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U.S. Census Bureau Enlists Texas Ethnic Media

New America Media, News Report, Video, Edwin Okongo, Video: Paul Billingsley Posted: Oct 22, 2009

HOUSTON - For Arnold A. Jackson, the associate director for the U.S. 2010 Census, a recent briefing for Houstons ethnic media was a homecoming.

I dont know what you call it now, but we used to call it Space City, said Jackson, prompting laugher.

Jackson reflected on how Houston had changed since his childhood.

Growing up here, the community always had a very prominent African-American and Mexican-American population, albeit segregated, said Jackson. It is very exciting to me after so many years to see that not only are those communities becoming one unified city and county, but now we have Asians and other populations.

Since 2000, the Latino population in Texas has grown by approximately 30 percent, according to Jackson. And in Houston, the African-American population has increased by 15 percent, including a significant surge in the number of African-born residents.

Thw U.S. Census Bureau Meets With Houston's Ethnic Media from Paul Billingsley on Vimeo.

Ten years ago the census counted only 64 percent of Texas population three points below the national average. Jackson said the challenge in 2010 will be to significantly increase the number of people who return the census questionnaire. And since minority populations historically have been undercounted, he said ethnic media outlets will be critical to this.

The Houston briefing, held at the Denver Harbor Multi-Service Center, was organized by New America Media in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the seventh of 11 meetings with ethnic media across the country.

Well always miss people thats the nature of the business, said Gabriel Sanchez, director of the Dallas region of the U.S. Census Bureau, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But what we want to do is make sure that if we miss people, we dont miss them disproportionately. We are committed to eliminating something that is called a differential undercount, which means that whenever we take a census, we always miss some groups more than others.

Ethnic media journalists told officials to tap locals who are trusted in the community to lead the effort if the agency wants a successful campaign for a complete count.

I dont think we in the ethnic media have done a good enough job in educating the government on how ethnic media work, and how they work effectively, said Mark Masepohl, senior vice president and regional manager of Univision Radio Houston.

Masepohl asked the agency to seek out leaders and media personalities from ethnic communities in order to increase trust. This, he said, could help counter a longtime fear that census data might be used to crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Census officials have invested heavily in efforts to inform communities that none of the 10 questions ask for immigration status or personal information. The trust ethnic communities have in their media and leaders would help spread that message, Masepohl said.

Ethnic media, we are held to a higher standard by our audience, and our audience trusts us, Masepohl said. If our personalities say, Trust us. The government is not out to get you, it makes all the difference in the world. That loyalty is not something you can put a face value on.

Roxanne Morrison of Radio One Houston, which operates radio, television and print media serving African Americans, agreed. Our on-air DJs are like celebrities; if they say something, it is trusted, said Morrison. If [people] have a problem, they dont go to the company. They go to the radio station.

The journalists urged census officials not to generalize, but to look at each community on a case-by-case basis.

The Vietnamese have great distrust of anything related to the government, especially when it requires personal information, said Vu Thanh Thuy, president and CEO of Radio Saigon Houston. The distrust of the government has been going on for so long since the Vietnam War, especially for the people who had to [flee] communism. They will never fill out anything unless they are forced to, or unless they see something attractive.

Thuy estimated that in the 2000 Census, 30 to 40 percent of Vietnamese people living in Houston were not counted. Many of them filled out the form but did not return it, she said. During a radio call-in show her station held soon after the census, she found out that most people did not know that the census was beneficial to their community, she said.

If they dont see that anything good is going to come of it, they are not going to cooperate, Thuy said.

Federal, state and local governments rely on census data to determine how much money to allocate to schools, hospitals and other social services. Census data is also used to establish new Congressional districts. Because ethnic communities tend to be undercounted, they often receive less of these funds.

Evelyn Y. Kim of Korean Journal Media Group said that to achieve an accurate count, the U.S. Census should avoid a mistake government campaigns often make: ignoring areas that have significant numbers of certain ethnic communities but are not popularly known to be the hubs.

For example, everyone knows that the Korean-American population is highly concentrated in the Southern California area, but they tend to ignore a very large number of people spread through the rest of the United States, Kim said.

Jesse Muhammad, a staff writer for the Final Call, advised that census officials tap into youth culture.

Do not overlook the power of hip hop, Muhammad said. Look at what President Obama was able to do, getting all these music artists, from Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige. Along with your advertising, get them to also speak about the benefits [of the census] because it would help with mobilization.

Jackson assured journalists that he had insisted that the Department of Commerce, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, be committed to ethnic communities and their media.

If there are ideas or strategies that you think we are not undertaking, Jackson said, if there are barriers that we are not recognizing, if our approach is offensive to groups, we need to pull back the covers and be candid with each other so that together we can get the most productive ideas possible.

The Census Bureau is reaching out to each ethnic community through what Jackson called a very elaborate network of subcontractors and ethnic media specialists. For example, he said, the agency had hired the largest African-American advertising company in the world, and a network of Latino advertising companies.

Vera T. Ching, executive vice president of the Houston-based Vietnamese newspaper Ngy Nay, also said it was critical that the Census Bureau hire people ethnic communities know and trust. In the Vietnamese community, Ching said, if someone comes knocking at a door and he is not Vietnamese, you are not going to get cooperation.

Sanchez, the Dallas region census director, said the 51 offices under his jurisdiction would employ 110,000 people, 16,000 of whom are in Houston. He said the employees would only knock on doors of those who fail to return the census questionnaire.

Weve hired Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabs all communities in Houston are represented within our hiring pool on purpose, Sanchez said.

But Sanchez underscored the importance of the awareness campaign, saying that its better to avoid having a government person knock at the door by encouraging people to fill out the forms and mail them back.

Its more accurate, it saves money and its less intrusive, he said.

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