Glitches remain in Census count
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
The words dieu tra jumped out at Quyen Vuong as she perused the 2010 Vietnamese-language Census form online.
“It’s a very scary connotation in the sense that there is a crime and the government needs to investigate,” says Vuong, a member of two Census outreach committees in California’s Santa Clara County and executive director of the International Children Assistance Network.
The words the Census Bureau used to refer to its upcoming population count evoke chilling memories for Vietnamese immigrants who escaped a Communist regime. Vuong alerted the Census Bureau, and Director Robert Groves told her that online Census materials were being changed and would use the more neutral thong ke (tally) to refer to the count. It’s too late, however, to edit preprinted forms.
Vuong says the government should launch a media campaign to acknowledge the mistake and apologize.
Despite an unprecedented $340 million promotion that includes $130 million for ads in 28 languages (including Tagalog, Yiddish, Khmer, and Urdu), user guides in 59 languages and the Census questionnaire itself in six — English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese — glitches and gripes surround the Census effort:
• The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund last week reported widespread problems in Asian communities, from mistranslations to insufficient staffing in local Census offices.
“We don’t want to be too critical, but no one had a chance to preview the language guides, the advertising campaign,” says Glenn Magpantay, director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF. Concerns over privacy and confidentiality continue, he says.
• The National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents about 200 black community newspapers, is angry that the Census Bureau is spending only $2.5 million on ads in black media.
“We think they’re about $10 million short,” says Danny Bakewell, chairman of the group. “They’re setting it up for us to have the greatest undercount in the history of America. If this happens, it will devastate our community for the next 10 years at least.”
The number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on Census counts every 10 years. The tally also helps to redraw political districts and determine the allocation of more than $400 billion a year in federal money to states and cities.
• Korean-American groups want to see more Census spending in their community. “We heard that there was so much money out there for Census outreach, but I don’t see a dollar,” says Young Sun Song, a community organizer for the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago.
• In Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund complains that the state has not formed a complete-count committee to encourage response to the 2010 Census forms that will land in mailboxes next month.
“The 2010 Census is massive, and we put forward a campaign that is intended to reach everyone living in the United States,” Census spokesman Stephen Buckner says. “The campaign is in 28 languages, and we’re the single largest advertiser in the Asian population group.”
The Census says it has gone to great lengths to be true to the ethnicities it is trying to reach. For example, ads that target specific Asian groups do not depict “generic” Asians. Chinese Americans are in ads for Chinese Americans and Korean Americans in ads for Korean Americans.
The national ad campaign — aimed at a broad audience — will reach many African Americans, Buckner says. On top of that, $23 million is being spent to target blacks nationally and locally. The Census message is expected to reach 95% of the black population, he says.
“Black newspapers are trusted by our community, and for them not to apply and use these organs to the fullest is a grave mistake,” says Bakewell, who pushed the Census to up its original $1.3 million ad spending in black newspapers.
“The Census Bureau is spending money on things that won’t increase the count of hard-to-count people,” says Jackie Maruhashi, staff attorney for the Asian Law Alliance in San Jose, Calif. She says too much is being spent on promotional giveaways such as foam cup holders or pens and on social events, such as block parties, where Census workers encourage people to fill out their forms.
Local groups that can get the word out in churches and door-to-door are not getting any money for printing flyers and other expenses, she says.
“Block parties are not going to get the people who are fearful to fill out the form,” Maruhashi says.