SILVER SPRING – State and federal officials met with Hispanic community leaders from around the state Tuesday in an effort to head off problems that led to massive undercounts of minority groups in the 1990 census.
The effort to improve minority participation in Census 2000 was welcomed by most Hispanics at the meeting as a “really refreshing” overture, although representatives of some groups said they would take a wait-and-see attitude.
“You can get away with pretty words, but if no one asks the those hard questions, nobody knows what’s going on,” said Ana Sol Gutierrez, former president of Casa de Maryland Inc., a Hispanic support group in the Washington suburbs.
The meeting at the Long Branch Community Center was organized by the Census Bureau and brought together about 50 people from government and from Hispanic organizations around the state. Groups from the Eastern Shore, from Baltimore and from Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Washington counties, among others, were represented.
It was the first statewide Hispanic/Latino Census 2000 Summit, for a census that is scheduled to get under way in less than six months.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said she would like people to leave the summit with the message that “the census is important and we need to get everyone counted — every mother, father, friend, colleague, neighbor and church member.”
The Census Bureau estimates that it missed about 100,000 people in Maryland in the 1990 census. Many of those were members of minority groups, including an estimated 8,000 Hispanics who were not counted.
Townsend attributed that in part to the fact that Hispanic organizations in the state were “babes in the woods” in 1990. The development of Hispanic groups since then should help extend the reach of the census into those communities, she said.
The 1990 undercount was described as “extremely disturbing” by Fernando Armstrong, regional director in the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia office, which includes Maryland.
Census officials have said they need help in areas where English is not the first language. Townsend also said many Hispanics come from countries with oppressive governments and that others, fearing deportation from the United States, may be reluctant to share information with the government. Part of the bureau’s outreach to Hispanics will be assurances that no incriminating data will be given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service or other federal agencies.
Armstrong, who is Hispanic, also said that the bureau has funding to help non-profit groups like those at Tuesday’s meeting reach out to their communities. But “no amount has been earmarked for Maryland” at this point, he said.
Gutierrez was not impressed with the presentation.
“The event as I had envisioned it was going to be a real pouring out in different areas of Maryland,” she said. “But I didn’t hear it. I never hear it. I asked the Census Bureau to report what it’s going to do to reach the hard-to- enumerate areas and I didn’t hear anything about it.”
But other Hispanic leaders who were present said they were pleased with the bureau’s efforts.
“I think the government is really making a big effort to see people are really included (in the census) and it’s really refreshing,” said Jacqueline Castillo, president of Latinos Unidos on the Eastern Shore.
Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, said she was “very disappointed” with the 1990 undercount and urged the groups Tuesday to work with the government on Census 2000.
“We cannot have this happen again,” Morella said of the undercount. “The census is very important and all of us have a role to play.”