‘We all count,’ says census organizer
I recently had the good fortune to meet with Gabino Aguirre, a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and co-chair of the census campaign in Ventura County.
Aguirre is a Santa Paula resident who was born to farmworkers and is a Vietnam-era veteran. We met to discuss Gold Coast Veterans Foundation’s participation in counting homeless veterans for the 2020 census.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission had a massive impact on the state’s political landscape, leading to substantial changes in Sacramento and in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 14-member commission redrew the legislative districts for 80 Assembly members, 40 Senate members and 53 congressional districts, shaping the ballot box for 33 million people.
During our meeting, I learned about his military service. Aguirre was living in Fresno in 1966, and the United States had begun to escalate the war in Vietnam. The draft was in process, and he received a letter to report to the local recruitment office.
After basic training, he attended and graduated clerk school, after which he was assigned to a headquarters unit at Fort Ord. There, the Army received GIs returning from Vietnam who only had a few weeks or months left before discharge.
“Almost all of them were carrying physical and mental trauma and suffering from PTSD, even though that term was not in use at that time,” Aguirre said.
He was encouraged by his first sergeant to become a computer operator with a division that developed new technologies such as night vision and laser guidance systems.
“I served the rest of my term with this unit. I served from November 1966 to August 1969,” he said.
After his service, Aguirre used the GI Bill to complete his education. After one year at a community college, he transferred to UC Santa Barbara and then to UCLA, where he finished his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Afterward, he began working for a farmworker education program and later earned a master’s degree and credentials in elementary and bilingual/multicultural education at USC.
He became an elementary bilingual teacher, then a counselor and then an administrator, serving as a high school principal for 20 years.
Finally, Aguirre earned a doctorate in social science/comparative education at UCLA.
Recently, California launched a statewide effort to achieve an accurate and complete count of Californians in the 2020 census. To assist with the logistics of the count, the California Complete Count office “grouped California’s 58 counties into 10 regions based on their hard-to-count populations, like-mindedness of the counties, capacity of community based organizations within the counties, and state census staff workload capabilities,” according to a page on the office’s website, census.ca.gov.
Last year, because of Aguirre’s experience and credentials, the Ventura County Community Foundation approached him to serve as co-chair of the census campaign in Ventura County.
“I accepted and am now the region 5 coordinator working out of the VCCF. Region 5 includes Ventura County and five other coastal counties between L.A. and San Francisco,” Aguirre said.
Each region knows its population best. Targeted outreach toward hard-to-count populations in each region will help toward the goal of a complete count in 2020.
Aguirre is passionate about the census.
“Now, more than ever, I realize how important the census has become. As a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, we used 2010 census data to ‘redistrict’ 173 political districts in California. I now see that folks who were not counted in 2010 were theoretically not represented in this redistricting and therefore excluded within this representation.”
The census is important for multiple reasons, in particular the way the count influences political representation through redistricting and the allocation of federal dollars. This means that every person counted by the census equates to $2,000 per year in a variety of community and safety net services. This totals to $20,000 because the census count only happens every 10 years. Each person not counted represents a loss of funding for local communities.
“The census count is one of the major challenges we currently face, and we are encouraging everyone to join our campaign,” Aguirre said.
Meeting Aguirre gave me a clear understanding that finding and encouraging homeless veterans to participate in the count will lead to increased funding over the next 10 years for agencies assisting homeless veterans in Ventura County.
Census Day is April 1. By that date, every home will have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 census.
The census slogan is “I count. You count. We all count.” In Spanish: “Yo cuento. Tú cuentas. Todos contamos.”