It was a perfect day for census soccer.

The sun was bright but the air was cool enough to prevent overheating. Sporting t-shirts of different colors that read “Yo Cuento”— or I count — eight teams dribbled their way across Garfield Park’s field towards their trophies in a tournament that started early this morning and ended at 4 p.m.

Teams ranged from day laborers to Mayans to census bureau employees. About seven hundred people attended the event.

Rafael Lopez, wearing an orange t-shirt provided by the Census Bureau, remembered playing soccer at Garfield Park as a little boy more than ten years ago, when the field was “all dirt.”

“It feels really good to have more opportunities here,” he said. “The census is doing this so we can raise our hand and say we are here.”

Rafael Lopez gets ready to play in the tournament.

Organized by the Mission District Complete Count Committee, the tournament is one of the last events aimed at bringing the Latino community into the census before surveys are due on April 1. The city is actually asking its residents to turn their forms in early, by March 19.

A coalition of community-based organizations like Accion Latina, the Day Labor Program, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the MDCCC began organizing cultural events at the end of last year to amp up the outreach to Latinos in the Mission District.

Mission resident Edwin Hernandez relaxed on the grass before the next game, and watched two kids’ teams hustle for the ball. Now a father, at age 18 when the last census was taken, he didn’t know anything about it. Now, he said, he will tell his friends to fill out the census form.

The tournament helps reach out to the undocumented, he said.

“People without papers are scared, or they don’t know, or they don’t want to get involved,” he said. The Census Bureau makes all of its employees take an oath forbidding them to disclose any information that could identify a person or their household. They can get a five-year jail term, a fine, or both if they leak confidential information.

People should expect to receive the census questionnaire in the mail this Monday, said Jenny Diaz of the Census Bureau. It’s the shortest form in history—ten questions in ten minutes.

Things have really changed since the last census, she said.  Unlike previous questionnaires that asked for information about social security numbers, credit card numbers, and income, this one has stripped out those details that made many people afraid to share, said Diaz.

A Latino population that often gets overlooked because they don’t speak Spanish or English is the fast-growing Maya group, officials said.  Diaz said she has been networking with the Mayan community and the Associacion Mayab to get Mayans to work for and do outreach for the census.

Men watch the games on the bleachers.

Other groups in the city are reaching out to underserved populations and non-native speakers like the Russian, Chinese, and Irish communities. The citywide mobilizing groups operate under the San Francisco Complete Count, a committee made up of 25 representatives appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in May of 2009.

Felix Fuentes, a member of the San Francisco Complete Count team and the outreach coordinator at the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, said it’s estimated that 100,000 people were left out of the year 2000 census.

The number of people counted translates into federal dollars for cities, and San Francisco lost out on $300 million over the past decade, he said. Every year, the federal government uses census data to distribute $400 billion in funding to programs.

“That could have been used for schools and services,” Fuentes said. Census data is also used for distributing state funds, planning budgets, transportation, and land use, attracting businesses, creating maps to speed services during emergencies, and apportioning federal government seats.

A girls’ team gets ready to play the boys’ team.

Fuentes said the current outreach is working.

“We are considered a model for the United States,” said Fuentes. “Having a Complete Count Committee, a lot of people look to us.”

Mario Paz, executive director of Good Samaritan Family Services and a member of the San Francisco Complete Count Committee, said soccer was a way in to the Latino community.

“We are doing something we socially and culturally love to do,” he said. Miguel Ayala, the Youth Soccer Program Coordinator for the organization, brought four teams out today.

Joel Aguiar, outreach coordinator for the Day Labor Program, has helped organize several events in the past few months, but he said the one today was the biggest.

“Of the hard to count communities, day laborers are the hardest to count,” he said. “They’re harassed by police and immigration officials.”

Aguiar brought three teams of 12 players, from the Day Labor center, Cesar Chavez Street, and other work sites in the city, to the tournament.

“Most of them felt disinterest about filling it out but when you speak to them about soccer, they’re like, ‘where’s the tournament, I want to bring my friends’,” said Aguiar.

Clowns helped make the tournament fun for kids.

Aguiar said it’s crucial to bring census materials to the workplace. The Day Labor Program will have questionnaires available for the workers to make the process easier. In addition, a handful of day laborers and domestic workers are receiving stipends to promote the census among their peers.

“We want to make sure the community associates the census with something positive and that it’s not about someone knocking on your door while raids are tearing apart families,” he said.

On March 20, Mission Loc@l will visit the census outreach event for the Mayan community, at the 16th street BART station.

On March 28, the final push will feature the Ballet Folclorico de Guatemala, bands, and members of the Consulate.

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