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Census takes center stage at Fiesta Broadway

April 26, 2009 |  5:52 pm

At Sunday’s Fiesta Broadway, an annual downtown festival of music and culture, the testaments to Latino economic clout were as plentiful as they were creative. At the Home Depot booth, kids could hammer together wooden toys. State Farm Insurance offered a batting cage. Ocean Spray built a cranberry bog complete with a farmer in hip-waders.

The array of big-name exhibitors at the 20-year-old festival was proof that corporate America knows well the size of the Spanish-speaking market. But in smaller, less flashy booths city and federal officials were urging the Latino community to make sure the government knows their numbers.

Representatives for the 2010 Census pressed leaflets into the hands of those strolling the mile-long festival and handed out water bottles, stickers and tote bags touting the national count. The hundreds of thousands of Latinos drawn to the event are an attractive crowd for those seeking to boost participation in the census.

City officials have said Los Angeles lost out on $184 million in federal funds because of people missed by the 2000 Census. In preparing for next year’s count, officials are focusing on immigrant communities, where personal questions posed by government workers may be greeted with fear

"Our biggest challenge is education. It’s just getting people to understand the importance and what I call the what’s-in-it-for-me factor," said Norma Vega, executive director of the mayor’s census office.

She said workers were explaining that the census count will help determine how schools and social service programs are funded. The outreach included an announcement from the main musical stage just before a performance by singer and festival queen Paquita la del Barrio.

At a census booth near 9th Street, workers ran out of tote bags -- or "walking billboards," as one called them -- before noon. Henry Mendoza, a partnership specialist with the Census Bureau, said he was pleasantly surprised that many who stopped by his booth were well versed in the aspect of the count that's often most important to immigrants -- the privacy and confidentiality of the information they give.

"We’re certainly ready to answer questions, but most of the people are very aware already," he said. "They know it’s safe and secure."

 -- Harriet Ryan

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