Hispanic community works to complete census among challenges

By Krishnan Collins
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – With the 2020 census on the horizon, the Hispanic community faces an ever present and mounting number of challenges while trying to get as many people to complete the census as possible. 

   Challenges like technological issues, misconceptions, the political climate and the coronavirus all represent a hurdle for the Hispanic community, said Gina Gomez, executive director of the Hispanic Center in Jonesboro. 

   Most of these challenges were expected, but the coronavirus situation presented new challenges and dampened plans that Gomez and others had been working on for a while. 

   “Even though we have been planning this work with the census for months now, we didn’t expect this was going to happen,” Gomez. “Every activity that we had planned, like door-to-door canvassing and going out to events where we were going to promote the census have been canceled. That’s a big challenge. Right now we are looking into ways we can continue promoting the census using online resources and social media.”

   Gomez emphasized in the current political climate there are many misconceptions on what will be done with the information given by families in the census. The community is working on educating families that information given will not be used against them or given to law enforcement agencies and informants. 

This graphic from Census.gov shows the percentages of various ethnic groups in Jonesboro and the United States.

   “Our people are afraid to provide information to the census,” Gomez said. “There’s been an educational phase where we have been trying to inform people about what the census is, how the census impacts them and also that there is not any risk by providing the information.”

   According to the census, counting children is a tough challenge for all families, no matter what ethnicity or race.

   “Children under 5 years old are among population groups historically undercounted in the census,” a Census Bureau press release said.

   Gomez said counting children in Hispanic families is a problem too. Gomez highlighted that many families completed a census in their home country, but once these families move to the United States they question whether they need to do the census or not.

   “Many families don’t understand what the impact the census has on your family or kids,” Gomez said. “If they don’t see the importance of bringing those funds to our city in order to have better schools, access to healthcare providers, improving our roads, it’s difficult to have people participating. A lot of this is education related. We need to educate our community.”

   This is the first year families can complete the census online. This makes it easier on some, but can also be a problem for others. 

   “For some of our families, they don’t have computer access, online access, they don’t have internet or they just don’t have the knowledge of how to do it,” Gomez said. “They can do it on a computer, an iPad or cellphone. It’s a little complicated for some of our people, especially for ones living in more rural areas. That’s one of the areas that we as the Hispanic Center were trying to work really hard on.”

   With the coronavirus dampening many ways to advertise the census, Gomez and the community have put a lot of emphasis on social media. Gomez noted just how important it is for Hispanic families to do the census as those families will see benefits moving forward. 

   “We hope by demonstrating the number of Hispanics we have in the area and in general the state, because we are part of the state coalition, we’ll be able to assure based on the percentage of Hispanics there are specific needs to target this minority in Arkansas by providing language services when it comes to healthcare or schools,” Gomez said. “But, if we are not able to demonstrate by how many people we have, the need will not be as evident even though we have the people here.”

   The coronavirus was not the only thing that affected the push towards the census. On March 28, an EF-3 tornado tore through Jonesboro. Homes and businesses were destroyed throughout the city. 

   “Now, more than ever, we need to bring funds to our city to help rebuild it,” a post on the Hispanic Center’s Facebook said. “You can help us with this, completing Census 2020.”

   Gomez worked with the Hispanic community in 2010 to complete the census but she said then the effort was not as widespread and did not have as many people involved. 

   “In 2010 Arkansas was really undercounted,” Gomez said. “We want to assure we are counting as many people as we can around the state this time so we are not letting those funds go.”

   According to the census, the Hispanic population makes up an estimated 6.1% of the total population in Jonesboro. The estimated total population in Jonesboro reads 76,990. 

   This time around the Hispanic Center created its own campaign with the city of Jonesboro and also created its own logo. There is also a state coalition called Arkansas Counts to spread the word about the census and efforts surrounding the census are more structured now.

   “When I moved here to this country, I didn’t understand why it was that important for me to fill out the census,” Gomez said. “But now that I have been educated on the topic I can educate others.”

Editor’s Note: Feature photo courtesy of the Jonesboro Hispanic Center: Members of the Hispanic Center and Jonesboro community work together to spread the message about the 2020 census.