Two groups historically undercounted in the U.S. Census stood together on Feb. 24.
The Asian Pacific American Student Organization and the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization held a joint meeting to discuss their communities’ participation in the census.
As presenters noted, Asian American and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are underrepresented in census data. This is important, as census counts determine how federal resources are allocated.
Asian Pacific American Student Organization representative Jonathan Suan helped coordinate the event with APIAVote, an organization dedicated to increasing political engagement among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“We work with APIAVote and we have an obligation to do census education events, and we felt like this would be an equally beneficial opportunity for both of our organizations to talk about the census and how it’s important to us,” Suan said.
Political engagement impacted by several factors
Suan noted that a variety of issues contribute to data showing low Asian American participation in the census and in elections.
“Asian Americans in general aren’t as politically engaged,” Suan said. “There’s also, especially with older generations of Asian Americans, a language barrier because they speak languages that aren’t covered in the census. While you can use a translator to assist you, it is you who has to fill out the census yourself.”
Suan added that many Asian Americans are not comfortable with sharing personal information with the government, even though census records are sealed.
“Also, there’s been sometimes historic mistrust with Asian Americans of giving out that information to larger governmental bureaucracies, and historically information has been used against Asian Americans, from the era of Chinese Exclusion to other eras,” Suan said.
Emma Force, who helped coordinate the event for the Native American group, , explained that it can be difficult to get Native Americans to participate in the census. While the census went online this year, many people on reservations do not have access, so a tool meant to increase counts could hurt the indigenous count. Force elaborated on the issue of voter registration, and said that Native Americans living on reservations are dealing with voter disenfranchisement.
“For the census, it’s just about getting those resources to our communities,” Force said. “If we can get the information out there, we can increase the missing data the census reports. As far as voter registration, we would need a push for P.O. boxes to be used as permanent addresses so that we can increase those. I think we are seeing a positive uplift in the youth and involvement in political issues, so that’s a positive.”
Representation, youth engagement key to changing statistics
Shayla French is an executive board member of the Native American and Indigenous Student Organization who helped present at the meeting. She said she’s optimistic because the Native American community has come together to make their voices heard.
She said being part of the group’s executive board has introduced her “a lot more into the political state of the U.S., and I’ve noticed a lot more .. .that there’s a lot more push to get our voices out there. There’s a lot more Native American people running for different positions, and that’s amazing.”
Similarly, Suan said that increased representation of Asian Americans on the state and federal level has been an achievement of Asian American activism.
“There has been a historic push to have representation in politics, whether it be state or local elected officials like State Sen. Stephanie Chang, or presidential candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris, who are all APIA,” Suan said.
Suan added that opposition to the Trump administration has helped unify Asian American communities.
“The social environment of the Trump administration has invigorated the political activism we’ve seen here,” Suan said. “There have been issues that communities have been facing that have been the focus of activism like the deportation of Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees, and I think organizations like APIAVote and other Asian American organizations have been able to capitalize on the newer generation coming about.”
French said, “I think working even more with our youth could benefit our communities a lot because of the push of activism and motivation of youth to get involved, which I’ve seen improve greatly in the past few years. And, I think working with our youth together to push toward a goal will be beneficial to everyone.”