The interaction on the corner of 37th Avenue and Junction Boulevard in Corona between the young man and the couple with the baby was quick.
Had they filled out the 2020 Census, the young man asked in Spanish? No, the woman responded, also in Spanish. She was a citizen but her husband, who stood next to her with their child in a baby carrier on his chest, was undocumented and sorting out his immigration status. They were worried that filling out the census would endanger him. The young man reassured them. Her husband would be safe if they filled out the census and he could help them do it right then and there.
By the time the couple with the baby walked away, not only had they filled out the census, but the woman had also registered to vote. The whole interaction lasted about 15 minutes.
“The thing we have to assert is that it is safe, the data’s safe,” said Democratic nominee for New York’s 34th Assembly District Jessica González-Rojas. “And then why we need you to be counted and then why we need your families and children to be counted as well.”
The interaction between the young man and the couple took place at a 2020 Census outreach event co-hosted by González-Rojas and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- on Thursday afternoon in Corona (Ocasio-Cortez could not make the event).
For about three hours, González-Rojas and a handful of campaign workers and volunteers from both campaigns stood on the busy intersection located between a supermarket and a subway station passing out fliers and helping those who were ready and willing to get counted, fill out the census.
Corona is a historically undercounted neighbrohood, said González-Rojas. And, as the epicenter of the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever that everyone get counted.
“That’s the way we build power ––being counted, being seen, being heard,” she said. “If our community is not filling out the census, there’s no accurate account of the needs that we have around healthcare, around housing around schools.”
As the 34th Assembly District’s Democratic nominee –– and likely new Assemblymember since the district, which encompasses Jackson Heights, Woodside, and East Elmhurst, tends to vote for the Democratic candidate –– she’s there to do the work that needs to be done in the community, she said.
But she’s not there just because she’s a candidate for the Assembly, she said. It’s always been something she cared about.
“It’s the same sense of urgency I’ve always had,” she said. “As a person that cares about democracy, that cares about representation, that cares about resources, it’s been a priority for me,”
“I also love data,” she said laughing.
Many of the interactions are quick, she said, with the person taking a flier and walking away. Sometimes they’ll stop to ask questions. If the person says they’ve already filled it out, they’ll tell them to remind their friends and their family members that don’t live with them to do so as well.
She even spoke with a homeless man during a census outreach event in Woodside two weeks ago, she said.
“To me that was the most meaningful interaction,” she said. “Many people don’t have access to a computer or even a paper form because they don’t have an address.”
Then there’s the people like the young couple with the baby who are scared of deportation.
Corona has a large immigrant population, she said, and many of them of them are undocumented.
“There’s a lot of fear,” said González-Rojas. ”That’s a totally fair feeling in this moment where we have a Deporter-in-Chief in the White House.”
During previous censuses, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service agreed to put a moratorium on raids.
“So people wouldn’t connect filling out the census with someone knocking on their door,” she said. “I don’t know that that’s the case right now.”
The 2020 Census is the third census she’s worked on in the community, she said. In 2000 and 2010 she stood outside of post offices and churches reminding people to fill out the form.
This year it feels different, she said, especially from 2010.
“It didn’t feel like a struggle,” she said about the 2010 Census which took place under the Obama administration. “This feels like a struggle. This feels really hard.”
There’s a lot of contributing factors, she said –– a contentious presidential election, a global pandemic, and having, as she said, a “hostlie xenophobic racist sexist president” in office.
“The census is not top of mind for anybody in this moment,” she said.
But it’s still incredibly important, she said. She gave the example of the nearby 39th Assembly district which was created because of population data gathered during the 2000 Census.
“There’s real, real, real implications in filling it out and you can see it in maps,” she said. “The 39th district did not exist!”