Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, gave KCRW’s Greater L.A. program an update on the 2020 Census. In a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and partisan recriminations, many fear a serious undercount that will deny vulnerable populations fair political representation and access to both public and private funding. Ong called for the mobilization of independent third parties to conduct followup research that identifies the neighborhoods and populations that have been left out so that the official count can be adjusted. “After the census, after the enumeration, we need to do serious analysis and serious research to understand the patterns of undercount,” he said. “Clearly, the Census Bureau should be doing that, but I don’t think they would do an adequate job.” Ong also spoke to the Orange County Register about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the count to be halted immediately, noting, “Is our goal to count everyone, to be inclusive? … It’s important to establish that fact.”
In a Q&A with Governing, Latino Policy and Politics Initiative Executive Director Sonja Diaz weighed in on the links between systemic racism and immigration policy and set out a vision for a more equitable post-pandemic society. COVID-19, police violence against people of color and persistent economic inequality have created an existential crisis in the United States, and “incremental change is not going to solve anything,” Diaz said. “We cannot go back to a ‘normal’ with so many Americans living on the streets, so many Americans without health insurance, so many Americans being targeted or racially profiled by our police. We have to re-envision what a post-coronavirus America looks like,” she said. Diaz also co-authored an opinion piece for Morning Consult that decried efforts to disenfranchise voters of color and called on Congress to act decisively to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census.
The New York Times featured a study conducted by Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy and American Indian studies, in an opinion piece about the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau is testing an algorithm that scrambles the final population count to preserve the confidentiality of individual data records. A test run using records from the last census showed that the algorithm may produce wildly inaccurate numbers for rural areas and minority populations. Akee’s study found this to be true for Native American reservations. On reservations where the population fell below 5,000 people, the algorithm reduced the count of indigenous people by an average of 34%, the study found.
By Mary Braswell
The life and work of Leo Estrada, a pioneer in urban planning and a tenacious advocate for equal representation, inspired a daylong symposium at UCLA that examined demography, redistricting and the power of mentorship.
Estrada, associate professor emeritus at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, fought for voting rights, access to health care, and protections for elderly and minority populations until his death in 2018, just months after retirement.
The May 31 symposium and subsequent memorial gathering brought together many of those whose lives were touched by Estrada: fellow scholars, former students, family members, political figures and civic leaders who shared his commitment to social justice.
A keynote address about Census 2020 demonstrated how Estrada’s early strides in population research and his long service as an advisor to the U.S. Census Bureau resonate today.
“The history of the Census runs parallel with the trajectory of the Latino community and Leo’s career,” said Arturo Vargas, president and CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit that promotes Latino participation in civic life.
Calling the possible inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form a “virulent challenge to our values and principles as Americans,” Vargas noted that efforts to suppress the count of Latinos are not new.
“This fight began decades ago and with fierce opposition,” he said. “One of our warriors along the way was Leo Estrada.”
Vargas pledged, “We will not be rolled over. We will not be scared away. We will not make our community invisible. …
“Fighting for a fair and accurate census is to continue Leo Estrada’s work and legacy. Because of his work, we’re ready for this fight.”
The symposium, organized by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, explored the power of population studies to effect systemic change and explained the historical roots of today’s fight for minority-majority voting districts.
One panel focused on the importance of mentoring the next generation of leaders. To advance this goal, UCLA Luskin established the Leobardo Estrada Fellowship Fund, which supports Urban Planning students with financial need who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate education.
Estrada’s 40-year career was marked by innovation and leadership on and off the UCLA campus. He was one of the first scholars to teach courses about diversity and planning, and he helped guide the university as chair of its Academic Senate. In addition to his service with the Census Bureau, he was an advisor to organizations focusing on Latino empowerment, aging, health care, law enforcement and many other issues.
Following the symposium, speakers gave tribute to Estrada as a teacher, colleague, advocate, friend and family man.
Ivelisse Estrada described her husband as selfless, wise and patient with his family and “the ultimate professor” to his students.
“Leo was soft-spoken but the power of his words and his work were a catalyst for change,” she said. “Make him proud.”
Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija harkened back to Estrada’s retirement celebration, saying he wished he had taken the opportunity to touch his colleague’s feet, a sign of respect in the Indian culture.
With this gesture, he said, “You get blessed. And in that blessing, the person who blesses you transmits their knowledge, their experience, their virtues. And I know all of us would love to have a little more of that from Leo.”
TRIBUTES TO LEO ESTRADA
REFLECTIONS ON LEO ESTRADA
Students, colleagues, friends and family of Leobardo Estrada gathered in May 2019 to honor the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning trailblazer. Many of his former students sent tributes from their posts around the world. Here are some of the remembrances:
“The sheer joy that he got from encouraging young people to explore … to relish in the act of discovery, and to grow as you challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done before — Leo knew just how to give young people confidence, knowing that he would be there to hold them gently and firmly.”
— MONICA LOZANO, president and CEO of College Futures Foundation and lifelong friend of the Estrada family
“When Leo said something nonchalantly, it meant you better do it. … I’m here to say, Leo, we did it for you.”
— JESUS GARCIA MA UP ’87, demographer and educator who was one of Estrada’s first geographic information system students
“As a doctoral student, he asked me, ‘Who do you want to be? And how will you use your degree to advance the field, to think critically about our world as urban planners, policymakers and activists?’ ”
— MICHELLE MAGALONG MA UP ’03, PhD UP ’17, University of Maryland postdoctoral fellow who took Estrada’s undergraduate, master’s and doctoral classes
“He was our Yoda in so many ways. … Whenever he spoke, it came from a sacred place, seeking what was needed to help women break out of poverty. … Because of Leo, women found their way, we all dreamt a little bigger.”
— BEATRIZ STOTZER, CEO of New Capital LLC who served with Estrada on the board of the nonprofit New Economics for Women
“He was brilliant at seeing the weaknesses and the strengths of individual people. …He was fearless but polite and kind and everything else in saying, ‘You’re making a huge mistake. This is not good for UCLA, this is not good for our students.’ ”
— JANICE RIEFF, UCLA history professor who served with Estrada on the university’s Academic Senate
“When he opened his mouth, it was like hushed silence in the crowd because people knew that wisdom was going to come pouring out of that brain and out of his mouth. … The way that he could look you in the eye with that very soft-spoken voice, with that compelling, precise, incisive logic, and just challenge you to be courageous, just challenge you to take it to the next level.”
— ROBERT ROSS, president and CEO of the California Endowment, where Estrada was a founding member of the board
“He spoke to you about excellence as a scholar by asking you to look at your work from the larger perspective of making a life path, a real contribution to others and to bringing a deeper human meaning to all your projects. He made time to talk about music, poetry and life before talking about your dissertation. He put planning in the real context of a rich, full life.”
— ROHINI TALALLA, MA UP ’77, PhD (ABD) ’15
“Leo, like many others I am so blessed to have you as my mentor, friend and brother. You impacted the lives of so many of your students and colleague with your humility, love, empathy and selflessness that the void is immense.”
— ALEXANDRE BABAK HEDJAZI, PhD ’07
“Leo was extremely peaceful and patient when he was walking me through my Ph.D. His influence is still with me when I work with my own Ph.D. students.”
— JUNG WON SON, PhD ’04
“Leo was more than a mentor — he was a friend, an oracle, a sounding board, a reading partner and a role model for hundreds of Latin@s who dedicated their lives to shaping more equitable cities. I still feel Leo’s presence each day. His life force came from living with an open heart and giving freely of himself to others. His genuine demeanor always made time for his students, and made me, as a disabled person of color, feel included. He would remind me that I had a role and a contribution to make in the academy.”
— VICTOR PINEDA PhD ’10
“He taught me to meet people where they are, and to see and support their vision. It is this gift that is perhaps most incredible to me, and I strive to carry on that legacy. Being understood, not just for what you do but for the vision that drives it — this changed my life. Leo saw and supported me, and I hope to be able to pass that gift on to my own students.”
— MARCIA HALE, PhD ’18
“As for so many others who had the good fortune to be his student, Leo was a lantern in the dark and a compass in the storm, an unassuming and steadfast role model. How lucky we were to have had him in our lives. I hope that we are all able to honor Leo’s memory, by paying it forward, again and again.”
— MARLA PETAL, PhD ’04
“Unlike most professors who are predominately skilled at talking, Leo is a gifted listener. He truly ‘hears’ you and listens without judgment. … His empathy and respect for students of color, first generation college students, international students, students who are parents and female students has made such a difference to transform students to graduates and working professionals.”
— KARNA WONG, PhD ’15
“Leo was a constant champion for my research on the then unusual topic of faith-based development. … My fondest memories of Leo are when we met to go over my latest chapters while writing the dissertation. As a full-time, working mom, it was sometimes difficult to make the trek from my downtown office to Westwood. From time to time, Leo would come to my office, sit in a conference room, and go over my latest work. Leo’s approach was anything but typical.”
— LEZLEE HINESMON MATTHEWS, PhD ’04
“He was always kind and thoughtful and completely selfless. He saw a strength in me that I could not see and he empowered me to unleash it. … We should all try to channel Leo and promote tolerance, inclusiveness, collaboration — with data, he would say. Leo was soft-spoken but the power of his words and his work were a catalyst for change. Make him proud.”
— IVELISSE ESTRADA
AUDIO FROM THE MAY 31 MEMORIAL GATHERING
Listen to audio of the May 31 memorial gathering following “Demography, Redistricting & Power,” a symposium honoring Leo Estrada.
View photos from the symposium and memorial gathering on Flickr.
By Stan Paul
When elected leaders from across the country gathered at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for three days of workshops on housing, transit, criminal justice, education, public safety and immigration, a recurring theme ran through each conversation.
“Every issue, every single issue, is a Latino issue,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a 2010 graduate of UCLA Luskin who got a master’s degree in public policy.
Diaz was speaking to about 60 state legislators, county and municipal officials, school board members and higher education trustees at the first-ever National Education Leadership and Public Policy Academy, held Aug. 3–5.
Organized by LPPI and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, the event was a “master’s course of our policy work … in the hopes that you will take this information and apply it in your communities,” Diaz told participants, who traveled from as far away as Florida, Connecticut and Hawaii.
Discussions led by expert panelists, she said, would be informed by two things: data and facts.
“By shaping policy and making sure this policy is tailored for kids, for immigrants, communities of color and, frankly, all Americans, we’re all better off,” Diaz said. “And we’re going to do it together.”
For Arturo Vargas, chief executive officer of NALEO Educational Fund, one major goal was how to get to the “great unengaged.” Many Latinos have little or no faith in the political system, he said, and “there isn’t any significant investment in Latino voter engagement in the United States.”
Citing the 2016 elections, Vargas continued, “Half of the Latino electorate was not part of the national conversation with the campaigns, and it happens consistently.” He urged officeholders to take up some of this responsibility in their districts.
The weekend series of presentations and workshops was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by State Farm. It included opportunities to network with peers and while participating in group sessions, attendees developed tools and information to craft policy reforms on issues such as public safety.
Marisa Perez, a member of the board of trustees at Cerritos College, said many Latino students get their start in higher education at a community college.
“Whatever I can take back to my college to better support our students, that’s what I’m looking forward to learning about,” Perez said as the conference got underway.
Citing an achievement gap in his home state, Jon Koznick, a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, said he wanted more hard data on issues related to Latino youth, especially boys.
“I’m excited to learn a little bit more about how we can have some stronger impact” in economic development and employment, he said.
Speakers and panelists at the academy included researchers from UCLA and other universities, as well as from policy institutes, foundations and associations.
Gary Segura, dean of UCLA Luskin, presented a case study on transit-oriented development in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village, that city’s largest Latino community. With co-panelist Chris Iglesias, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Unity Council, he discussed how the city used transit as a means for economic development and how that affected residents’ socioeconomic well-being.
Segura, a faculty co-director of Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, pointed to the initiative’s empirical study comparing Fruitvale residents to those living in similar communities over a 15-year period in the Bay Area and throughout California. The study found that, although the Latino population in Fruitvale changed by only 1 percent, homeownership increased by 8 percent, the bachelor’s degree completion rate climbed by 13 percent, and household income increased by 47 percent.
“So you can change a place without changing a people if you provide a set of economic structures and opportunities and services,” Segura said.
The dean encouraged participants to seek partnerships with local policy schools. “Oftentimes, communities of color think of universities as not invested in their issues, and, by the way, that frequently is true,” Segura said. “But there are places where that is not true and I would encourage you to look.”
Matt Barreto, UCLA professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies, presented demographic data to explain the growth in the country’s Latino population.
“Why is the Latino population growing so quickly? Because we have an extremely young population,” said Barreto, pointing out that the largest population distribution is under age 5; for whites, the largest group is adults in their 50s.
“The population is growing at a rate faster now than most demographers 10 years ago were anticipating or estimating. And it’s almost entirely driven by U.S. births,” said Barreto, also a faculty co-director of LPPI.
Amada Armenta, who joined the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty in July, spoke about the intersections between criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems.
Even in so-called sanctuary cities, contact with the police can have consequences for immigrants because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practice of using criminal justice databases to find immigrants and staking out jails and courthouses to take people into custody.
“Interactions with police have important ramifications for the way people feel about local government, democracy and their place in society more generally,” Armenta said. “I want local leaders to understand that … true community policing requires changing police practices so that they align with priorities of neighborhood residents.”
In a keynote lunchtime address, Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, focused on the U.S. Census.
“The census is really only about two things: It’s about power and money: who gets it, who keeps it, and who’s denied it,” he said. “When the numbers are wrong, the allocation of political power is uneven.”
Legal battles over a proposed citizenship question are being waged in court, he said, but the public also must be heard. The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking public input on the 2020 headcount.
“We need your help, people,” Vargas said. “We need to fight this.”
View more photos from the conference in an album on Flickr.