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Researchers gathering data to better support SLO County’s indigenous Latinx population

Many members of SLO County's Latin American indigenous population work in fields like this one in Oceano.
Benjamin Purper
Many members of SLO County's Latin American indigenous population work in fields like this one in Oceano.

Local researchers are gathering data on San Luis Obispo County’s indigenous Latinx population. They say it’s meant to better understand and address this community’s healthcare challenges.

There isn’t a lot of data on how many people of indigenous Latin American descent live in the county. The census counts how many people identify as Hispanic/Latino — about 24% in SLO County, at last count — but doesn’t break it down any further.

Mario Espinoza-Kulick is working to fill that gap. He's an Ethnic Studies Faculty at Cuesta College and a co-principal investigator on this project. He's also a co-host of Central Coast voices on KCBX.

Espinoza-Kulick is part of a research team gathering demographic data through community surveys. He said questions include, “What's your income? Who are your dependents? How many people live with you? What health concerns do you have for yourself and your friends and your family?”

Participants have to reach out directly to the project’s coordinators to take the survey. Espinoza-Kulick and his team share flyers with community organizations, talk to news outlets and encourage word-of-mouth to get people to sign up. Then, interpreters with the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) survey them in-person in exchange for a $50 gift card.

The surveys primarily happen at MICOP’s Paso Robles office. Espinoza-Kulick said preliminary data show more and more members of the community are living and working in North SLO County. 

“The pattern that we're seeing right now is that we are surveying workers who are in the viticulture industry, and are living in Paso Robles," he said.

Espinoza-Kulick said this project is meant to be collaborative, not extractive — meaning this community is providing their information for their own benefit. He said the data will create a clearer picture of not only how many indigenous Latinx people live in SLO County, but also the challenges they face in getting healthcare, like insurance status and language barriers.

The goal is to allow this community and their allies to better advocate for high-quality and culturally-relevant resources.

“Latinx indigenous peoples are deserving of being counted, and their voices heard and be represented, and taking the survey is a way to do that," he said.

Anyone interested in taking the survey can call survey coordinators Silvano Vazquez at (805) 978-6132 or Susana Arce at (805) 978-7542. The survey closes July 31st, and the team plans to publish results in October.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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