Surprised to find, that in the last census, millions of people around the United States and thousands within Orange County were not counted, I soon came to realize that to improve the lives of our hard-working men, women, and children in Orange County, it is not only necessary but imperative that all are counted in the upcoming 2020 census.
It was the end of the month of March and a beautiful day in the City of Santa Ana. On this morning, I was kindly given a ride to my first meeting that was held at the Santa Ana Unified School District Training Room off of Chestnut Blvd.
The local chapter of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) sat expectantly at the registration table to check us in. After check in we were served us hot coffee and orange juice, fresh fruit with yogurt and honey, garden and meat frittatas, bagels and croissants with butter and herbed cream cheese. Since I work in the Downtown district, I was pleased in recognizing that the food was purchased from a popular downtown restaurant called Crave.
Unsure of what to expect, I witnessed the training room quickly filling with people prepared for the 2020 Census Roundtable, which would discuss what a April 6th Policy Brief from 2016 called “The Invisible Ones: How Latino Children are left out of our nation’s Census Count.” The room soon bustled with expectancy as the seats quickly filled up.
Surrounding me I noticed the room filled with folks dressed in suits which I was keenly aware of since I was wearing a casual blue and white stripped sweater. Myriad civic leaders and politicians including our state legislator-Congressman, Lou Correa; Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District, Stefanie Phillips; School Board President, Valerie Amezcua; Councilman and NALEO representative, Vincent Sarmiento; Mayor Pro Tem, Michelle Martinez; Anaheim Councilman, Jose Moreno; as well as Santiago Community College Board Member, Zeke Hernandez; were all in the room, to name just a few of the people I recognized.
The conversation was being hosted by The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials who had called us together to discuss their discontent that in the last census count there were over 400,000 Latino Children under the age of 5 years old who went uncounted. Along with this appalling statistic, it was shown that 15,000 of those uncounted, came directly from the Orange County Region.
The talk soon began and after a brief introduction, Congressman Lou Correa came up to speak. He shared a description of current cuts in funding allocations at the Federal and State level. Correa described the critical reliance on community groups to get out the message about the census, saying that in the year 2020 everyone must be counted.
Next, speaking of our youth and the census, Board of Education President Valerie Amezcua, put it bluntly with the rhetorical question asking “Which Kids Matter?” then responding with conviction “Our Kids Matter!” “All Kids Matter!” as related to being counted.
Amezcua was Followed by Superintendent Stefanie Philips who stated: “If we are not counted, we won’t be considered” telling us that beyond city programs without these counts the funding to address achievement gaps are sorely tried and this affects everything. Most importantly, Philips stated, the day to day resources that are critically important to our educational system and the overall wellbeing of our children is challenged without accuracy in these counts.
Councilman and local representative of NALEO, Vincent Sarmiento warned that we are currently fighting in hostile territory. He set the context describing the political decisions related to homelessness and push back on sanctuary being made by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. He warned that this places great pressure on us and that amidst these fights “we don’t want this (census count) to get lost,” “these numbers, he told us, determine our resources and we need to use our roles and networks to reach out.” Sarmiento stated, that beyond administrative hostility at the Federal level, we need to fight in order to overcome this issue of continuing to be the “unseen and unheard masses.”
Executive Director of The NALEO Education Fund, Arturo Vegas, who hosted the meeting, reminded us that over 600 billion dollars is redistributed to our communities as a result of the numbers that come in during the census count. Vegas acknowledged that this much “power and money” makes the census count a high stakes issue and that the count is extremely important for allowing our politicians and leaders to make properly informed decisions.
Vegas also reminded all at the roundtable that the job of the census is mandated by the law in Article I section 2 and through Amendment XIV of the constitution. Vegas reminded us that the census, by law, must be conducted every 10 years. He also reminded us, that when people ask the question: “Why should those people be counted?” that the law states “representatives shall be apportioned to count the whole number of persons in each state” and that this is what is meant by representative democracy and civil rights.
Vegas shared that while many may still wish to maintain control over the rules, budgets and important projects within this nation, silencing and invisibalizing people is inappropriate. Vegas continued by reminding us that we are no longer under Three-Fifths Compromise-dictating whether slaves would be counted-and that this faulty decision was repealed over 235 years ago and was corrected under the 14th Amendment to the constitution.
In our county and region, over one million children ages one through four years old were left out of the census in 2010, yet the message today was made clear. The message being, that for the year 2020, a fight to assure that the children of Orange County are visible will be sought. The time is now, we were told. In the year 2018 we are given two years leading up to the 2020 census to prepare. A dialog between all the stakeholders ensued once the presentation was completed.
The message I was left with was that all who were at this meeting must be ambassadors to assure that this city and county are given the resources necessary to continue to move forward. I learned that this entails our dedication to overcoming invisibilization. The important thing is that no one is missed and that every child and every person in our region in the 2020 census are counted!
Madeleine Spencer is a resident, worker and community activist in the City Santa Ana.
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