by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor
Minnesota lawmakers are asking the U.S. Census Bureau to correct misclassifications of Asian American and Pacific Islander groups in the U.S. Census. They say the inaccurate data could negatively impact funding and resources for marginalized communities.
In a letter to U.S. Census Bureau director Robert L. Santos, the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus asked the bureau to correct the following:
- Hmong as “East Asian” when it should be categorized as “Southeast Asian”
- Urdu as “Other Asian” when it should be “South Asian”
- Lahu as “Other Asian” when it should be categorized as “Southeast Asian”
- Tai Dam as “Other Asian” when it should be categorized as “Southeast Asian”
Rep. Liz Lee (D), Assistant Majority Leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, told AsAmNews that this is the first time they’ve seen public census reports include regional subgroupings. The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) says the U.S. Census Bureau has been internally classifying Hmong people as East Asian since 2015 but has never released the subgroupings publicly.
According to SEARAC, around 94% of the United States’ Hmong population is from Southeast Asia. Classifying Hmong Americans as East Asians could lead to disastrous policy missteps.
Many Hmong Americans, for example, are frontline workers who got sick during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we were to have like, thought of them as East Asian, you know, the policy solutions might have been, ‘Oh, do we need Korean interpreters or like Chinese interpreters, right?'” Lee said. “And obviously, we have those populations here, but those are not the people who were disproportionately dying from COVID.”
Minnesota’s state demographers, Lee said, do a good job of disaggregating data specific to different ethnic groups. Lawmakers in the state want to ensure the same disaggregated data exists on the federal level.
For Hmong Americans, the misclassifications are more than just data points. They say it’s an erasure of their culture and history. According to SEARAC, many Hmong people self-identify as Southeast Asian because of their deep roots in the region. Thousands of Hmong people fled to Laos to escape Chinese oppression, classifying them as “East Asian” can be an insult.
“It trivializes our indigenous identities and the sacrifices and experiences we have endured because of our allyship with the United States in Southeast Asia,” Kham S. Moua, National Deputy Director of SEARAC, said in an email to AsAmNews.
According to Lee, Minnesota legislators have been in touch with the U.S. Census Bureau. They’re asking the bureau to work with Asian American community groups, state demographers and other stakeholders to correct the mistakes.
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