SAN JUAN, Texas – La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) celebrated the first day of self-reporting for the 2020 census with a census-themed health and informational fair.

Representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau and LUPE spoke at the fair about the importance of the census, especially to the Rio Grande Valley. With federal funding and the number of seats in the U.S. House hanging on the line, their message was clear: cuéntate!

“We’re here to say ‘let’s respond; let’s get counted; and let’s make sure that our state, our county, our cities receive the dollars that they need,” said Dr. Mary Jane Garza, census participation coordinator for Texas’s Coastal Bend and the Rio Grande Valley.

Martha Sanchez, LUPE’s community organizing coordinator, echoed the sentiment, saying the event was a call to action to all the communities in region.

“What LUPE is saying today is ‘please, don’t say “no” to money – to federal money – because we need desperately that money for infrastructure at colonias, for infrastructure in our cities. We need that money to come to the Rio Grande Valley,” said Sanchez.

Undercounting has always been a problem for South Texas. Cameron and Hidalgo counties, along with 37 Valley cities, even sued the U.S. Census Bureau over the accuracy of the 2000 census, but the case was dismissed. Figures from the 2010 census have also been disputed, with different groups estimating that 40 percent of the population did not get counted.

Sanchez even shared an anecdote about the problem some residents had in communicating with census workers sent to the Valley from other areas, despite them speaking the same language.

“I do not have anything against people from Puerto Rico. They’re wonderful people. I love them,” Sanchez laughed. “But, we didn’t understand the Spanish. We have our own dialects here.”

This time around, Garza says the bureau has taken several measures to ensure everyone responds. For instance, the Valley received 53 census workers – a large portion for the area – and placed people in zones identified for low participation. They also formed over 1,000 partnerships with groups and organizations to help get the word out and will launch a $100,000 ad campaign before and after Census Day on April 1.

Sanchez says this is the first time that people have had so many options to respond to the census, so there is no excuse for not participating. The 2020 census is the first to be available online, presenting a quick and easier avenue for many. For those without online access, LUPE strongly suggests they take the survey by phone. There are also organizations, like LUPE and A Resource In Serving Equality (ARISE), that will have census workers present at their offices to help individuals fill out the questionnaire.

Garza reminds those who might be wary about speaking to a census worker, that they all took an oath to keep all responses confidential under the threat of a $250,000 fine or jail time. More importantly, the “citizenship question” that asks about a person’s immigration status is not included in the census. Sanchez, who was part of the lawsuit that blocked the question from being on the survey, says losing $1,600 a year for every uncounted person is what people should fear.

“That’s more scary (sic) when we go to the colonias, and we don’t have the monies that we need,” said Sanchez. “That is more scary (sic) to me when people cannot have public light, and they have to live a very insecure life just because we don’t have the money to respond to the needs of the community.”

Garza and Sanchez did, however, want to caution residents about scammers who use the census to obtain personal information. They said every census worker will have a government badge, wear census t-shirts, and have an iPad to complete the form. They will never ask for social security or account numbers, and will not start walking the streets until May 13 when they visit residents who have not responded to the census up to that point.

“I think people know what’s at stake for us in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Sanchez. “And so, right now, this is the time. It’s time to respond.”

Mailers for the census were first sent out on March 13 and will continue to be sent out until March 20. The last day to respond is July 31.