There are an estimated 200,000 Latinos of indigenous origin living in California. For nearly 27 years, the Binational Center for the Development of Indigenous Communities (CBDIO) has been working to strengthen the civic participation, and economic, social, and cultural development of this community.
CBDIO’s co-executive directors, Yenedit Mendez Avendano and Oralia Maceda have been leading the organization’s campaign to encourage their members to respond to the census form’s question about ethnicity with their indigenous identity. Since the census form became available in mid-March, CBDIO has made thousands of calls and has produced PSAs in various languages, including Mixtec, Triqui, Zapotec, and Spanish, to provide education and encourage participation in the census count.
Interview with Yenedit Mendez Avendano, Co-Executive Director of Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO), or Binational Center for the Development of the Indigenous Communities
What inspired you to start organizing within indigenous communities with el Centro Binancional?
I first learned about the Centro in 2011 at a time when I was exploring what it means to be Oaxaqueña. At the time, it was a part of my identity that I was ashamed of. It wasn’t until I found a group of other Oaxacan youth, called Autonomos, who would host their meetings at el Centro, that everything changed for me. These other young people shared that at some point in their lives they had also felt ashamed of their indigenous identity, of being Oaxaqueños. Suddenly, I felt understood. In our meetings, we would talk about the history of colonization, and it gave me context to understand the racism that indigenous communities continue to face.
Soon I started volunteering at the Centro, helping them organize events, like the Guelaguetza festival. Eventually I was hired to coordinate a scholarship program for undocumented high school graduates that were entering community college. All of these opportunities have helped me grow personally and professionally over the years.
Why is it important for folks to identify with their indigenous identity on the 2020 Census?
It’s important for our community to identify with their respective indigenous group in the 2020 Census so that California as a whole knows that the indigenous population is here. When we get counted, federal funds get allocated for things our communities depend on, like schools, social services, childcare, and hospitals.
Language access, in particular, continues to be a critical need for us. When our communities go to hospitals and schools, it’s important that our systems understand that there is a population to be served that does not speak languages like English or Spanish. The current pandemic is shining a light on this issue. The Centro has been getting a lot of calls from the community with questions. Many are essential workers, and they want to know what happens if they get sick. They also want to know more about what shelter-in-place means for their families and kids. A lot of this information is not available in the languages like Mixtec, Zapotec, or Triqui.
How is the organization engaging communities in the 2020 Census during the pandemic?
We’re going through difficult times and there’s a lot on people’s minds, so we’ve had to shift our gears a little bit in our census work. We prefer face-to-face, one-on-one meetings, but during shelter-in-place we’ve been ramping up our phone banking efforts, calling everyone that has participated in the Centro’s programs. To date, we’ve called over 2,600 people. A lot of the folks we reach are agricultural workers, who primarily speak Mixtec, Zapotec, or Triqui. We’ve been able to answer their questions and provide them with guidance for filling out their census form online or by mail.
We’ve also worked with our youth leaders to produce 2020 Census PSAs in the languages our communities speak to share across social media. We’re even producing shorter videos that we can share via text message to the older generations that are more likely to use their phones to receive information.
Interview by Eduardo García, Senior Policy Fellow at the Latino Community Foundation