School worker helps dispel the minority community’s fears surrounding the U.S. Census
After a brief phone conversation in Spanish, Francisca Quintero-Stallman hung up and explained why the unnamed woman on the other end of the phone initially had reservations about filling out her 2010 U.S. Census form.
The woman, a Hispanic stay-at-home mother whose parents from Mexico stay with her “at times,” Quintero-Stallman said—and were in her home on April 1, the day everyone was to be counted on the census form—“didn’t want to list everyone in her household [on that day] because she had only put her immediate family on her apartment application form. Her concern was that her landlord would find out.
“I assured her that her landlord wouldn’t find out,” said Quintero-Stallman. “Basically, I put [her] at ease. I know for a fact that it’s against the law for the Census Bureau to provide any of the information they gather to any agency other than to account for every individual.”
Quintero-Stallman is employed as a targeted case manager and interpreter by Chico Unified School District. She is based at Chapman Elementary School, and works as a liaison of sorts between the school district and the school’s students and their parents, doing such things as making in-home “school readiness” visits to families with preschool-age kids and explaining STAR testing to the school’s Spanish-speaking community.
Beginning with the Jan. 21 census-outreach meeting at Chapman School that she helped organize, Quintero-Stallman has also been a crucial player in helping get residents of south Chico’s ethnically diverse Chapmantown neighborhood to fill out their 2010 census forms, which should be mailed in by April 16. (Forms not received by May 1 will result in a non-response follow-up visit to the home.)
“I put together a meeting to make parents aware of the census, and the importance of complying,” Quintero-Stallman offered, sitting at the desk in her small, crowded office in one of the school’s portable buildings.
Chapman School, she said, was the only school in the district to hold such an event, as Chapmantown is “the most diverse area in Chico and also the one where, in the past, they have had the most problems with people filling out the census [form]. … In the last census, this was a particularly hard area to work with. People did not cooperate.”
It’s been no different this year. If anything, it’s been perhaps a little worse than in 2000. Quintero-Stallman cited ongoing, plainclothes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement green-card checks in the Chapmantown neighborhood—and at Walmart and Food Maxx, she alleged, where high concentrations of Hispanics may be found at any one time—as adding to residents’ jitters about cooperating with the census.
Fear of la migra, fear of landlords, local law enforcement and welfare officials, and fear of the government in general—those are some of the factors that are keeping many residents of Chapmantown from completing their census forms.
“Suspicion of Big Brother, a lack of trust,” Quintero-Stallman summed up.
Dr. Robert M. Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, touches upon this issue in the “Census Myths” section of his blog at blogs.census.gov: “The 2010 Census is conducted by a Federal government agency, using taxpayer money. Thus, the first reaction to the census is often shaped by one’s attitudes toward the larger Federal government. Some first view the census with a great deal of cynicism. … They view the census as part of ‘big government’; further, they view it as an unnecessary intrusion of privacy.”
Quintero-Stallman has seen the phenomenon up close. For example, she had announced the Jan. 21 meeting (“With snacks!”) in the Chapman School newsletter, but only about 10 parents showed up.
None of them asked any questions, but children have come up to her at school to ask questions on behalf of their parents.
“Kids will come to me to ask questions from their parents … like, ‘Do I have to mention everyone in the house?’ or ‘Why do we have to fill out the census?’”
Quintero-Stallman’s answer: “So everyone can be counted and we can bring services into our community in the form of money. Each person represents an amount of money.”
Some Spanish-speaking people, she added, just need help filling out the form, because it came to them in English. Chico was not identified as a community with a large Hispanic community, unlike neighboring Hamilton City, which received the form in Spanish and English.
Hmong residents face similar problems. Shoua Vang, CUSD’s targeted case manager at Chapman School on behalf of the Hmong community, said that many Hmong people in Chapmantown don’t speak English, and often view the census form as just another piece of junk mail to toss in the garbage.
“I think if they knew the purpose, they would definitely fill it out,” said Vang.
U.S. Census Bureau employee Pam Ames works in eight Northern California counties, including Butte, as a “partnership specialist.” Her job is to “partner with local governments, community organizations and [Native American] tribes” to persuade “hard-to-count tracts”—such as the Chapmantown neighborhood, southside Oroville and, interestingly, the Chico State campus and student-populated neighborhoods—to participate in the census. She worked alongside Quintero-Stallman at the Jan. 21 event.
Non-white ethnic groups, single parents, low-income earners, immigrants, non-English-speaking people and men ages 18-24 (no matter their ethnicity) are among the 11 socioeconomic groups the Census Bureau has identified as most difficult to count, she explained.
More census-outreach events, through early July, are planned, said Ames. “The numbers are [still] lagging in [the Chapmantown] neighborhood.”
“It is safe and confidential,” she said of the census. “We don’t share names or addresses with anyone. It is easy this time around—only 10 questions for the main person, and seven for each one afterward. … And it’s important for representation and funding.”
Census information, according to 2010.census.gov, affects the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and helps determine how more than $400 billion in federal funding is spent on infrastructure and crucial services such as hospitals, job-training centers, schools, senior centers and public-works projects. Census data are also used by countless agencies “to advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more.”
“Conversely,” Ames added, “for every person who’s not counted, the local government loses approximately $1,300 per year.”
Quintero-Stallman warned that simply throwing out the forms is not the answer.
“I tell them, ‘If you don’t fill it out, you will get someone to come to your door,’ ” she said.