Amid significant growth, communities of color call for racial and regional equity

Communities of color, particularly Latino and Asian American communities, grew in numbers over the last decade, according to race and ethnicity data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday, Aug. 12.

Southern California counties by and large reflected the national and state trends when it came to race, with big increases in multiracial populations as well as among Latinos and Asian Americans.

More diverse than ever

Notably, the Inland Empire became predominantly Latino for the first time. In 2010, 47.3% of the Inland Empire was Latino and that number has now shifted to 51.6%, according to a preliminary analysis of the Census 2020 data by the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside.

Also, in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, there are more Asian Americans than African Americans for the first time. While African Americans accounted for 7.4% of the Inland Empire’s population in 2020, Asian Americans made up 8.7%.

Orange County saw a dramatic 31.1% growth in its Asian American population. Now, Asian Americans make up 22.2% of the county’s population compared to 17.9% in 2010. Los Angeles County saw a 7.3% decline in its African American population and a modest 2.5% increase in its Latino population, but a much higher growth of 11.4% when it came to Asian Americans.

The new numbers shed light on the growing importance of communities of color, especially in the inland areas, which typically have not garnered as much recognition and support as coastal communities, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of the Center for Social Innovation.

“When we think about communities of color, we can’t only think about Los Angeles, but also the Inland Empire and Orange County,” he said. “In fact, the Inland Empire has been a ‘majority minority’ region for decades now.”

Communities of color now represent close to 70% of the resident population of the Inland Empire, raising important questions about how and where investments within the region are being directed and how to promote equity in terms of access to resources, Ramakrishnan said.

Telling stories with data

The next step is to make sure the federal funds and resources get to these growing communities, said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliance in Garden Grove.

“We take a lot of time to analyze the census data and use it to tell a story about the community,” she said. “With the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, a breakdown of the data will show the diversity of our communities.”

As an example, Foo said, it’s often assumed that Asian American students do well in school and do well in higher education.

“But what about communities such as Tongans, Hmong, Lao and Samoans?” she said. “Can we build a higher education pipeline to help recruit people from these communities so they don’t get left behind?”

It wasn’t a surprise that Latinos are the majority in Riverside County, said Luz Gallegos, executive director at Perris-based Training Occupational Development Educating Communities (TODEC) Legal Center.

“We’ve known that for a while now since we work with the community on a daily basis,” she said. “But now that we have the official data, it is important to make sure the challenges and realities of the community are represented. We need a voice politically and the resources for a better quality of life.”

Gallegos’ group works with marginalized immigrant communities in the Riverside County, particularly the Coachella Valley and desert areas. Communities of color in the high desert and rural parts of the county are segregated, she said, and don’t get as much attention as those who live in the cities.

“Many of our immigrants work in the worst-paying jobs,” she said. “We have families living in trailers without air-conditioning in temperatures over 100 degrees. This breaks our hearts.”

Gallegos said her organization has used the 2020 census to not just create awareness, but to build activism among Latino youth.

“We’ve intentionally engaged our youth,” she said. “When they know the importance of the census and what it does, it helps create a culture of civic participation for generations to come.”

Questions about data accuracy

Gallegos said she and her organization have also been working to allay fears in the Latino community over the citizenship question, which the Trump administration pushed for, but was eventually struck down by the courts. Those concerns were compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affected the Latino community in terms of health and economic status because many lost employment and housing, she said.

“We’ll have to wait and see how accurate the count was because of those factors,” she added.

U.S. Census Bureau officials who held a news conference to unveil the data Thursday said they are confident in the accuracy of the count. Officials said they implemented improvements and changes to the 2020 data collection methods which enabled people to self-identify more accurately.

“These changes reveal that the U.S. population is more multiracial and more diverse than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnic research and outreach at the bureau.

But based on preliminary comparisons between the American Community Survey estimates and the 2020 census data, there seem to be some glaring discrepancies, said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

When the data is “disaggregated,” or broken down by neighborhood blocks and communities, Ong said, it will likely reveal that White people have been overcounted and communities of color in marginalized and underserved neighborhoods have been undercounted.

“We’re seeing the higher the income of the neighborhood, the less discrepancy there is in the data,” he said. “Lower income neighborhoods appear to be relatively undercounted and neighborhoods with high poverty rates have a bigger inconsistency and lower count.”

The impact of inaccurate data will be felt not just in political redistricting and representation, but also in how resources and federal dollars are allocated to communities, Ong said.

“The money won’t go where it’s needed the most,” he said. “I’m afraid the problem is very significant — among the worst in decades.”

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