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The Denver Post

Hispanics See Census As 'Defining'

by Louis Aguilar

December 29, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Denver Post. All Rights Reserved.

The 2000 census will represent a pivotal moment for the Hispanic community in Colorado and nationwide - official confirmation that Hispanic population growth in the past decade represented one of the most significant demographic changes in U.S. history.

"It is a defining moment for Latinos nationally and a defining moment for our country," said Marisa Demeo, Washington based counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which coordinated a multimillion-dollar national campaign that involved hundreds of Hispanic grassroots groups, including those in Colorado.

"For quite some time, Latinos have been waiting to prove our tremendous growth and we will soon have the official numbers to validate that," Demeo said.

Census estimates have shown that Hispanics will become the largest minority group in five years and that Hispanic population grew by 10.1 million in the past 10 years. Census numbers to be released in March will either verify or refute those estimates. Hispanic organizations hope to use the figures to exert more political, economic and cultural clout. There are early signs Denver and Colorado significantly improved their ability to convince Hispanics and Spanish-language immigrants to fill out their census forms. Last week, U.S. Census Bureau officials ranked Denver among the top 14 cities in the nation in mail response rate - the city had a 70 percent return rate. Local census officials and Hispanics involved in the Census 2000 campaign sounded upbeat.

"I'm willing to say that Denver has never had a more accurate count than what we will have for Census 2000," said Jim Martinez, assistant to Mayor Wellington Webb. Played major role

Martinez, who played a major role in outreach efforts to minority communities, said more than 50 city employees worked on such census outreach efforts and more than 50 outside organizations from churches to businesses also contributed.

The 2000 census sparked an unprecedented effort by Hispanic organizations to mobilize their resources.

In Colorado, more than 75 Hispanic organizations worked with the Census Bureau to make sure Hispanics were counted. That was triple the number of groups that worked on the 1990 census. That year, the Hispanic community in Colorado was undercounted by at least 5 percent, the Census Bureau estimates, while the overall Colorado population was undercounted by 1.6 per cent.

The census information released Thursday was just the first act of a major event that many Hispanics worked hard and long to influence. In March, the Census Bureau plans to release a population breakdown by race and ethnicity. Separately, the bureau next month will release economic information that will include the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the state and give some indication of Hispanic purchasing power.

Asked to describe the growth of the Latino community in Denver the past decade, Denver City Clerk Rosemary Rodriguez said: "It's huge, huge, huge. It is absolutely amazing.

"It used to be Colorado Latino meant Chicano families who have been here for three generations or more. But the past five years there have been so many new immigrants. I cannot tell you of all the churches that used to be Irish and Chicano and now they're packed with Spanishspeaking immigrants."

Latest census estimates released in 1999 show that Hispanics make up 15 percent of the state population and nearly 28 percent of Denver's population. Those estimates are based on birth records, tax information, migration patterns and other statistics. The 2000 census could significantly increase those numbers, census officials said.

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