DARTMOUTH — Starting March 12, households nationwide will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with information on how to respond to the 2020 Census and the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States (PALCUS) is making sure all U.S. residents who claim Portuguese ancestry are counted and they know how to enter “Portuguese” under the “Race/Origins” question.

“The Portuguese were not counted in the last Census,” said Marie R. Fraley, the National Campaign Director for PALCUS’ “Make Portuguese Count” campaign for the 2020 Census. “We have not had a complete count in over 20 years. We are invisible.”

Without having an exact count in the Census, the Portuguese cannot show their strength, stressed Fraley, who visited UMass Dartmouth on Feb. 27 for an informative presentation about the “Make Portuguese Count” in the 2020 Census Campaign hosted by the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture/Tagus Press, the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives and the Department of Portuguese.

“Everything is data driven these days, and because of that it is very difficult to make a case for Portuguese language education in public schools or for health studies for chronic diseases for the Portuguese people,” she said. “Even when we talk to elected officials, the first thing they say is, ‘How many Portuguese are there in my district?’”

The ways the Portuguese show up in the Census can have repercussions for years to come, not only in terms of allocation of political power but also distribution of federal funds to states and local areas. Even the Government of Portugal consults Census data when planning for consular services.

Fraley said PALCUS has been working with the Census Chief of the Ethnicity and Ancestry to assure this time the Portuguese are counted and tabulated.

“In 2010, there was no ancestry question; there was only the race question,” she said.

As a result, there was a local movement that encouraged people of Portuguese ancestry to check off “Other ancestry” and write-in “Portuguese.” However, that data never ended up being recorded because the Census never created a code number for Portuguese or for Brazilian or CapeVerdean for that matter.

“Hence, we were statistically invisible,” she said. “The Portuguese were not counted as Portuguese; they were counted as white. This time, we have code numbers… and I saw them. So, there is a code number for Azorean, for Madeiran, for Portuguese and a fourth one for the total.”

To be counted in the 2020 Census, individuals of Portuguese ancestry should mark an “X” on the race or races that applies to each person in the household, for example white, black, etc. Then they should write “Portuguese” under any race, and they can write up to six origins.

“For the head of household, this is Question number 9. For each subsequent person in the household, this is Question number 7,” Fraley said. “Portuguese can be written and counted under any race… Quite frankly, if we are not counted, we don’t count!”

José DaCunha, U.S. Census Partnership Specialist for the New York Region, said the impact of an accurate census count is significant for several reasons because it can help a community get its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.

“The more people respond in a particular area, the more money they will get for their city, town and state,” he said.

He also pointed out that businesses use Census data to decide where to build factories, offices and stores.

“This creates jobs,” he said, while noting that the Census results will also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years.

For the first time, you can choose to respond online, by phone or by mail.

“When completing the Census, include everyone living in your home on April 1,” said DaCunha.

The paper form can be completed in English or Spanish. You can respond online in English and 12 additional languages, including Portuguese. You can also respond by phone in 13 languages, including Portuguese.

“It’s going to be a dedicated number,” DaCunha said. “So, if I only speak Portuguese or I feel more comfortable speaking Portuguese, I can contact that Portuguese number and I won’t get an automated system. I will get an actual live person who speaks my language and will be able to facilitate how to fill out the Census by phone.”

To access the Census Portuguese language line available to the public, call toll-free 1-844-474-2020.

“I think that’s going to be huge and it’s going to help us tremendously in the Census Bureau,” said DaCunha, who speaks Portuguese fluently. “It will give us another option, another opportunity. Otherwise people would be hesitant to fill out the Census.”

DaCunha reminded those present that the U.S. Census Bureau cannot release any personal information to law enforcement agencies.

“There is a misconception that the Census Bureau will share information with ICE for example,” he said, stressing that the Census Bureau is required by law to protect any personal information collected and keep it strictly confidential.

“The Census Bureau can only use your answers to produce statistics,” DaCunha said.

He also said the Census will never ask for Social Security numbers, donations or bank account information.

At the beginning of the session, Dr. Paula Noversa, the faculty director for the Ferreira Mendes Portuguese-American Archives, praised the PALCUS efforts and the “Make the Portuguese Count” Campaign, which has the support of 228 affiliated organizations and 76 captains in 16 U.S. states.

“This is such an important issue,” she said. “I am a historian and I can tell you I have used the Census data for the past 30 years in my studies. So, I can say without a doubt, it is remarkably important for the Portuguese to participate in this… not only because of schools, roads and representation. It is also important in terms of our story and making sure that people understand where we were, what communities we were in. This is all of tremendous importance.”