Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta visited the West Colfax neighborhood on Wednesday to urge Latinos to participate in the upcoming U.S. Census count.
The longtime community organizer spoke to more than sixty people at the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library to remind them how vital the Census is in helping determine federal funding and redistricting. The event included staff from the U.S. and state Census offices, numerous community organizers, and former and current elected officials, including Councilwoman Debbie Ortega.
Latinos make up 30 percent of Denver’s population. Officials are concerned many won’t participate in the Census, which takes place every 10 years, because they believe their information will be exploited by the federal government. A poll released this week showed three-quarters of Latinos in the US worry President Trump’s administration will use information from the Census against them, according to NBC News.
Huerta said she’s heard from people who are “terrified” of participating because of their immigration status.
“We know that in Denver we have a lot of what we call the hard-to-count communities,” Huerta said. “We have a lot of Latinos. We have a lot of low-income people and a lot of people who think they’re not important.”
Huerta criticized Trump, whose administration unsuccessfully tried adding a question about citizenship to the Census, saying the president has been “instilling that fear into our people” since he launched his campaign.
Huerta said if Latinos don’t participate in the count, the community could lose millions in funding for things like schools, hospitals and roads.
“We have to say, this is the way we get back,” Huerta said. “By being counted, by making sure that our names are known, that our faces are known.”
Huerta was a key figure in the Chicano Civil Rights movement, along with the library’s namesake, Corky Gonzales, and Cesar Chavez. She and Chavez co-founded United Farm Workers, which now bills itself as the country’s largest farmworkers union, in California in 1962.
“I don’t think we would have had a farmworkers union without Dolores Huerta,” said former state lawmaker Polly Baca. “She was so critical to all of these accomplishments of the farmworkers for more than four decades.”
Montbello resident Aurelio Avalos said he plans on becoming a Census ambassador, or volunteers who help count people for the Census. He works with senior citizens at Montbello Manor and said he’s heard from Latino residents who are afraid of participating.
Avalos said it’s important for them and others to participate because of the resources at stake.
“For schools, because we need hospitals, we need more clinics,” Avalos said in Spanish. “If we don’t get government funding, there won’t be any of that.”