Tue, Jul 09, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Ahead of the count

Advocates begin mobilizing support for writing in ‘Taiwanese’ as one’s race for the 2020 US census

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter

The Taiwanese American Citizens League gears up for its Write In Taiwanese Census 2020 Campaign during the annual Passport to Taiwan Festival in New York City in May.

Photo courtesy of Christina Hu

With less than a year to go before the 2020 US census, advocates are encouraging Taiwanese respondents to write in “Taiwanese” on the form’s race question instead of just checking off the box for Chinese.

“There is strength and power in numbers, in being noticed by the government,” Christina Hu (胡若涵), a civic engagement director with the nonprofit Taiwanese American Citizens League, says.

Hu, who is helping spearhead the Write In Taiwanese Census 2020 Campaign, says they’ll be pulling out all the stops to convey to Taiwanese the importance of differentiating themselves from Chinese on the congressionally mandated headcount, done once every 10 years.

The league plans to produce two public service announcements in October in English, Mandarin, Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) and Hakka, Hu says. She adds that they’ll be fundraising for those PSAs beginning this summer.

The group, which organized similar efforts in previous censuses, has also been deploying social media like Facebook and Instagram, using the handle @write.in.taiwanese.census to help spread the message.

“People who identify as Taiwanese [are] not often recognized, and a lot of times we have to defend ourselves,” Ben Ling (林君威), a past president of the Taiwanese American Citizens League, says. “So having this be legitimized where we are actually counted pretty much legitimizes our identity.”

A LOT AT STAKE

The census is used to determine how more than US$800 billion a year in federal funds is allocated, as well as to decide the number of seats awarded to states in the House of Representatives and the way representative boundaries are drawn.

Community advocates have been ramping up efforts to educate the public about the importance of filling out the questionnaire, which, unlike in previous counts, will be completed primarily online in 2020.

But getting people to participate can be tough. A US Census Bureau survey released earlier this year found that Asian Americans were least likely to fill out the census form and were most concerned their answers would be used against them.

This comes amid growing mistrust about how data is used and a Trump administration push to include a citizenship question, which advocates worried would discourage participation in the census.

The US Supreme Court recently tossed the controversial question from 2020 census forms. Following that ruling, the Trump administration said it would omit the question.

Meanwhile, some Chinese Americans, many of them immigrants, have decried government efforts to collect and publish detailed data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, fearing it could be used to advance race-based policies.

Some have even reportedly advocated not answering the census race question, which is used to establish guidelines for federal affirmative action plans and monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act, among other things.

Advocates worry such actions could generate inaccurate census results. That, in turn, could impact funding levels for programs like Medicaid and food stamps, not to mention grants and loans for state and local governments, companies and nonprofits.

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

For many Taiwanese, the census is an opportunity to stand up and be counted.

In 2000, the census recorded around 145,000 Taiwanese living in the US, accounting for just 1 percent of all Asians. That number rose to around 215,000 in the last census in 2010, roughly a 50 percent increase.

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