No phrase better defines the American experience than the clear directive: No taxation without representation. With one set of words, a nation’s value system is captured and guided into the future, giving every single resident a voice.
You’d think we would do everything in our power to protect and preserve that which makes just representation possible — like making sure the decennial census count is accurate, right?
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Let’s take a moment to look at lessons learned. When the British Parliament ruled this land and passed a series of taxes on stamps and sugar without consent, this phrase became the rallying call among colonists demanding fair political representation. Give us a seat at the table or forfeit your right to govern, it declared.
We know what happened next. The movement led to a series of acts of resistance — from the Boston Tea Party to the First Continental Congress — and eventually transformed into the American Revolution, giving birth to the representative democracy we see today.
Yet here we are, 243 years later, with the United States of America bordering on reneging that sacrosanct American guarantee with an undercount of Latinos in the 2020 Census.
The U.S. Census is designed to count all residents regardless of where they live or how many people are in a given household. From that count, seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned to the states, and critical federal dollars are allocated for schools, hospitals and roads.
Clearly, the numbers matter, especially in California where billions of federal monies could be lost due to an inaccurate tally. In a state where Latinos make up nearly 40 percent of the population and contribute to its thriving economy, we need to get this right or the 2020 Census could shape up to be one of the most disastrous threats to our democracy since our founding.
A series of factors could be credited with a potential undercount. To start, this will be the first census to move online. An online census sounds ideal for reduced costs, but considering that only 54 percent of Latinos in California access the internet through broadband, compared to 69 percent of all Californians, this move will prove difficult for counting the Latino population.
The Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the census was dealt a legal blow this month when a U.S. district judge ruled adding such a question violates federal statute. But since the administration promises not to quit the threat to add the question, the mistrust that officials are breeding stands to scare immigrant and Latino communities from participating, which could lead to an even greater undercount of these populations and prevent states from their rightful share of representatives in the U.S. House.
This hits home hard in California, where more than 15 million Latinos work and live, including close to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Since California is the most populous state in the union, constitutionally speaking, it should also possess the maximum share of political representatives at the federal level. Because Latinos and immigrants were counted in the 2010 Census, California obtained the most number of members in the U.S. House at 53.
This seems like a big number, but even 10 years ago Latinos were undercounted, including more than 100,000 Latino children ages 0-4.
The Latino Community Foundation, a statewide foundation in California focused on unleashing the political power of Latinos, continues to call for a fair and accurate count of Latinos, and planning ways with like-minded groups to do so. LCF began in early 2018 to actively engage Latinos up and down the state with a roadmap to prepare for the 2020 Census.
California is also stepping up, issuing an application for community-based organizations to help conduct critical education and outreach for getting the census count right. Organizations must apply by Feb. 15 to be considered for dollars that both former Gov. Jerry Brown and current Gov. Gavin Newsom budgeted to achieve a successful count.
There is still hope in achieving a complete count, but time is getting tight. It’s on us, the 57 million Latinos who live in this country and who are yearning to be politically represented.
Like our founding fathers who said that a true representative democracy derives from the will, and the taxes, of the people, it’s time to view counting in the census as an act of resistance. For to resist, we must exist. The census is the mechanism to make sure all voices are represented.
Christian Arana is policy director with the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco.