While census data shows that Washington DC's Latino population hasn't grown, local activists are confident that the community will still become increasingly active politically in the years to come.
According to census data released on Thursday, the district's Hispanic or Latino population stood at 11.3% in April 2020, or 77,652 people out of a total population of 679,545.
Between 2010 and 2020, however, approximately 23,000 of DC's 90,000 additional residents were those who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino, rising from 9% of the population.
Is Washington DC's Latino population a 'sleeping giant'? In an interview with LPO, Joe Barrios, the President of the DC Latino Caucus, said that the figures "speak powerfully to the increasing presence of Latinos in all eight wards of the district."
"This just shows the need to expand our outreach beyond our traditional routes in Ward 1," he said, referring to the part of Washington DC that includes the heavily Latino areas of Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Adams Morgan. "You're increasingly finding a Latino presence in Ward 4, which has almost as many people of Latino origin as Ward 1."
Barrios added that he believes the Latino population has, in fact, grown in all eight wards of the city over the last decade.
"Our strategy has to be an eight-ward strategy to work with our allies in the progressive community and in the black community to reach out to our Latino community and make sure they get counted and participate in the political process."
Additionally, Barrios noted that unlike other cities, there are no areas of Washington DC in which most residents are Latino - a fact which he said presents a challenge to political organizing efforts.
Looking to the future, however, he said that the DC Latino Caucus plans to actively take part in redrawing the district's political map.
"The way wards are split up, which is done every 10 years in response to census data, ended up splitting our community," he said. "There's going to be a redistricting process here in DC, where the ward maps are going to be redrawn. As that happens, we intend to get involved in that process to see if we can find some way of concentrating Latino political powers so that we can ensure proper representation in the [District] Council or elsewhere."
Nationally, the census data shows that Latinos have accounted for approximately half the country's growth over the last 10 years, rising by 23%.
Barrios, for his part, said he believes "strongly" that the national Latino population was undercounted, and accused the administration of former President Donald Trump of a "coordinated campaign" of intimidation, including harassment of Latinos by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a proposal to add a citizenship question to the census.
"This was part of a coordinated strategy to discourage our community from reporting in the census," he said.
Forms for the 2020 census asked people whether they are of "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish" origin and then asked for their race. Activists have warned that the two-question format may have led to data that is not fully representative of the US Latino populace.
"I don't think that a lot of Latinos, especially those born in the US, go out thinking of themselves with that bifurcation in mind," Barrios said. "As encouraging as the numbers have been in terms of the population increase, I do not believe they fully capture the depth and breadth of our population growth in the country over the last 10 years."
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