By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
Some one dozen Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups gathered Saturday in person in Redwood City, CA and via Zoom to stress the importance of completing the 2020 Census and the challenges Pacific Islanders face in getting counted.
Census forms began arriving in the mail last week.
“We are speaking about our children, our children now and where they’ll be in 10 years,” said Epi Aumavae, co-founder of Samoan Solutions.
“The census 2020 is one very simple way we can secure resources for our future generations. What do I want resources to look like for my children, our children, Pacific Islander children,” Aumavae said.
The census helps the federal government determine how communities and non-profits are funded. It also determines the mapping of congressional districts, which can make the difference between a diverse congress and one that is predominantly White.
“We talk about empowering others. To me that’s census,” said Manufou Liaiga-Anoa’i, a community activist and member of the Jefferson Elementary School District Board of Trustees in Daly City, CA. “Classrooms have to be funded. That’s census. The reality is we are an invisible community.”
It wasn’t until 2000 when Pacific Islanders were listed on a census form. Up to then, Pacific Islanders could only check the “other” box to describe their ethnicity.
In 2018, the Census Bureau estimated they were 1.4 million Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in the United States. That was up from 1.2 million in 2010, according to Alisi Tulua, a consultant with One East Palo Alto.
Tulua said states with the largest population of NHPIs are Hawaii (373,000), California (317,000), Washington (88,000), Texas (56,000), and Utah (45,000). In 2018, NHPIs in Utah replaced those in Florida as the fifth largest NHPI population in the country.
Ethnic Media Services and Island Block Radio organized Saturday’s panel. Sandy Close, founder of Ethnic Media Services, emphasized the importance of disaggregation and to recognize the challenges faced by the Pacific Islander communities separate from Asian Americans. She described the 2020 Census as “high stakes” for Pacific Islanders.
Taunu’u Ve’e Noga of Regional Pacific Islander Task Force pointed out that Pacific Islanders have the lowest rate of usage of mental health services, the second highest infant mortality rate behind African Americans and a higher rate of diabetes and heart disease.
“County agencies need to consider the Pacific Islander community in their operations to improve the health outcomes in our communities,” Ve’e Noga said. “We continue to advocate for more regional needs. Assign a disaggregated data plan for Pacific Islanders.”
But for this to happen, the Census Bureau needs an accurate count of Pacific Islanders. There are many obstacles that need to be overcome.
Sonya Logman of the California Complete Count Committee emphasized information gathered for the Census can’t be used by law enforcement or immigration enforcement. There is no fee for filling out the census and no one will ever ask you for personal financial information.
“A lot of our families, maybe two to three families living in unit, may not be on lease for a unit,” said Tavae Samuelu of Empowering Pacific Islander Communities. “They are really fearful of being identified. Their immigration status might not be where they want it to be. They might be deported. We have families living in these units that don’t want to share their information.”
Everyone’s information will remain private. Your landlord will not be able to access your information. You will not be asked about your citizenship.
No questions are asked by sexual orientation, but you can list your partner as a same sex partner, if you like. For some from the LGBTQ community, that may be difficult.
“Our biggest challenge in our LGBT community in Pacific Islander circles is they have a fear as identifying as LGBTQ because of conservative culture and religious belief,” said Talavou Aumavae, Complete Count Committee for San Mateo County.
Finau Tove of the Mana Learning Program at the College of San Mateo described NHPIs as superconnected to church and family.
“Our leaders are our pastors and ancestors,” Tove said.
The 2020 Census is the first census that will be conducted primarily online. You will also have the option of mailing in your census or filling out the census over the phone. For those who don’t respond, a census worker may knock on your door and assist you in few simple questions. The Census should not take more than a few minutes to complete.
Here are the questions that will be asked.
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