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Latinos in U.S. Urged to Make Themselves Count in 1990 Census

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to improve the historical under-count of Latinos by U.S. Census takers, officials and activists in Los Angeles and in other areas across the country launched a campaign Thursday to encourage Latinos to “make themselves count” in the 1990 Census.

The official 1980 count missed as many as 10% of U.S. Latinos, according to campaign organizers.

As a result, Latinos have been “denied full representation in our society,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who joined other campaign supporters at a press conference at Olvera Plaza downtown. She noted that census figures are the basis for distributing billions of dollars in government funds, as well as for congressional reapportionment and the redrawing of local political districts.

Molina added, “Californians as a whole will be shortchanged if Hispanics are under-counted.”

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About a fourth of the state’s residents are Latinos.

The yearlong community outreach and national media campaign, sponsored by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and funded by $450,000 in corporate and foundation grants, will work to enlist the support of Latino leaders, local organizations, churches and schools in a broad-based community education program, said Jose Garza of MALDEF.

The campaign will focus on the Southwest, where nearly two-thirds of the nation’s Latinos live, as well as the Chicago area, with its growing Latino population, he added.

Campaign organizers said they hope to make the slogan "!Hagase contar!” (Make yourself count!), a Latino household phrase by April 1, 1990--the day of the national decennial count.

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The effort’s national media campaign has enlisted the support of Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the nation. Plans are to produce an array of television spots as well as special news programs and a telethon to educate the Spanish-speaking public on the importance of the census, network representatives said.

The network and MALDEF were involved in similar though more modest campaigns a decade ago for the 1980 Census. That was the first time that Latinos played a role in helping the Census Bureau get a more accurate count of the Latino population, as well as in promoting it in the community.

Although the 1980 Census was the best count ever of Latinos, recording a 61% increase in the population, it still missed a sizable chunk. This hard-to-reach segment includes illegal immigrants mistrustful of government agencies, the homeless and poor families doubled up in apartments or living in garages or other unconventional housing.

“Unless we make a concerted effort to inform our community about the importance of the census . . . many people will be left out,” Molina said.

The 1990 Census is expected to show an increase of more than 5 million Latinos nationwide, for a total of nearly 20 million, according to various estimates. About 1.3 million of that increase is expected to occur in Los Angeles County, where Latinos are projected to become one-third of the population.

Reapportionment based on the 1980 Census is credited with a doubling of Latinos in Congress and the election of hundreds of Latino officials across the country. The 1990 Census holds even greater promise for Latinos, according to Latino activists and demographers. They say that Latino organizations are better prepared than ever to use the new Census figures to gain a more equitable share of government funds and political representation.


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