In a country as large as the United States, how is it possible to count each person residing within its borders, and why do we do it? Every 10 years, this is the challenge that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau takes on.

From the first Census in 1790 to the present day, all that we learn about ourselves from the counting of every person in the United States will help you and your family succeed. It is a great way to “make yourself count” by telling our leaders who we are and what we need.
If you need a closer-to-home reason for completing your Census form, think about the following:

1. Does your neighborhood have a lot of traffic congestion, elderly people living alone or over-crowded schools? Ensuring that everyone on your block and in your neighborhood is counted helps your community government work out public improvement strategies. Non-profit organizations use Census numbers to estimate the number of people they may serve in communities across the nation.

2. The hundreds of billions of dollars in federal and state funds allocated each year mean important things to you – things such as school lunch programs, hospitals and highways.

3. Many 911 emergency systems are based on maps developed from Census data. Census information helps health providers predict the spread of diseases through communities with children or elderly people. And when floods, tornadoes or earthquakes hit, the Census tells rescuers how many people will need their help.

4. Census numbers help budding entrepreneurs reduce financial risk and locate potential markets. This means more jobs in your town because businesses are able to determine the marketability of their products and services.

5. Although individual records are held confidential for 72 years, you can request a certificate from past Census counts that can be used to establish your age, residence or relationship—information that could help you qualify for a pension, establish citizenship, or obtain an inheritance. Right now, your children may even be on the Internet, using Census information to do their homework.

No matter what you may hear from your neighbors or people on TV or the radio, it is a fact that the information collected by the Census bureau is completely confidential. No court of law, not even the president of the United States, can find out respondents’ answers. All Census Bureau employees take an oath for life to keep Census information confidential. Any violation of that oath is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.

So now that you know why you should participate in the Census, here is what to expect.

There are three pieces of information you will receive, all designed to promote awareness of Census 2010 and your responsibility to respond. First, in early March, you will receive what is called an advance letter. This letter is designed to promote awareness that a Census questionnaire is on its way to you. This letter also gives you the option of asking for the questionnaire in Spanish.

Then, a couple of weeks later, you will receive the official U.S Census 2010 questionnaire. Over 100 million households throughout the nation also will receive the questionnaires.

If you do not respond, you will receive a post card reminding you again about the importance of your response, as required by law.

After April 1, 2010, Census workers will spend a couple of months trying to locate and get information from households or families that failed to respond by mail. If your questionnaire is incomplete, a Census employee must contact you to obtain the missing information. If you do not respond or complete your form, you should expect an “enumerator,” or Census Bureau employee, to come knocking on your door.

Ensuring everyone is counted in the growing Latino population will require a community-based effort. The “ya es hora ¡HAGASE CONTAR!” (It's Time, Make Yourself Count) initiative is a nationally coordinated effort to ensure all of our community is counted. The only way to achieve a full count of our community is if every household makes the decision to make itself count, fills out their Census form, and returns it.

Participating in the Census keeps us on our path toward greater political, social and economic empowerment.
Fill out your Census form and be counted. For more information, visit

Ana Rivas Logan is a Miami-Dade County School Board member and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). Arturo Vargas is executive director of NALEO.