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Panel | Race, Place and the Politics of Census 2020

Event Type
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities and Department of Latina/o Studies
Room 210, Levis Faculty Center (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana)
Mar 2, 2020   4:00 pm  
Free and open to the public.
Nancy Castro

Census 2020 will be the most controversial decennial census in decades, as the current administration has politicized the Census with the proposal to add a highly contested question on citizenship during an already politically polarized time. This event includes scholars who are studying this particular political moment and how different racial groups understand the government generally and the census more specifically, with broad implications for how we comprehend government trust and political divides as they impact racial groups across urban and rural communities. Dowling, Mora, and Rodríduez-Muñiz will present on their research on government trust and the census drawing from their research in both California and Illinois. Anita Banerji will then speak to the specific statewide efforts of nonprofits in Illinois to help increase participation in the census. As the Director of the Democracy Initiative for Forefront, a national organization for non-profits, Banerji is leading the statewide efforts to connect nonprofits in Illinois in collaboration for enhancing participation in Census 2020. Banerji will discuss the local Illinois stakes in terms of funding and political participation that are linked to census numbers. Griselda Vega Samuel will then discuss the importance of messaging with the Latino/a community. Vega Samuel heads the Chicago regional office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). MALDEF in collaboration with other civil rights organizations have been legally contesting the citizenship question. Overall this event will provide a nuanced and informative take on the race and place politics of the upcoming Census, including both academic scholarship and policy advocates.   

with Julie A. Dowling (Latino/a Studies); G. Cristina Mora (Sociology, University of California Berkeley); Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz (Sociology and Latino/a Studies, Northwestern University); Anita Banerji (Director, Democracy Initiative for Forefront); Griselda Vega Samuel (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [MALDEF]).

Cristina Mora is Associate Professor of Sociology and Chicano/Latino Studies at UC Berkeley. She completed her B.A. in Sociology at Cal in 2003 and earned her PhD in Sociology from Princeton University in 2009.

Her research focuses mainly on questions of census racial classification, immigration, and racial politics in the United States and Europe. Her book, Making Hispanics, was published by the University of Chicago Press and provides the first historical account of the rise of the “Hispanic/Latino” panethnic category in the United States. This work, along with related articles, has received several awards and wide recognition, and has also been the subject of several national media segments.

She is currently working on two main projects. The first examines racial attitudes in a context of economic precariousness in California. The second examines how communities of color perceive of census efforts in our current political climate.  Her work has been published in venues like the American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Latino Studies, and the Du Bois Review.

Michael Rodríguez-Muñiz is an assistant professor in Northwestern’s Department of Sociology and Latinx Studies Program. His research interests include Latinx politics and identity, ethnoracial knowledge, particularly censuses, and the politics of time and temporality. His dissertation received the 2016 American Sociological Association Dissertation Award. He published in the American Journal of SociologyAmerican Journal of Cultural SociologyEthnographyQualitative Sociology, and Engaging Science, Technology & Society and several edited volumes. His next major research project will explore the history of Puerto Rican radicalism, memory, and state repression in Chicago, a project that entails the formation of a community-based archive.

Anita Banerji leads Forefront’s Democracy Initiative, Census 2020 outreach, and civic engagement work. Having worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and the Illinois State Government, Anita has a penchant for policy; she enjoys working in advocacy and her nonprofit experience has provided her the opportunity to focus on social policy issues over the past two decades. Most recently, Anita served as Legislative Director for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She holds a master’s degree in multicultural and organizational communications from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a 2010 IWIL alum, former Associate Board President of the Indo-American Center and a 2019 Edgar Fellow.


Griselda Vega Samuel is the Regional Counsel, Midwest for the Chicago office of Mexican American Legal & Educational Fund (MALDEF). As Regional Counsel she is responsible for the daily operations and overall management of the regional office which covers 15 states.  She is an attorney with over 18 years of experience in working in the areas of litigation, policy-advocacy and education, specifically employment law, and general civil rights.  Ms. Vega Samuel’s advocacy work extends to both U.S. and international fronts, where she has worked on human trafficking legislation, as well as, worked on policy issues related to migrant labor rights, both within the U.S. and Mexican legal frameworks.


Julie A. Dowling (PhD Sociology UT-Austin, 2004) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Latina/Latino Studies and Affiliate Faculty in the Departments of Sociology and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has published articles on Latino racial identity construction and racial attitudes in a variety of journals including Social Science QuarterlySociological Perspectives, and Latino Studies. Her article publications have received multiple accolades including the Distinguished Contribution to Research Award for “Best Article” from the Latino/a Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association, and an Honorable Mention for the 2009 Distinguished Contribution to Sociological Perspectives Award.

Dr. Dowling's research has focused on the US Census and how definitions of race and ethnicity are understood by Latinos. Her book, Mexican Americans and the Question of Race (2014, UT-Austin Press), explores the disjuncture between federal definitions and regional constructions of race, examining Mexican American responses to the U.S. Census race question. The book received an Honorable Mention for the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award from the American Sociological Association which recognizes the best book published in the field of sociology of race/ethnicity. She has continued her work on US Census issues, serving on the US Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC) for the past five years. She is currently Chair of this committee which makes important recommendations on issues related to counting vulnerable populations, including racial/ethnic and linguistic minorities. 

Dr. Dowling is originally from Texas, the daughter of a Mexican American mother from the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and an Irish American father from the Midwest.

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