Reaching out for Brazilians to be counted

Activists note US Census gap

By Tanya Perez Brennan
Globe Correspondent / May 10, 2009
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Area Brazilian activists are mounting a heightened outreach campaign to make sure their countrymen who live here participate in the US Census this year and take the extra steps necessary to be counted as Brazilian.

Teaming up with the federal census agency, groups like the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Allston are getting the message out to community leaders that filling out a census form is important if Brazilians living here are to get the political representation and the aid that the community needs.

The Immigrant Center plans on educating leaders through community meetings and working with Brazilian media to stress the importance of having people identify as Brazilian, said the center's executive director, Fausto da Rocha.

"We're considered Latino but the [resources] end up going toward Hispanics and not for those of us who speak Portuguese," he said.

Radio personality Mara Rubia said she and her husband, Roberto da Silva, are using their program to offer information about the census.

"We're letting people know why they should be counted, and we're informing them that they shouldn't fear filling out the surveys or talking to census people because the information they give is confidential," said Rubia, whose program, "The Maraberto Show," airs Saturday mornings on a Framingham station, WSRO-AM (650).

Local Brazilians participating in the 2010 Census will not find a box to check saying they are Brazilian or report what language they speak.

Instead they would have to choose "some other race" on the form and then write in Brazilian, according to Alexandra Barker, media specialist with the US Census Bureau's regional center in Boston. The 10-question short form being used in the census is less detailed than the one used to gather information in the more frequent American Community Survey.

Arthur Bakis, information services specialist at the regional census center, said the 10-year census is designed to provide as close to a total count of the country's population as possible. The monthly community survey, which is also administered by the census agency, has a 48-question form, including queries on language and country of origin. It goes to one in 10 households and is designed to measure population trends.

Results are released every three years.

Barker, who is Brazilian, said the bureau is reaching out to ethnic communities in its effort to reach everyone living in the country for the 2010 Census.

The Boston office will hire 60 "partnership specialists," who speak several languages and can target specific populations, Barker said, and funds from the federal stimulus package will be used to hire 120 assistants to help them reach out to immigrant groups through community partners, including ethnic media, schools, and cultural organizations.

"They need to be counted. That is the goal of the census," Barker said. "We're going to count them as people who are living here. The question of wanting to be counted as a certain race or ethnicity is up to each community."

Members of the local Brazilian community see a special task in getting an accurate count of their countrymen.

In the past, fears of deportation and misinformation kept many from answering the knock on the door or filling out the surveys sent to their homes, community leaders say.

According to estimates culled from American Community Survey results covering 2005 to 2007, there are 71,313 Brazilians living in Massachusetts. But community leaders estimate the figure is too low by 30 percent, in part due to the large number of undocumented immigrants who avoided filling out the survey.

Rubia said that if asked, she would urge listeners to check the "some other race" box and identify themselves as Brazilians.

This distinction is important, say community leaders, because during the 2000 Census, Brazilians were included in the Hispanic category.

With certain services based on population figures, said da Rocha, the confusion results in more assistance for people who speak Spanish, the dominant language in Latin America, and less for people from countries with historical ties to Portugal, including Brazil and Cape Verde.

Heloisa Maria Galvão, cofounder of the Allston-based Brazilian Women's Group, a census community partner, recalls being interviewed over the phone for the 2000 Census and insisting that she was not Hispanic.

"I think there should be a classification for Brazilian," she said. "I am still waiting for that day."