The Census: We On the Border Don’t Count

Ann Cass, member of our Equal Voice Network, wrote this while reflecting on the very poorly organized Census effort in our area.

Cass: More Than Just a Number
By Ann Cass

Ann Cass

SAN JUAN, April 5 – I have been greatly disturbed by the news that census forms will not be mailed to families who live in the colonias.

The amount of energy we have spent in getting information out about how important it is to fill out the forms so we can get more money into the Valley for infrastructure, housing, health care, education, etc. seems to be wasted, but the more important issue is that there does not seem to be a workable plan on the part of the Census Bureau to make sure that families will be counted.

They prefer to send people, enumerators, into the colonias to do the house by house data collection rather than mailing the forms out. How many enumerators are necessary to visit 900-1000 colonias in Hidalgo County, in the evening hours?

So, the forgotten people in the colonias continue not to count. I drive by the billboard erected by the Census Bureau that reads, “Be counted so we know how many hospitals we need here.” What a silly message. We all know that most people in the colonias do not have health insurance, and when they go to the hospital, they don’t count. They don’t count either when it comes to safety in their neighborhoods, lights on their streets, easy hook ups for water and sewer, having the post office notify them when their house number changes. They do count when it comes to paying their taxes, when their vote is needed to elect politicians, when universities want to do studies on low income families, and those who are undocumented do count when ICE needs to make their monthly quota on deportations. Now they don’t count for the Census?

I can’t help but remember one of the photos we had when we started our Equal Voice Campaign. It was a photo of a small child with numbered stickers all over his face. The caption was, “More than just a number.” And that is what I am thinking now. People in the colonias who are not being counted are more than just a number. If people could appreciate that, maybe colonia residents would count for everything.

Colonia residents are health care providers, that counts if it is your parent they are caring for. Colonia residents are landscapers, that counts if it is your lawn that needs to be taken care of. Colonia residents are teacher’s aides, that counts if it is your child that needs some extra attention at school. Colonia residents are construction workers, that counts if you are trying to build an office or home at a reasonable cost. Colonia residents are farm workers who pick the crops, that counts when you go and buy the fruits and vegetables in the stores which they can’t even afford to buy. Colonia residents are human beings, and that counts when we have a society that puts a value on everyone’s presence, not just a certain class.

Each and every one of the colonia residents is more than just a number!

Ann Williams Cass is executive director of Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit based in San Juan, Texas, that builds affordable homes for colonia residents.