Washington, D.C. (April 1, 2010) – For months, Southeast Asian American community organizations have been preparing their communities to be counted on Census Day, April 1, leading to several events over the past two weeks.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, a national organization that works to advance the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans, is concerned about the undercount of this community in the past and is working with groups to ensure an accurate count in the 2010 Census. Groups that serve local Southeast Asian American constituents are holding education forums on the Census, opening their doors as Questionnaire Assistance Centers, and providing information at numerous community gatherings.
“We know that Cambodian, Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese Americans were undercounted in the 2000 Census due to language barriers, not understanding the purpose of the Census, and mistrust of government due to historical persecution in their native countries,” said Doua Thor, executive director, SEARAC. “The combined education efforts of the Southeast Asian American community nationally this time around will help ensure a much more accurate count.”
To bring attention to the importance of filling out the Census form, Vietnamese American Young Leaders of New Orleans organized a “Crawfish Boil” on April 10 in partnership with the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Center, Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Inc., and Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training.
“This event is about celebrating our community and being proud to be counted,” said Minh Nguyen, executive director of VAYLA-NO. “It’s important that everyone be counted for the fair allocation of resources.”
“We have been a quiet and traditionally undercounted community, but Hurricane Katrina really woke us up and made us realize that our voices need to be heard,” added Tuan Nguyen, deputy director, MQVN. “We do a lot of community development work for the underserved communities in this area, and it is important that our community is counted to ensure we have the resources to continue that work.”
The Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP) promoted the Census at many events since April of last 2009. It hired two part-time staff to assist with outreach, organized a canvassing effort to reach low-response areas, and began phone banking last week to encourage families to return their forms.
Rorng Sorn, executive director, CAGP, said he believes that these efforts have been reaching the community.
“Many people come to realize the importance of the Census through our education efforts,” said Sorn. “We are seeing more people come to our office and ask for assistance. Some have even said, ‘I’m sorry, I threw away my form, how do I get a new one?’ We’ve been so fortunate to be able to help people in this way.”
Hmong American Partnership is doing similar work in Minnesota with the Hmong and newer immigrant and refugee communities. Creative efforts that the organization has employed to assist with the Census includes setting up an in-language hotline to help answer questions and visiting local Asian grocery stores to post translated posters and fliers.
“We are reaching the community in a way that the Census Bureau by itself wouldn’t be able to do because we have relationships and connections with the local community,” said Ruth Pechmann, a HAP Census project specialist. “When people see that others in their community are participating in the Census, they are more likely to do so as well.”
The Laotian American community will use their New Year gatherings happening all across the country throughout the month of April as one way of getting out the word about Census.
According to Sirch Chanthyasack. CEO of Laotian American National Alliance, “LANA has taken a leadership role in providing Lao language translation for PSAs and print materials. The message we want to get out to our communities is that the Census form is easy, safe, and important.”
Sunny Chanthanouvong, executive director, Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, added that community members feel more comfortable filling out their forms because they trust them and so they talk about the importance of the Census.
“It’s important that we are counted so that others will see that we are here, we are part of this country, and we contribute to the economy,” said Chanthanouvong. “We’re not just visitors, but we are part of American society.”