U.S. Census Bureau Working To Ensure Accurate Florida Count

U.S. Census Bureau working to ensure accurate Florida count
The Census Buerau Is Reaching Out with An Unusual Campaign Targeting Immigrant Communities to Ease Fears About the 2010 Tally

By Georgia East and Alexia Campbell Staff Writers
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), May 4, 2009

Fortune cookies. Chinese menus. Spanish-language soap operas.

Census workers and community organizers are already starting to spread the word about the 2010 census, and they're using novel ways to do it.

They're building a base of supporters with Facebook and Twitter. The government has a 2010 census page on YouTube. And workers are hitting the pavement and showing up in surprising places.

At a recent Burmese New Year's festival in Tradewinds Park, amid ritual water buckets and fragrant jasmine flowers, Winnie Tang spoke to a crowd of mostly Burmese immigrants about their need to be counted.Tang, a census partnership specialist, serves as president of the Organization of Chinese Americans-South Florida Chapter.

She wants to repeat the fortune cookie tactic she used to call attention to the census in 2000. And this time, she also hopes to attach census awareness fliers to Chinese menus.

'If you can calm some of the unreasonable fears, you can overcome all barriers,' said Quan Cao, liaison to the state's Vietnamese Community Association.

The national Spanish-language television network Telemundo plans to weave the message into the story line of one of the telenovelas produced in South Florida. A possibility it is looking at is Mas Sabe el Diablo, a soap opera about a criminal who falls in love with a lawyer, said Telemundo spokeswoman Michelle Alban.

Slipping the message into the extremely popular prime-time format is part of a full-blown advertising campaign on the network called Hazte Contar! (Spanish for 'Be Counted!'), including public service announcements from sportscasters, journalists and other on-air personalities.

In schools, children will learn about the census and play census-related games next school year, to generate buzz among their peers and family members.

It's all part of the Census Bureau's $600 million multilingual outreach campaign, which calls for building partnerships with organizations, media outlets and schools.

Broward County's Census 2010 Complete Count Committee is meeting with religious leaders, connecting with editors at ethnic newspapers and radio stations, and trying to partner with local businesses to put up census posters.

But some still wonder if the effort will be enough.

In immigrant communities in particular, it's often difficult to get migrant workers, households with multiple families under one roof and undocumented immigrants to fill out the forms, experts said.

'We come from countries where the less the government knows about you, the better,' said Josie Bacallao, president of Hispanic Unity of Broward.

One national group is telling undocumented immigrants to boycott the census if comprehensive immigration reform is not passed in Washington, D.C., before the count next April.

'This is a sensitive issue,' said the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. He said he fears the numbers will be used to justify laws that will hurt undocumented immigrants

But Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said not filling out the census would hurt the Hispanic community overall.

'It's a head count, but it's a critical head count,' he said.

The census is used to decide how to distribute $300 billion in federal aid.

The 2000 census overlooked about 196,000 Floridians, most of them minorities, poor people, children and immigrants. A 2001 report by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board said the undercount could cost the state $91.6 million in federal aid over 11 years.

That's just one of the reasons community leaders say they want the government to start making inroads in minority communities early.

Khanya Moolsiri, founder of the local Thai American Association, recently started telling others within the Thai community that with so many needs, they can't afford to go uncounted.

'It takes a lot of communication within the community,' she said, 'and it takes an insider.'


Hispanics encouraged to fill out Census
By Heather Clark
The Associated Press, May 2, 2009