Despite persistent efforts to collect census information, Santa Cruz residents continue to be the lowest participants of the area. Photo by Rosario Serna.
Despite persistent efforts to collect census information, Santa Cruz residents continue to be the lowest participants of the area. Photo by Rosario Serna.

To those who consider Santa Cruz County politically active, it may come as a surprise to hear that the county’s participation in the United States census is below that of some of its neighbors. As of Wednesday, 62 percent of Santa Cruz County had mailed in their completed census forms. Nearby Santa Clara County and San Mateo County were both ahead of Santa Cruz, at 65 percent each.

A more thorough exploration reveals that perhaps it’s not apathy that accounts for the missing 38 percent, so much as a lack of awareness which Central Coast regional census coordinator Lydia Zendejas said keeps people from completing their census forms.

Zendejas works with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and its census-related campaign, “Ya Es Hora ¡Hagase Contar!” The campaign, which translates to “It’s Time — Make Yourself Count!” works with community partnership programs located in areas like the Beach Flats and Live Oak to encourage residents to complete their census forms.

“People are not sure what it’s for and who it’s for, and for many community members their experience with government agencies is not positive,” Zendejas said.

Zendejas explained the pivotal role community partnership programs play in promoting trust toward the government and the census process. These programs also spread awareness of the benefits of census participation, which include political representation and a say in the distribution of federal funds. Zendejas said that, when it comes to the value of these benefits, “[It] doesn’t matter whether people are citizens or not.”

Kymberly Lacrosse, who works with the United Way of Santa Cruz County and coordinates its regional Complete Count Committee, shares Zendejas’ point of view. In Santa Cruz County, the Complete Count Committee comprises several subcommittees to address the hard-to-count populations of the region, such as the homeless and those who live in rural areas.

“The greatest challenge is immigrants and migrant workers,” Lacrosse said. “People of immigrant status aren’t often counted.”

Like Zendejas, Lacrosse emphasized the need for “trusted messengers,” community-based organizations, to reach out to these communities and assure them of the importance and the benefits of the census.

“I have a lot of respect for the reasons people don’t want to turn in the questionnaire,” Karen Mallory, partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said on Tuesday. “Our job is to give them the information so they can make their own decisions.”

As a partnership specialist, Mallory works on a team with other individuals hired for their ability to connect with foreign-born populations. With the help of community-based organizations, Mallory and her colleagues work to improve the mail-in response rate.

There is still another demographic in Santa Cruz that constitutes a major component of the regional population: students.

Living on campus or off, students are expected to be included in the count. Mallory explained on Tuesday that students living on campus will not receive their census forms until either this week or the next.

The U.S. Census Bureau is providing a table on the UCSC campus near the Bay Tree Bookstore to promote awareness of the census and to answer questions. Census forms are available inside the bookstore and can also be returned at the location set up in the Quarry Plaza.

Additionally, the UCSC community — students, faculty, and staff — will receive an e-mail notice this week highlighting the importance of the census and providing information on how to obtain and submit forms.

The tagline for the 2010 census —“We can’t move forward until you mail it back” — is a catchy line, and conveys how completing and returning census forms equates to progress in communities.

In order to assess the population and demographics of the country and adjust policies accordingly, the government relies on its citizens.

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For information on the “Ya Es Hora ¡Hagase Contar!” campaign, visit the official website at www.yaeshora.info, or call the bilingual hotline at (877) EL-CENSO.

For general information on the U.S. census, e-mail Karen Mallory at Karen.L.Mallory@census.gov. Any campus groups interested in using promotional material like hats and T-shirts to promote the census among students are encouraged to make contact.

For information on UCSC’s efforts toward promotion of the census, call UCSC Public Affairs at (831) 459-2495, or visit www.ucsc.edu and follow the link next to the words, “Be a part of history: Participate in the 2010 Census.”