How Asian American creatives are rallying their peers to get loved ones counted in the 2020 Census

Michelle Hanabusa, founder and creative director of WEAREUPRISERS, sees a common thread between fashion and the 2020 Census: “What you wear is what you represent. What you wear is an expression of who you are.” In the same way, Hanabusa views the 2020 Census as being about Asian American representation, and showing, in numbers, who we are. Hanabusa, through UPRISERS, is using fashion to promote the 2020 Census.

Hanabusa has built a streetwear brand from the ground up while staying community driven. She chose the name UPRISERS because the word represents her intent to be true to herself and live by her values in driving social change. In the past, she has partnered with different groups to raise awareness of important causes, including a recent campaign to combat anti-Asian bias.

Now she’s excited to collaborate with the 2020 Census to use her platform and be part of a nationwide effort to get Asian Americans counted. Civic-minded platforms like UPRISERS are filling a gap during a time when COVID-19 has halted public gatherings, prevented people from visiting loved ones, and caused major disruption in normal operations across all industries.

Young Asian Americans, many of whom lead arts- and entertainment-focused organizations, are demonstrating how to break through the communication barrier as many people are staying safe at home. In partnership with the 2020 Census, these organizations have collectively reached millions of people online so far with their key programs and virtual events, such as Gold House’s annual A100 List, which honors Asian Americans who are making a cultural impact.

Gold House hosts a virtual town hall on the economy and politics, featuring speakers from top left to right: Richard Lui, MSNBC anchor; Amrita Ahuja, CFO of Square; Andrew Yang, former 2020 presidential candidate; Betty Liu, executive vice chairman of New York Stock Exchange; Richard Lui, MSNBC anchor; Tim Wang, TDW+Co founder and principal; and Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American.

Minji Chang, from the performing-arts nonprofit Kollaboration, is excited to help inform people about what’s at stake with the 2020 Census. She sees the connection between accurate census data and whether public funding and community resources can support Asian Americans on basic needs like health care and housing.

As a member of the board of directors of Kollaboration, Chang is helping to shape a compelling narrative to educate Asian Americans about the census and motivate them to self-respond. She believes that appealing to emotion can go a long way.

“It’s important to make people feel like they matter and can make a difference for someone they care about,” Chang said. 

Through virtual events, Kollaboration is promoting the 2020 Census to reach hard-to-count populations, including millennial Asian Americans and their immigrant and refugee elders who are likely to be limited-English proficient.

“The parent aspect is very powerful. Sometimes people care more about their family more than themselves,” she said.

Kollaboration is known for their regional live talent showcases but has since grown to include their annual EMPOWER Conference, which drew thousands of people to panels and workshops on issues of representation in media and beyond this past May—virtually, of course.

Top left to right: Minji Kang, Kollaboration; Alton Wang, community organizer; TDW+Co founder and principal Tim Wang; Theresa Vu, ambassador of The 2020 Project; and Kavi Vu, co-founder of Wake Up Atlanta.

Tim Wang, founder and principal of TDW+Co, the official communications partner to Asian American communities for the 2020 Census, spoke on one of the panels, “It’s Time to Be Heard.” Wang shared methods for getting Asian American voices heard through the 2020 Census. To increase the power behind the communications campaign, TDW+Co has mobilized creative arts groups that are online trusted voices to share stories and hold discussions within their vast networks.

Kollaboration is one of several organizations that have joined forces with TDW+Co to help raise the response rates for the 2020 Census. They are hosting a virtual event later this year to feature Asian American performers and speakers and to remind everyone about the census.

International Secret Agents (ISAtv) is another performing arts group that has joined this initiative and brought on their collective influencer power. ISAtv has experience with creating original content on topics that are relevant to the younger generation of Asian Americans.

Co-hosts and guest in episode of Lunch Break podcast, from top left to right: Wong Fu Productions team members Wesley Chan and Benson Quach; Dan Matthews from ISAtv; featured guest, Tim Wang, founder and principal of TDW+Co.

They have featured the 2020 Census on an episode of their Lunch Break video podcast and led a digital outreach effort that allowed them to meet the wider Asian American community where they’re at, whether that’s on their couch or at their home office for the time being. 

As ISAtv’s managing director, Dan Matthews and his team worked with influencers to post content on social media that covered five different Asian languages: Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Taglish, and Vietnamese.

The social media content served as a guide on how young Asian Americans can do their part by having conversations with their parents and elders about getting counted in the census. This team of Asian American influencers encouraged their social media followers, ranging from ages 18 to 35, to help their first-generation parents understand that it’s safe and easy to complete the census. Some notable people included Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu, musician Cathy Nguyen, and musician AJ Rafael.

2020 Census social media influencers, from left to right: Cathy Nguyen, AJ Rafael, Joon Lee (center), Lucia Liu, and Mirai Nagasu.

“As a company that’s focused on uplifting the Asian American community, sometimes it’s tough to find physical things to measure our impact. The 2020 Census is a tangible way to reach out to our community and tell them this is how you can make a difference,” Matthews said.

These Asian American creative professionals recognize that fostering curiosity is one way to educate about the 2020 Census in fun and meaningful ways. Not only does it build connections while people are isolated at home, but it also creates a space for learning. 

AJ Rafael, a Filipino American musician, recounted the first time he heard about the census: he had asked his mother about the population size on a freeway sign and how they got that number. It turned out to be census data. Although he learned about it while growing up, others aren’t exposed to this information. And that’s why it’s important for young people to understand its significance and spread the message within their own networks. 

“A lot of my audience have grown up with me, so I assume they’re all around my age and probably are living alone for the first time since the last census or are just getting out of college,” Rafael said. “Hearing any reminder from someone you follow for something important like this is encouraging.”

UPRISERS has launched an Instagram filter that quizzes people’s knowledge of the 2020 Census.

Hanabusa from UPRISERS knows that people have questions about the census, such as whether it’s safe to respond or whether you must be a citizen. She wants to bring attention to the 2020 Census through fun, shareable, and memorable posts on social media. They have since launched an Instagram filter that quizzes people about their knowledge of the census and hopes it will help debunk misconceptions.

Although these organizations may not directly reach the hard-to-count who have limited internet access, these outreach methods cast a wide net to the greater Asian American community in an approachable and entertaining way. The varied approaches taken by the featured organizations exemplify the diverse strategies we can use to motivate people to do something for themselves and the community at large.

Given that Asian Americans have a growing influence in the U.S., it’s pertinent for us to act now. You can respond now online at by phone, or by mail. For more information, visit

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