US Census: An opportunity for recognition

Published on Mar 01 2010 // Opinion
By Birendra Dhakal, Atlanta, Georgia

Come March 15, and all the households living in the USA will receive a special packet along with a stamped envelope from the US Census Bureau asking everyone to fill up a questionnaire about the people living in the household.

This is a census exercise that US Bureau has been conducting since 1790 after the American Revolution. The US constitution mandates that the Census be taken every 10 years and the data is used to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and government funding.

Unlike Bhutan, where census means categorizing the people up to seven categories to determine their citizenship status, the US Census is a complete count of the population whether they are legal or illegal. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share individual census questionnaire responses to anyone including the law enforcement entities.

The Census Day is April 1, 2010. Questionnaires responses should represent people as it exists on that day. It has just 10 questions and includes some of the basic information such as people living in the household, any additional people living on that particular day, whether rented or owned house, telephone number, information on each person living in the household, sex of the individual, age, and race and whether the mentioned person sometimes lives or stays somewhere else. The questionnaire also asks if there is someone who has no permanent place is staying there on 1 April. But one must be careful not to include people in institutions like college residence, armed forces, nursing home detention facility etc, even if they return in the household as they will be counted in their respective institutions.

One of the most important issues that concern all Bhutanese living in the USA is question no. 9 which asks for your race. This question asks for information such as: White, Black, American Indian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese etc. etc. and other Asian.  This is the first time ever that Bhutanese are going to be counted in the US Census. Some of our people are of the opinion that we should mention Bhutanese of Nepali origin. I have had a number of discussions with our people and also raised this issue among Bhutanese. It is our firm conviction that we are Bhutanese and not else. We are in America because we are Bhutanese refugees and not by any other status.

Mentioning race any other than Bhutanese would simply dilute our cause and may undercount our number. So, it is utmost important that we mention ourselves as “BHUTANESE”.  We must remember that census numbers are used for a variety of purposes such as planning for hospitals, attracting businesses, drawing federal state and legislative districts, directing funds for services for people in poverty, directing services to children and adults with limited English proficiency, designing facilities for people with disabilities, children or elderly, reapportioning seats in the House of Representatives, drawing school district boundaries etc., which will concern us in the future. Asserting ourselves Bhutanese will only help us to receive facilities as a special new minority group.

I am sure the Bhutanese living in states other than Georgia may have come across the local government or non-profits promoting the need to participate in the Census 2010. We in Atlanta have formed Bhutanese Complete Count Committee and are educating the community through talk program, leaflet and video to participate in this historic exercise.

Remember, this is a one in ten years exercise and we as a stateless people have this great opportunity to be counted in the most powerful nation in the world.