By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander 2010 Census Network staged a press conference Monday morning, to launch their campaign of outreach and education ahead of the upcoming national population count, which begins in March.
The 13 representatives of various API communities were joined at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and APALC’s Stewart Kwoh, to discuss the difficulties involved in gathering accurate population data within their communities and the impact carried by the resulting census figures.
Among other things, the census determines how district lines are drawn and how many congresspeople California sends to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bottom line, obviously, is that what is truly at stake is money. The count will establish the amount of federal funding each state receives for everything from education and transportation to medical and social programs.
James Christy, the L.A. regional director for the Census Bureau, said the recent need for federal disaster relief funds, caused by heavy rains in the L.A. area, underscores the importance of an accurate population report.
“Once people understand what the census is and what it means, then they get involved,” Christy said.
Kwoh said that in 2000, APIs were undercounted by some 35 percent in California, and that an accurate tally this year should reflect more than 1.5 million APIs in L.A. County and 500,000 in Orange County.
“The Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have had mixed results in the census counts of past decades,” Kwoh said. “In 1990, there was a 2 percent undercount nationwide and 1 percent in 2000, but over 5 percent of APIs were missed. This not only cost those communities important funding and other resources, it impacted the whole state of California.”
Villaraigosa, who 10 years ago helped to secure some $25 million in state funding for the census effort, said California–saddled with seemingly never-ending budgetary shortfalls–is “missing in action” in its participation in compiling an accurate count of its residents this time around.
“This effort, in order to work, is going to mean that every one of us is going to have to participate,” Villaraigosa advised. “We are going to have to engage in the outreach and the education that is so critical.”
Citing the constitutional requirement to count everyone living in the United States, the mayor said he sometimes fields questions about those living in the country illegally.
“From time to time, people ask why we should count non-citizens, people who are undocumented. The answer is, because the law says we should,” he said.
Villaraigosa reported that in 2000, the census undercounted the residents of Los Angeles by about 78,000, resulting in a loss of more than $200 million in federal funding over the ensuing decade, as well as higher levels of loss for the State.
The mayor also cited the difficulty in reaching the estimated 36 percent of the API community whose native language is one other than English, and how that contributes to their being undercounted at a disproportionately higher rate. Among other efforts, he said he is hoping to appear in some public service announcements, speaking various languages.
Chancee Martorell, the executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, said immigration fears are a common obstacle to the success of the census. She said some 25 percent of the Thai community went uncounted in 2000, and that with nearly half of the Thai population living in greater Los Angeles undocumented, there is wide misunderstanding of how the collected information is to be used.
Federal law stipulates that census information cannot be used for other purposes, including immigration and law enforcement concerns.
Martorell added that many people whose national or ethnic origins are not specifically listed on census forms may be further confused or discouraged from participating.
“We are trying to avoid dilution because we are the ‘other’ Asians,” she said. “We don’t have a box for ‘Thai.’ We need to convince all our community members that they’ve got make that extra effort and write in ‘T-H-A-I.’”
For Japanese Americans, who may be of third, fourth or fifth generation, or who are the product of interracial unions, there is an added element of confusion, said Mark Masaoka, the policy coordinator for the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
“We tend to have more intermarriage and people can now put down more than one on the form,” Masaoka said. “But there may be some undercount because people are of mixed ancestry and may be likely to list only one, for the ease of it, or mark ‘other.’”
Masaoka said he wants everyone to be on alert for when the forms arrive beginning March 13. He said he expects 80 percent of residents within the Japanese American community to return the forms after a reminder or two, but he is concerned about the 5 to 10 percent who may be reluctant, for whatever reason.
Kwoh stressed that the API 2010 Census Network was formed–in L.A. County and seven regional coalitions across California–specifically to address those unknowns that hinder an acceptably accurate count of residents.
“We know that the community groups are important partners of government and of the Census Bureau in particular. They can’t do the job alone,” he said.