Today, April 1, is census day. Once every 10 years, the federal government counts the nation’s population to come up with “a portrait of America.” The results are crucial to local governments, schools and agencies -- which rely on federal dollars -- and also media companies that target ethnic audiences.
The 2000 census was a milestone. It revealed that Latinos made up a larger percentage of the population than people had previously thought. The number of Latinos had soared nearly 60% from 1990 to 2000 -- to more than 35 million people, or 13% of the total U.S. population. The jump gave Spanish-language media companies sudden clout: Advertisers who had long ignored Spanish-language TV and radio now were buying commercial time to showcase their products en Espanol.
The Spanish-language broadcasters have been eager for this year’s census, believing that it again will show dramatic gains among Latinos. But first there are huge barriers to overcome. Census forms are in English, so some people might not be able to read them. And many immigrants, afraid that contact with the government might lead to deportation, may not want to complete the form.
For months, television providers have been gearing up with programs and public-service announcements that seek to demystify the census. Nickelodeon’s animated heroine Dora the Explorer lent her star power to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Children Count Too” initiative. Spanish-language Telemundo added to one of its popular soap operas a character who was a census worker.
Univision Communications, the nation’s largest Spanish-language media company, is lending its TV and radio airwaves to the “Ya Es Hora” (It’s Time) campaign to motivate Latinos to participate. Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks, discussed the importance of the census.
What does this year’s census mean to Latinos and Univision?
The 2010 census is going to go down in history as the census of the Latinos. We have the opportunity as a country to really embrace the fact that we are moving to a multiethnic society. That is one of the strengths of our country today. We as a company, and we as a community, are very excited by that.
How did the 2000 census change Univision’s business?
It helped us to begin to have more conversations with organizations that were starting to realize the role that this community would play across all aspects of our country -- social, economic, political and cultural -- through the coming years and decades.
Fast-forward to this coming census in 2010, and I think it’s going to be a big wake-up call. What will surprise people is the exponential growth of the Latino community, coming off of an already big and growing base. Second, we are going to begin to see growth in the Hispanic market in parts of our country that people don’t necessarily expect. To see the growth of the Latino population in Los Angeles, Miami and New York is wonderful but somewhat expected. You are going to see more growth in geographic pockets, places that people don’t intuitively think of as part of the Hispanic community.
How great is the fear that Spanish speakers and other immigrants might not recognize the importance of the census form?
This is why we have become so proactive in ensuring that we communicate to our community how important the census is. We have to communicate what is the benefit, what is the value, of filling out this census not only for themselves as individuals but also for their local communities, and our community. Univision is in a unique position because of our unique connection and relationship that we have with Hispanics.
How do you reassure people that filling out a government form will not invite problems?
Confidentiality is a big issue in the census. We tried to pick our most trustworthy talent on Univision to speak about the importance of this issue, putting our most trusted voices out there to become the face of the “Ya Es Hora” campaign.
[Univision news anchor] Maria Elena Salinas is our primary spokesperson. She and the others talk about why people can trust this process. We literally allocate material airtime to walk our audience by the hand through the process. We will be running this series of stories and public-service announcements through and past April 1 to address this concern and talk people through some of these issues that are, at the end of the day, important for them and beneficial for them.
Not only that, but an increasing Latino population benefits Univision.
Our mission here at Univision is to inform, entertain and empower. Most people can get their arms around the first two, informing and entertaining, because they are such a key part of what we do. That third one, empowerment, is sometimes a little more nebulous. This concept is that we need to make sure that we are working on the issues that most impact our community. We have this incredible privilege to have this leadership position and to have this unique relationship with our audience. And with that privilege comes a responsibility, one we take seriously.
2010 is a very big year for many Latinos and Univision. Which is more important: the World Cup or the census?
(Laughs.) It’s going to be telling Latinos how important it is to fill out the census during the World Cup.