sus in the past,” said com­mu­nity organizer Pe­tra Fal­con, who has worked in Guadalupe for decades. “There are high teen preg­nancy and sui­cide rates and low wages.”

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.”

“We did a lot of work around the 2010 cen­sus, and we feel peo­ple are a lot more com­fort­able this time,” said Let­ti­cia Bal­tazar, a re­search spe­cial­ist for the tribe head­quar­tered on its reser­va­tion south­west of Tuc­son.


Frank and Ester Cota pose for a pho­to­graph out­side Our Lady of Guadalupe church on Fri­day in Guadalupe, Ariz. Guadalupe is named for Mex­ico’s pa­tron saint,

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