About 11 vehicles covered in balloons and hand-painted signs in Spanish rode in a caravan through the city of Brawley on June 19 to get the word out to residents about participating in the decennial U.S. Census Bureau county now underway. | DANIEL ROCHA PHOTO
IMPERIAL COUNTY — To get Imperial County residents to participate in the decennial U.S. Census Bureau count now underway, a series car caravans took place throughout Imperial Valley last week that was to culminate in Calexico on June 24 at Rockwood Park.
The Calexico event, which was sponsored by the city and the county of Imperial, occurred after this newspaper’s deadline.
Last week, caravans occurred in the cities and unincorporated communities of Calipatria, Westmorland, Seeley, Heber, Brawley, and Imperial.
On June 19, 11 vehicles colorfully decorated, held signs that empowered and encouraged onlookers in the city of Brawley to respond to the 2020 census. Emblazoned with signs that had messages like “Tu Cuentas (You Count)” and “Community Counts,” some vehicles honked their horns rhythmically and another car ahead of the caravan played lively music.
“It’s good that they are doing this,” said Joan Torres, a Brawley resident participating in the caravan.
Torres mentioned the opportunity this gives people who have not responded to the census, and that it helps remind those distracted by daily routines to respond. Furthermore, people she knows say they feel uncomfortable about the census.
Many of the caravans held last and the one scheduled for Calexico have been promoted in Spanish-language fliers and social media posts in an effort to target many of Imperial County’s hardest-to-reach populations, which tend to be non-English speakers, who census officials have said can be distrustful of the census process.
Efforts by Count Me 2020, a San Diego and Imperial counties census outreach coalition, serve to support, educate, and empower undercounted communities to complete the census with confidence.
As of June 18, U.S. Census 2020 data showed a 54.8 percent self-response rate for Imperial County. That is just a bit below the 2010 census, which had a final self-response rate of 58.5 percent.
Miguel Hernandez, communications director with Brawley-based Comité Civico del Valle, which has led some of the census outreach efforts in Brawley and the north end as well as Heber, said he was inspired by the community.
With the help of trained volunteers, Hernandez led the car caravan June 19.
“Without them (the volunteers), we could not have made it,” he said, adding their efforts help to inform and build better communities. He said volunteers battled through factors that tend to cause low census turnout to reach residents, including the language, low broadband connectivity (the census was primarily done online this year for the first time), and computer literacy barriers Imperial County residents face.
U.S. Census 2020 data shows a 37.6 percent (out of a total 54.8 percent) self-response rate using the Internet in Imperial County to participate in the count.
COVID-19 became an obstacle for these community leaders and volunteers because of social-distancing recommendations.
That has not stopped them from “creating awareness in the community” and “help see the need for the community to be engaged,” Hernandez said. Thanks to the time and effort from Comité Civico del Valle, Campesinos Unidos, Los Amigos de la Comunidad, Brown Bag Coalition, U.S. Census Bureau and Proyecto Heber, undercounted Imperial County communities are learning about how important and impactful this event is for the next 10 years.