By: Karla Hernandez Navarro, Student at Dominican University of California & Intern at Canal Alliance
I was born and raised on a small ranch in Guanajuato, Mexico, a place where opportunities were few and far between. That is why me and my family immigrated to the United States in 2011 to seek a better life.
The road since then has not been easy, but now seven years later, I am currently a junior studying Business at Dominican University, situated in the center of one of the wealthiest counties in the United States: Marin County.
Marin is known as a “high performance and high disparity” county, meaning that although our county has a variety of services and resources, many of our members suffer from chronic poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity.
This reality is seen daily at my service-learning internship at Canal Alliance, the only Latino-led nonprofit organization championing the immigrant community in Marin. While volunteering in their weekly food pantry, I would often hear clients talk about their experiences facing racism and discrimination because society consistently tries to dehumanize, criminalize and silence the most marginalized. That’s when I finally realized why organizations like Canal Alliance are so important to the community – they invest in breaking the generational cycle of poverty.
The community we serve is among the hard-to-count populations and communities that have historically been prone to undercounting in the census, a constitutionally-mandated process that counts all people living in the country. From that count, political representation and federal dollars are apportioned to places like Marin. Based on 2010 Census data, approximately 7% of Marin County’s current population, or 19,310 people, live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, defined by factors like lack of English skills, housing instability, poverty and more.
From our experience serving immigrants for more than 36 years, we worry that limited understanding regarding the addition of the citizenship question and the changes to the Census-taking process will increase the fear and anxiety within our community, making our clients reluctant to participate in the 2020 census. Since most federal agencies base spending decisions on census data, the detrimental impact of undercounting will be far-reaching and long-term.
Although distrust towards government institutions is deep-rooted in the immigrant community, we also know that the 2020 Census is an opportunity to empower the members of our community, make their voices heard, and return their humanity.
Because of the current political climate, it’s very challenging for our clients to feel safe and protected, but we are also firm believers that education empowers you. We want to equip our community with the knowledge and resources to make educated decisions regarding the 2020 Census and plan to do so by hosting various educational and awareness events to motivate and empower key community influencers with the tools to raise their voices louder and speak up for those that society has tried to silence.
Immigrants do have opportunities to play a role in the decision-making processes in the United States. Participating in the Census is a constitutional right that no one can take away. With the support of trusted messengers in the community, we can build momentum and promote an accurate and fair count for the 2020 Census. It can all start here in Marin!