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Counting On The Filipino-American Community For The Census


Philippine News, News Report, Harvey Barkin, 

SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the U.S. Census says “stand up and be counted,” it is a message directed to all of us. Each and every one who lives in the United States.

Teresita Zaragoza explains this to the community where she works as Partnership Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.

She encourages everyone – citizen or not -- to participate in the census because there are benefits to be gained.

“If you do not participate and your immediate and extended families are not counted,” she warned, “public schools may not receive enough money for your children. You deny infrastructure funds for building and maintaining roads, bridges and community services.”

Division of federal funds is dependent on the census count. As Zaragoza explained further, “If one person is not counted, that’s about $1,700 that you are denying from your community.”

Worst-case scenario, according to Zaragoza, is “if there’s too many uncounted,” there is the possibility that California would lose a congressional seat.

“Of the 435 House of Representatives in 50 states, California has 53 seats, according to the 2000 Census. If California does not meet the population criteria, then it will go to another state that has more population. People with no district may be incorporated into another,” she pointed out.

Zaragoza came to the U.S. when she was 18. She never got to vote in the Philippines, which explains in part her deep involvement with the community; she’s been a community activist in the U.S. for 35 years.

“Some people say the Filipino community is a sleeping giant in politics. To me, that’s incorrect. It’s not a giant in terms of political empowerment,” she told ‘Philippine News.’ “Because democracy and the election process must be practiced. Look at our situation in the Philippines. It stands to reason that Filipinos who came to the U.S. want to participate. It is a learned process.”

Zaragoza was hired in 2008 because she is bilingual and could identify the organizations and leaders in her community. Essentially, she serves to allay anxieties and suspicions within “hard to count” communities resistant to any kind of federal initiative. 

“Filipinos are considered hard to count because of either immigration status or limited English,” she explained. She revealed the 18- to 25-year-olds are the hardest age group to count in any community.

“Many of them are very mobile and tuned out,” she said. But thanks to FaceBook and other social networking sites, some awareness is filtering through.

Zaragoza went to summer events of 2009 in the Bay Area like the Pistahan, Philippine Independence Day parades, and the Adobo Festival in places like Great America (in Santa Clara), Vallejo and Stockton. She partnered with producers so that she could invite celebrities, like singers Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera, to endorse the census. 

She also worked in campaigns via ethnic radio and television -- all part of the census plan that “a person has to be exposed to the message 10 times for it to stick.”

Vital to her message is the matter of privacy, and the sanctity of a person’s immigration status.

“Privacy is guaranteed because in taking the census, the U.S. Census Bureau has no relationship with any federal agency. Your information is safe with them for 72 years. The only thing that the bureau makes public is aggregate data.”

Census employees, like Zaragoza, are sworn for life not to share personal identification information (including name, address and birth date) with anyone. If she did, she would face up to five years imprisonment and $250,000 in fines.

“Why should I risk these just to give out PII? Besides, somebody could easily trace the data from credit card companies (to whom you actually give more personal data),” she reasoned.

Zaragoza said it should take no more than 10 minutes to answer the census form. There are only 10 questions for the principal resident of the household.

Since 1796, the U.S. Constitution mandated a census be taken every 10 years, with new immigrants becoming part of the larger society, resulting in new demographics.

The census provides assistance for 59 languages, including Tagalog, Cebuano and Ilocano. Also, “Filipino” is now a separate race category.

The first headcount was taken in remote Alaskan villages in late January. From February 25 to April 19, the Questionnaire Assistance Centers will open. Notice of the coming questionnaires will be mailed to 130 million residents from February 17 to March 10. By March 15 to 17, the forms should be delivered. On March 22 to 24 postcard reminders will be mailed for returns. Follow-up poll workers will knock on doors for incomplete forms or those with questions.

By December 30, a final census report must be on the desk of President Barack Obama. 

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