By Whitney Tesi
Last time the U.S. Census was conducted, the Filipino community in Chicago was undercounted by an estimated 50,000 people. Ahead of this year’s census, the advocacy group Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) wants to do all it can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Last Wednesday, the organization hosted a kick-off event at the HANA Center, a Korean American community center, to launch a new census committee that aims to make sure every Filipino family is counted this time. Staff from the U.S. Census Bureau’s regional office were also present to spread awareness and answer questions about the purpose of the census.
“We see this as an opportunity for different communities to get to know each other,” Ryan Viloria, the former executive director of AFIRE, said. “This is also an invitation for folks who feel that their community is under-served to promote the census.”
There were 153,431 Filipinos estimated in Illinois according to the 2017 American Community Survey, an annual questionnaire run by the U.S. Census Bureau. That was 10% more than the 2010 census. Activists said this number was much greater because the community had been heavily under-counted.
The census is a survey taken every ten years and is intended to take a tally of people living in the U.S., whether they are citizens or not. This data holds enormous importance because it is used to distribute over $670 billion in federal money to local communities. Illinois stands to lose billions of dollars in state funds and two congressional seats if its population is under-counted.
For the Filipino community, the census results could affect their access to resources like healthcare, education, and infrastructure.
To improve the response rate, the U.S. Census Bureau has released video advertisements in Tagalog, while the Chicago Regional Office has hired 142 new Tagalog speaking workers. The form will also be available in the language online and over the phone.
But getting the community to understand the ramifications of an inaccurate census count has been challenging, said Danielle De Vera. Some people in the community, especially those who are undocumented, are concerned about the confidentiality of the census results after the Trump Administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census form. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the move, but that hasn’t assuaged the fears.
In a 2019 survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 55% of Asians responded that they intended on filling out the form, the least amount of all the racial groups. In addition, 42% were “extremely concerned” that their responses would not be kept confidential.
“The stigma of the census is because of the current political atmosphere,” Grace Padao, a member of AFIRE said. She added that under-counted groups such as undocumented Filipinos, children and new immigrants needed to fill it out because they also benefited from the funds that the government gives the community.
Advocates also said language accessibility in voting polls was needed. In 2019, Cook County announced voters would be able to receive ballots in Tagalog, one of the main languages in the Philippines. The decision of whether to add different languages into voting polls was determined by its speaker population, which comes from census data.
Jerry Clarito, the founding director of AFIRE, said he hoped more counties in Illinois would follow this path.
“They know that our communities are growing, so we have to prove that by actually participating in the census,” Clarito said.
AFIRE said they will be hosting two volunteer trainings in February. De Vera added that the concept of “kaibigan,” Filipino for friendship, is integral to community building in the fight to be counted in the census.
“We know that the Filipino community is comprised of folks who just take care of each other,” Danielle De Vera, community organizer for AFIRE said. “These movements are so grand, but when we do it together, we can make a greater effect.”