The first Latinos in the United States of America settled in Florida in 1565 but the U.S. Census did not recognize this population until 1980--leaving their identity in limbo. (More on that, here)
Regardless of the invisibility of the existence of the Hispanic/Latin/Latinx population for centuries in the United States of America, the recent increase in Latino/a population is not due to newcomers; instead, it is due to the descendants of US citizens.
"The Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before arriving to the United States. People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be any race."
- U.S. Census
Currently, the questions about race and ethnicity on the US Census do not represent this population accurately.
The majority of families identify themselves according to their parents' or grandparents' country of origin--for example, Cubans, Mexicans, Venezuelans. During my journey in helping the Census gather participation, I've noticed that many Latinos/as simply choose white and their country of origin.
Traditionally, there has been a notion that pockets of this particular population reside specifically in certain states of the country. Here in Columbia, South Carolina, small, poor communities--each with a different ethnic makeup--pose a thought challenge to census workers whose mission is to make sure federal funds reach the communities that need the most.
Additionally, these communities encounter the barrier of language. Children become the primary translators, and many of them do not have the capacity or the knowledge to do a proper translation. Phone calls are hung up because of fear and lack of communication. But thanks to school districts, volunteers and library workers, who understand the importance of representation, there's finally a silver lining for these communities.
My small contribution in Northeast Columbia helps the Census count families that were completely unaware of this important event. The fact that many people live in the same house and the fear of questions about immigration status can complicate counting communities.
The families that I have been working with for eight years know and trust me and it is magnificent to see the spontaneous “ambassadors” inform their community about the importance of answering the questions for the surveys.
For the last few weeks, I've been going from mobile park to mobile park every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with my mask on to talk about the census. On my third Thursday, I received a bag of banana peppers, questions about library services, and most importantly their trust.