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Dallas Nonprofit Hosts 'Census Walks' In Undercounted Latino Communities

About 20 volunteers with the Latino nonprofit The Concilio spent Wednesday evening knocking on doors asking people to fill out the 2020 U.S. Census. 

When the deadline to fill out the census was cut short from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, The Concilio decided to double-down on its census outreach. Their first stop was Bachman Lake, one of the city's most undercounted communities.

"Ahorita es muy difícil con el coronavirus y a veces decimos no tenemos tiempo para hacer el censo pero también es importante darnos el tiempo de hacernos contar," said Susana García, a volunteer with The Concilio.

Garcia, from Guanajuato, Mexico, but now a resident of Dallas, says it's gotten harder to encourage people to fill out the census during the pandemic, but she's still out here telling people they need to be counted.

The community of Bachman Lake is majority Latino, essential workers, and has low resources, Garcia said. She's lived there for 13 years. She said she remembered the first time she filled out the census.

"Si no te cuentas no hay fondos para las escuelas, los hospitales. Y me quede pensando aunque soy hispana, yo necesito escuela y necesito hospitales," Garcia said. "If you don't fill out the census there are no funds for the schools and hospitals. I kept thinking even though I'm Hispanic, I need a school and I need hospitals."

The data that is collected from the census determines the amount of federal funding distributed between local communities for schools and hospitals. It also determines how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reallocated and affects redistricting throughout the state.

As of Aug. 5, the 2020 Census self-response rate in Texas is 58.1%. Those are people that have filed out the census online, by mail or by phone. Texas ranks 39 in the country and the city of Dallas ranks 481 in the state. 

"This area is hard to count. There's technology issues. Many of them count on someone else to help them navigate websites. Also, many of them don't speak English," said Florencia Velasco Fortner, the president of The Concilio. 

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Keren Carrion
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KERA

Fortner said it was important for all volunteers to be bilingual and Latino. They need to reflect the community. 

Volunteers started their route at Saldivar Elementary School and visited most houses in Timberline Drive and Kendale Drive. Emmanuel, the paletero with Paleteria Delicias, followed them ringing his bell in support and handing out popsicles for free to those who opened their doors.

Volunteers like Rose Peña, 15, and Gloria Fortner, 17, found out about The Concilio's "Census Walks" through the youth organization Dallas Teens for Change. On Wednesday, they went door-to-door wearing masks that were decorated with many colors and a 2020 Census logo. They left information at the door. When people answer they stepped six feet away making sure to maintain social distance.

One person that answered was Victor Cortes. He told them he filled out his census but wondered if they had COVID-19 information. 

Bachman Lake resident Emmasierra, who asked to use her first name only, is originally from Durango, Mexico. She's lived in Dallas for 30 years and filled out the census thinking about her four daughters' future. In Spanish she said she hopes the potholes in the neighborhood will get fixed. 

"Es para beneficios de todos lo que vivimos aqui, para escuela and hospitales, para que arreglen las banquetas," Emmasierra said. "It is for everyone's benefit that lives here, for schools and hospitals and to fix the sidewalks."

The Concilio’s Fortner says it's important how you approach filling out the census.

"When you put the census in their self-interest, as a parent we want the best for our children. So if we tell them, 'If you don’t do this you are robbing your children of a better future.' When we put it that way, they are more willing to hear us out and say OK," Fortner said.

The Concilio has been putting in the work since January and will continue to do so. They hope to get everyone counted before the Sept. 30 deadline. Texans are encouraged to fill out the census online, by phone or by mail.

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Keren Carrion
/
KERA

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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