At first glance, this small pocket calendar with a beautiful photo depicting a Thai Buddhist temple on its front cover may not seem important. For those in the targeted Thai community, the image is a sacred endorsement encouraging all Thais to complete and return the 2010 Census form.
This unique and culturally significant message is among one of many specialized outreach efforts taking place throughout Asian ethnic and some hard-to-count communities ― HTCs in Census speak ― that are of special interest in the 2010 Census outreach.
Los Angeles has been identified as the country’s most heavily populated HTC region, with an estimated 4.4 million ― nearly half of Los Angeles County’s estimated population ― falling into this category.
The U.S. Census Bureau explains possible reasons for an undercount due to “linguistic isolation and a concern for privacy and confidentiality.” Community leaders say that fear, apathy, and suspicion are why there is a strong inclination to not participate in the decennial head count.
“Many are new immigrants and may not be aware of the importance that participating in the Census has on their communities. In addition, some fled from political persecution and are generally suspicious about the government sharing information with other agencies, or they see their stay as temporary and do not understand the value in responding,” said An Le, statewide network manager of Asian and Pacific Islander 2010 Census Network (API Count), a statewide project anchored by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC).
Generally speaking, HTC communities consist of new immigrants who come with language, education and economic barriers. Although the Census Bureau has language guides for the 2010 Census form in nearly 60 languages, L.A. County has identified more than 92 different spoken in this region.
Experience from California’s 2000 Census outreach efforts showed that a three-pronged approach, “TQM,” was needed this time around. TQM stands for (1) Trusted Messengers; (2) Questionnaire Assistance Centers staffed by community based organizations in the hardest to count areas; and (3) Microtargeted, locally created ethnic media outreach was a winning combination resulting in California’s mail response rates outpacing the nation.
“Community-based organizations and local ethnic media outlets are key in getting the hardest-to-count Californians to respond because they can address the fears and concerns in culturally sensitive, appropriate and effective ways,” said Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count Committee.
Many leaders of community-based organizations said they think that the drastically decreased California state funding for Census outreach ― $24.7 million in 2000 compared to $2 million in 2010 ― has mobilized community groups and inspired awareness and volunteer outreach.
Trusted community messengers like Buddhist monks distributing the Thai calendars at temples emphasize that responses to the Census are confidential, safe and important.
Chancee Martorell, founder and executive director of the Thai Community Development Group, said the 2010 Thai community response is crucial. “When we conducted outreach and education 10 years ago, we expected a full count — close to 100,000. We did not get a complete count. In fact, we believe there was a 25 percent undercount.”
After that disappointing outcome 10 years ago, Martorell and the Royal Thai Consulate worked together to deploy community leaders to local gathering spots including markets, shops, restaurants, garment factories, work places and places of worship.
“What is your #9?” reads some of the Thai-language literature, referring to the race question on the U.S. Census form. Outreach efforts include emphasizing that Thais should specifically write-in their race.
“The current king of Thailand is the ninth reigning king. We explain to Thais why answering Question #9 is sacred ― you are doing it for your king and he is highly venerated ― as close to deity for Thais as it gets.”
In the Tongan community, some of the varied outreach methods have taken place through churches and “Kava Circles.” In these gatherings, opinion leaders share ideas while drinking homemade Kava, a brown-colored, earthy organic tasting drink made with filtered-pounded kava root powder mixed with cold water.
For the Cambodian community outreach efforts, Suely Ngouy, executive director of the Khmer Girls in Action, is training 45 teens to personally canvass homes in Long Beach. This area is home to the largest Cambodians population in the United States ― approximately 100,000 people. The message from the volunteer youths is that filling out and returning the 2010 Census form is safe and important.
Since Census forms are supposed to be mailed back to the government by April 1, or April Fool's Day, Ngouy is using the tongue-in-cheek phrase, “Don’t be fooled, the Census makes complete Cents,” emphasizing that every response equates to about $1,400 in federal funding.
She elaborated on the use of young ambassadors: “Immigrant communities depend on children as navigators of the system. The female family role tends to include responsibility of taking care of siblings, supporting parents/grandparents and providing important he recommendation and guidance, in participating with the Census.”
One of the young volunteers, 16-year-old Dianna Brang, is trying to educate her family and community members.
“My mom doesn’t know much and is skeptical," she said. "People believe that the Census is a way to deport or catch undocumented immigrants. They’re afraid of what government might find out, but I want to explain that it’s important to get involved. It’s important because we don’t get enough parks and recreation in our area.”
Those working on Korean outreach said their fear of the government finding undocumented immigrants is one possible reason why a tremendous number of Koreans did not participate in the last decennial census. In 2000, the Southern California South Korean Consulate estimated there were 678,000 South Koreans in Los Angeles. The Census captured fewer than 195,000 — an undercount of a half million. This year, an outreach strategy through Korean churches is to make sure that everyone participates, regardless of immigration status.
Another community outreach method is taking place through the recruitment and hiring of temporary Census staff at questionnaire assistance centers like the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance, (OCAPICA), which has partnered with 20 community-based organization in its outreach efforts.
“No one specific strategy incorporates all activities. Face-to-face time with someone who they know, or can be trusted is very important in the messaging,” said Jason Lacsamana, director of youth initiatives & special projects with OCAPICA.
Christen Hepuakoamana’a Marquez, APALC Census 2010 media coordinator is excited that for the first time, Pan-Pacific groups linked culturally ― Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian and Tongan ― have united to create a Census outreach video.
Marquez also shared the important message with her dance group. “Most Native Hawaiians have family members, or friends, who are affiliated with a ‘Halau,’ or hula school, which is a very effective way to reach out into the community to spread the message, specifically regarding Question #9 and the opportunity to provide mixed-race responses.”
At a recent senior Asian and Pacific Islander Census outreach event, Lydia Lee, a Census Bureau partnership specialist, showed Mandarin and Cantonese speakers some Lunar New Year materials wishing them blessings and emphasizing that 2010 Census participation is simple, important and safe.
Another printed poster shows the traditional circular Sapin-Sapin Filipino dessert. This traditional glutinous rice and coconut milk snack is familiar for its concentric purple, white and orange colored layers. In the poster, a pie-shaped wedge is cut out of the dessert with the message encouraging Filipinos to be counted so they will receive their fair share of more than $400 billion federal dollars that will be distributed as a result of 2010 Census results.
Many criticize how the USCB spent $340 million in ethnic outreach, noting that 47 percent of the 600 ethnic media representatives – from the private sector, not Census Bureau employees- who participated in Census roundtable briefings, were not included in the media advertising purchase.
“The Census emphasis has been on 'trusted voices,' and they fell short because in many cases media outlets are the trusted voice in the community," said Jacob Simas, associate editor of New America Media, a national news service and resource for ethnic media based in San Francisco. "Hopefully it’s not too late for targeted Census outreach, and maybe there will be follow-up advertising to coincide with during door-to-door enumeration.”
Census employees, called enumerators, will go door to door this spring to visit households that have not returned their forms.
Others have criticized marketing intended to spur participation in specific communities. In Northern California, for example, the Native American Hoopa Valley Tribe twice rejected Census Bureau outreach marketing. One advertising poster depicted the image of three teepees in a location that looked like the Great Plains.
Their community's “trusted voices” ultimately advised that the image was inappropriately stereotypical and irrelevant to the Hupa, who live in subterranean housing, in northeastern Humboldt County’s Redwoods.
“Census outreach should address our unique situation ― that we are very rural, everyone has a post office box but we don’t have street addresses, and finally throughout our tribe’s history there’s some reluctance and suspicion to respond to federal inquiries,” said Joseph Orozco, station manager of Hupa Tribal radio.
With $2,000 in private funding from The California Endowment, Orozco gave feedback to New America Media on the advertising. They eventually used a young tribal member’s graduation photo of him wearing traditional dance regalia with a headdress and basket, overlooking the Hoopa Valley and Trinity River. The framing of the print and public service message draws a connection between being counted in the Census and Klamath River water rights. “If we don’t let ourselves be counted," the advertisement says, "they’ll say no one lives here and take away our water rights.”
Martorell, who receives federal funds for the Thai group, underscored the significance of the Thai calendar and the importance of all these targeted efforts. "We need data to back up and justify the need for the people who depend on our resources," Martorell said. "Otherwise they continue to be invisible, isolated and marginalized. No one wants the creation of a permanent underclass. We want to make sure everyone has equal access to equal opportunities such as financial literacy programs, affordable housing and entrepreneurship training.”Posted by Denise L. Poon on 03/17/10