By Chuck Park
Almost every Saturday morning for the last four months, I’ve donned a fresh surgical mask and latex gloves; loaded up a “United States Census 2020”-branded reusable bag with hand sanitizer, cellular data-enabled iPads, and flyers; and walked the 0.18 square miles of census tract 871 in downtown Flushing to urge you — my fellow New Yorkers — to complete the decennial survey of our nation’s population. On a typical outing, my teammates from the non-profit MinKwon Center for Community Action and I engage two to three hundred people — mostly first generation immigrants speaking Spanish and Mandarin — standing in line for the La Jornada food pantry, which winds past the 7-Train station, bubble tea shops, and grocery stores on Main Street and 40th Road to end at the pantry’s distribution site within the Bland Houses public housing complex.
Over the last several weeks alone, we’ve spoken to thousands of our neighbors, handed out hundreds of census flyers and free masks, and hung dozens of census posters in this one census tract. Beyond in-person outreach, we’ve phoned, texted, and sent postcards, translated into simplified Chinese, Korean, and Spanish, to tens of thousands of Flushing residents encouraging them to respond.
The result? A measly 8.7% bump in census response since we started on May 16. The total response rate for tract 871 since the census self-response period began in March? Just a hair above 38%, far behind the national response rate of 65.3%, and New York City’s 58.5%. Tract 871 is even lagging its own pace from 2010, when about half of households there completed the survey.
We must do better than this. And we’re running out of time.
I know that so many other things seem more important right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated neighborhoods like Flushing, as well as nearby Corona and Elmhurst, and for many of you, your next paycheck and your next meal — not a government survey — have been the priority.
I know many of you are new to this country, and have never participated in a census before. You might live in a basement apartment and are afraid of being discovered by city inspectors. You might live in the United States without authorization. You might have learned that the government once used census data to track down and detain thousands of Japanese-Americans during the second World War. Your concerns are valid, and profound.
But so are the risks of an incomplete census. In the short term, an undercount could mean fewer doses of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, less money for economic relief and recovery, and less space for our children in increasingly crowded public schools. In the long term, an incomplete census could mean New York loses its voice in debates over immigration, healthcare, and economic policies that directly affect us and our families. Our communities could starve, silenced, for 10 years.
It’s not too late. The census response period ends on September 30. Complete it now at www.my2020census.gov, and make sure your friends, family, and undocumented neighbors also respond. Better yet, join me in Flushing this Saturday.
Park, a Flushing native and former U.S. diplomat, is census outreach manager at the MinKwon Center for Community Action.
A version of this op-ed was first published in the New York Daily News on July 22, available at: https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-immigrants-trump-step-up-20200722-76x67bzd35hafasyvccaoxurva-story.html.