Every 10 years, the United States conducts a census to record the number of people living in the nation, regardless of immigration status. More than a mere tally, the U.S. Census provides valuable insight into the country’s ever-shifting demographic and geographical makeup. It also informs how federal and state dollars are allocated, establishes the boundaries of legislative districts, and governs the number of House seats for which each state is eligible, based on population.
With so much at stake, it’s crucial to collect accurate numbers and get full participation. However, for the upcoming 2020 census, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hopes to skew these counts and silence immigrants and people of color, including Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs), with the addition of an untested and unnecessary citizenship question.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and other advocacy organizations are fighting back to ensure our community members’ voices are heard and represented. As part of our recently launched Census 2020: SEAAs Count campaign, we asked our supporters and their allies to submit their comments to the U.S. Census Bureau during the public comment period and demand the removal of the citizenship question. We also asked our community to call for expanded race and ethnic categories, in order to identify the disparities that are hidden under the broad Asian American and Pacific Islander umbrella. In order to send as loud a message as possible to the folks in the White House, we set an ambitious goal of 1,000 individual comments and 50 organizational comments.
Each time we sent out a notice or posted on social media urging for more signatures, our passionate community responded in a big way—adding their voices and spreading awareness of the issue with their networks. It was motivating to see the comment totals climb day by day: 80, 139, 350, 451… and ultimately 838 individual comments, in addition to 50 organizations—our target number! These totals were added to a larger campaign organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Humans Rights, and NALEO Educational Fund, for which 250,000 individuals and organizations took action to speak out against the censorship of Southeast Asian Americans, immigrants, and people of color. It was a testament to the inner fire and strength of our communities, bolstered especially when we stand united.
But our work isn’t done. For example, in California, SEARAC is working to ensure that the $90.3 million that the state has invested into Census 2020 community outreach and education is distributed responsibly and equitably to include community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve Southeast Asian Americans and other communities of color. We also know that the SEAA population represents a hard-to-count community, with unique socioeconomic, educational, health, and immigration challenges that stem from SEAAs’ refugee experiences. That’s why we’re calling for things like additional paper and online form languages, as well as funded language access services for CBOs.
The changes for which SEARAC is advocating lets the U.S. Census Bureau know that we refuse to be unfairly undercounted. We will not silently stand by while the bureau makes decisions that can affect our representation in Congress and the services that our communities deserve. We are vital to this country. We are resilient. And our voices count.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.