FLINT, Michigan— Flint’s Latinx Technology and Community Center (LTCC) is looking to spread awareness of the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census and the many benefits that filling out the census form can bring the community.
Asa Zuccaro, Executive Director of the LTCC, wants to make away with the idea within the Latinx community that the census is just for citizens of the United States. “Everybody just kind of assumes that the census, from the U.S. Census Bureau, this must be applicable just to naturalized citizens or citizens of the country,” said Zuccaro.
Zuccaro notes this confusion often stems from the fact that many federal and state benefit programs are either not available to non-citizens or available only to a limited number. Despite this, Zuccaro takes the time to explain to members of the community that “census means anybody and everybody. If you are in the United States at the time of the census, and you plan to sleep here, on this soil, then you need to be counted.”
Related story: Flint organizations work to ensure residents are counted in 2020 census
In addition to these misunderstandings, many members of the Latinx community share a deep-rooted mistrust of the U.S.government. Zuccaro understands that this lack of trust, all points to a larger historical precedent for these feelings of insecurity.
“If we look at our country’s history we’ll see that during the great depression … there was a massive repatriation of Latinos that were here in the United States. More than 2 million Latinos were sent to Mexico, some of those were citizens, a good portion of those were U.S. citizens but they were still taken out of the country,” said Zuccaro.
Understanding past events like these, Zuccaro says, helps inform LTCC’s approach to explaining the importance of the census to community members. “It’s important to be counted because it’s important that we’re represented and that our story is shared.”
These efforts by the LTCC and its members can be clearly seen when speaking to people like Dinora Romero. Romero, a resident of Flint who has lived in the city for 26 years, will be filling out the U.S. census for the first time thanks to instruction from the center.
“I’m going to fill out the census because it’s good for the U.S. to know I exist and that my family exists. You never know when you’re going to need help or when someone you know will need help,” said Romero. “If someone supports Michigan just by filling out the census, more jobs could potentially open, companies could do better.
Romero goes on to talk about her mother-in-law, Miriam Seguras. “She [Seguras] receives her benefits from the government because of her age,” Romero explained. “It’s not just about about receiving though, my mother-in-law needs to fill the census out too, there are a lot of people in her situation who have not filled out the census.”Executive Director Asa Zuccaro and Census Coordinator Alondra Rosas of the Latinx Technology & Community Center specializes in enhancing the quality of life for Flint's Latinx community.
Romero now sees filling out the census as a civic responsibility, a small thing she can do to benefit her community. She makes sure to inform as many people as she can, noting that many of them don’t even know what the census is. “I ask everyone I know, ‘Do you know about the census?’ and they say ‘no, I have no idea what that is.’”
Zuccaro says that because of the size of Flint’s Latinx population, about 3.9% of Flint’s total population, it can be easy for the community’s influence to be overlooked if no one is aware of its presence.
To help bring the benefits that filling out a census form can bring the community to light, the center decided to bring in a census coordinator. Alondra Rosas, a student at UM-Flint is currently filling this role.
The point Rosas wants to drive home is the fact that Genesee county is expected to receive about $142 million in critical services and programs from the federal government per year for the next 10 years. This means each person will account for about $1,800 per year, a total of $18,000 at the end of the decade.
This money is based on a population count. That means the less people report themselves, the less money is allocated to the city, which translates to less money for programs and institutions like the LTCC for example.
“40% of Michigan’s funding comes from solely the statistics that is provided by the census,” Rosas said.
Rosas points out that while $1800 may seem like an imperceptible amount when spread across an entire community if you look closely, that money is the one that goes towards funding everything from roadwork to school lunch programs for children.
Much like Zuccaro, Rosas also wants to let community members know filling out the census will not put them in a compromising position with the federal government. “As much as you tell people the benefits, there is a huge fear right now, especially with how immigration is viewed … they don’t want to take that risk,” said Rosas.
While Rosas says this fear is valid, she is also adamant that “the law protects their information, it’s confidential.”
The benefits of filling out the census, Rosas says, are very tangible. “You’re standing in it, the Latinx [center], a lot of the funding goes to non-profit organizations … The funding is actually really important to us as well … we have seen house reconstructions in Flint … all of that is funded through the census.”
Rosas points out that now more than ever, especially since the Census can be filled out online, giving people access to the technology they may not have in their homes is crucial. “We have the ability to offer computers, wifi … as a census coordinator I’m here to help, to guide them through filling it [the census form] out … I’m here to help.” Especially Flint residents like Romero
Romero wants to be accounted for, she wants, as Zuccaro puts, it to be ‘enumerated.’ “People in Michigan think there is a small Latino population because many Latinos are scared, they may not have the proper documentation, but the census has nothing to do with that, they don’t even ask for your address,” said Romero. “It’s not a bad idea for anyone to fill it out.”