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In times of uncertainty, Lotería-inspired game encourages Latinos to participate in 2020 Census

At a glance, the orange card looks like any other lotería square one might see at a family party or  one that a teenager might call out at a youth group. But instead of displaying a campana or a melon, this card shows the outline of an eye. 

And it’s not the cover of a Bad Bunny album. 

It’s a Censotería card, an educational game based off of lotería out of the La Luz Community Center of Sonoma County, designed to encourage the Latino community to participate in the 2020 Census. 

Below the outline of an eye with the line crossed over like half of an “X,” the card reads “La Escondida, The Hidden One.” The backside of each card offers information for the caller to read in both English and Spanish. This square says, “Did you know that 5 million Latinos live in undercounted Census tracts in California? Every person who isn’t counted in the 2020 Census will mean our communities will lose about $1800 annually in federal aid.”

The San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation (LCF) is an organization charged by the state with the task of ensuring the government carries out a fair and accurate census. To meet this goal, LCF recently partnered with Sonoma’s La Luz Center to expand Censotería. The game is now widely available at LCF’s 19 partner nonprofits throughout the state, with a version available online for people to print and play at home. 

Aside from La Luz Center, LCF worked with and awarded grants to multiple organizations serving the Bay Area, including  67 Sueños in Oakland, Monument Impact in Concord, North Bay Organizing Project in Sonoma, and Movimiento Cultural de la Unión Indígena in Vineburg.

“Without an accurate count of Latinos, there is no accurate count of California for the census,” said Eduardo García, a Civic Engagement Fellow for LCF. “But there’s so much vying for peoples’ attention right now, we wanted to make sure there’s a fun easy way to take part.” 

Being from Southern California, García knows what’s at stake for even our largest counties, where it might seem that an undercount would have little impact. “Riverside County and the Inland Empire is the fastest growing county in California, possibly the country, and might be one of the hardest hit by this [undercount]. Latinos are coming in from all of the coastal cities, and there are half a million immigrants in that area of the state, which we know is another hard to count group.” 

But García’s right, there’s a lot of other news demanding peoples’ attention. Since the rapid spread of COVID-19, other topics became more pressing, while the undercount of Latinos in the Census seems to have taken a backseat. 

For instance, many Latinos have no choice but to risk their lives to continue going to work. The Hispanic Caucus released a study on March 24 showing that less than 16 percent of Latinos have the ability to work from home. 

While 158 million people have been instructed to stay home, most working-age Latinos are asked to continue risking their lives to show up to work. Many also face disproportionate levels of layoffs, alongside Black individuals, as businesses continue to suffer from the economic crisis. This has placed issues like healthcare and unemployment even further to the forefront of our Latinos’ minds, though these topics were already important to most Latinos before this outbreak. 

Prior to COVID-19’s rapid spread, LCF conducted a survey amongst Latino voters leading up to California’s March 3 primary and discovered that access to adequate and affordable healthcare was one of the top three issues amongst their sample. 

But the issue of healthcare and emergency preparedness surrounding COVID-19 is closely connected to the last census count. García explained: “In total, there are 13 million in the state on Medi-Cal,” California’s federally-funded Medicaid program for low-income and disabled folks. “Half of those folks are Latino. So that means roughly 7 million Latinos are relying on this program for low cost or free health insurance, which you can imagine right now is incredibly important for their ability to access necessary care.” 

The federal funds devoted to Medi-Cal for the last 10 years relied largely on data collected in the 2010 census. The next 10 years of funding for healthcare programs and emergency preparedness lies in the numbers returned by the 2020 Census. 

With Latinos—who make up 39 percent of the state’s population—bearing an enormous economic and safety burden during the greatest health crises of our lifetimes, ensuring an accurate count is more important than ever. If we all work together, it can also be easier, García explained. “For the first time in the history of the census, they will be able to respond online or by phone at 1-844-330-2020. And if folks would rather fill out the paper form, they will receive it in the mail by mid-April. The point is they can do it from the comfort of their own home. And it only takes 10-15 minutes.” 

Nonprofits throughout the state that planned rallies and in-person information sessions already pivoted their efforts to online outreach. Many of these nonprofits are focused on youth engagement. When asked about LCF’s focus on young people, Garcia explained that young people, in particular children, are one of the hardest groups for which to achieve an accurate count. Now, young Latinos have the opportunity to ensure not only they are counted but that every single person in their family is counted. “We know young people are tech natives,” Garcia said. “They know how to access the internet, whether it’s on the website or on their phones. So we want to empower people to be ambassadors for their family.”

It also bears repeating that there will be no citizenship question asked on this form. “I just filled mine out the other day,” García said. “And I can say from my first-hand experience that there was no citizenship question.” 

While health crises and economic issues have made many feel powerless, LCF reminds the community that filling out the census form is an act of resistance, one that everyone can take part in, regardless of age, race, or citizenship status.

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