My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘refugee’

Burmese residents of Northern California get help with 2010 Census

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

KALW and the San Francisco Chronicle recently collaborated on a piece about counting the Burmese population. As MyTwoCensus reported months ago, this effort would have been much simpler and more effective if the Burmese translations on forms were accurate. The below article implies that the Burmese in Northern California are using English forms and subsequently having others (who speak English) complete the forms on their behalf:

The Census Bureau has released its latest population estimates, ahead of announcing this year’s official census count, and some of the results may surprise you. As of July 2009, 317 counties, four states, and the District of Columbia were officially considered ‘minority majority’ areas, meaning that people of European descent are now in the minority there. The four states are Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii and–you guessed it, California. Demographers are attributing the jump to high minority birth rates, and a large influx of young immigrants and refugees.

According to the US State Department, among the half-million refugees who arrived in the US over the last decade 60,000 are from the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Many agencies, including Amnesty International, claim the ruling military junta in Burma has been committing human rights violations since the 1960s, when it overthrew the democratic government. No one knows how many of its citizens have fled, but in the last decade, more than 2,000 Burmese refugees have resettled in California. But this upswing in the Burmese immigrant community here might not get reflected in the 2010 census. Reporter Adelaide Chen has more.

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ADELAIDE CHEN:  In Oakland, there’s a Burmese Mission Baptist church that’s been established only within the last decade. It has a special service to accommodate the Karen and Karenni ethnic minority groups that speak their own languages. Not all of the people who use the service are Christian, but as newcomers to the US, they come here to adapt, socialize and access social services.

After the service, families sit drinking ohn-no-kauk-swe, a traditional chicken coconut noodle soup with chilies. Pastor Aye Aye Thaw assists newcomer Me Reh in filling out a census form in English. Reh just arrived three months ago so the English capital letters that the pastor writes on his form are unfamiliar to him.

So you’re asking him to pull out his ID?

AYE AYE THAW: Yeah, because I need the house number. Because they do not know their house number.  And they do not know their apartment number.

Thaw understands how counting Burmese Refugees can be difficult for a census worker. She knows the Burmese don’t use last names.  She knows the people from refugee camps are not likely to have birthdates. Like in this case, the IDs of both Me Reh and his wife list theirs as January first.

See it says Jan 1 for both IDs.

AYE AYE THAW:  All are like that. At first I’m surprising too but now I’m used to that.

Thaw says when they tried filling out the forms for the first time, they were all puzzled by one question: The one about their ethnic group. To say you’re “Burmese” is to say you’re a part of the dominant ethnic group back home, often associated with the military junta. And at least a third of Karennis have been displaced by the military presence in their home state. Some of which resettled here as refugees and joined Thaw’s fellowship. So, she decided to list both groups.

AYE AYE THAW: I want to make sure that’s why I want them to fill it up with Burma and then Karenni.

There are about 20 major ethnic groups within the country known as Burma. So when it comes to the census, it’s especially hard to get an accurate count.

CARL KATCHER: To be honest, there’s a lot of ethnic issues in Burma.

Carl Katcher’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Burma in the seventies:

CARL KATCHER: As far as I understand, most of the Karens, most of the ethnic groups will just be filling out their group as the particular group. Whether it be, you know-Kachin, Shan, Karen, or Karenni.

So those ethnic groups might not make it to the final count. Mary Nicely, the government liaison of the census committee for the people of Burma, says in the last census her population was undercounted, and she’s concerned it could happen again.

MARY NICELY: And that’s why we’ve been working so hard to try to pull it together this time around because the only support services these people have are churches, family, and if they’re lucky they can get some sort of assistance and someone can help them.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Conclusive Evidence That Burmese Translations For 2010 Census Are Wrong!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

UPDATE: The Census Bureau conducted business in early 2009 with an outside consulting firm to evaluate the accuracy of 2010 Census forms in four languages (Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese). Additionally, here is some further evidence of problems from an external report (available in full HERE):

Errors were discovered in the Vietnamese-language materials, including the sample
Vietnamese Census Form.  The Bureau had been inconsistent in their word choice for “census,”
using both “điều tra” and “thống kê” interchangeably.  For the Vietnamese community, “điều
tra” or “government investigation” carries a negative connotation because it is associated with
the communist regime.  While the Bureau recently fixed the online form, it is uncertain whether
the corrections will appear in the printed census forms.

In February, after being tipped off about translation errors on the Census Bureau’s foreign language forms, MyTwoCensus set out to conduct an investigation into Diplomatic Language Services, the firm that was contracted to conduct all translations for the 2010 Census. Our Freedom Of Information Act request has not yet been answered, so we started to contact leading foreign language scholars to translate forms for us and judge the quality of translations.

One minority group that will suffer terribly because of poor translations is America’s Burmese community. Though there isn’t much reliable data on the Burmese-American community, a cursory read of the group’s Wikipedia entry reveals that “According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 16,720 persons of Burmese descent resided in the United States. That number is estimated to have risen to at least 50,000 today because of the large number of Burmese people seeking political asylum.”

Regarding the Burmese translation (available HERE), Julian Wheatley, who serves as the President of the Burma Studies Foundation and works in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literature at MIT told us,  “There are some usage problems, which probably arose because the original translator stuck too close to the English. More obvious, one paragraph has been repeated. Towards the end, well into the second page, you’ll see the phrase (2010 Census) in parentheses. Above it is a small three line paragraph, and the two longer paragraphs above that — you’ll see them — are identical (one in bold, one normal). Presumably that is not as intended.”

This investigation is ongoing. If you or anyone you know has noticed poor language translations on a 2010 Census form, we encourage you to contact us with specific information.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Now Is The Time To Print The 2010 Census Form In Creole

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Back on July 30, 2009, we published an article titled “Trouble in Florida for Haitians” detailing the problem of the Census Bureau’s choice not to use Creole as one of the 27 languages other than English that will appear on 2010 Census forms. In the wake of last month’s earthquake, and with an influx of refugees pouring into the United States (and Florida in particular), this decision now appears less intelligent than ever. MyTwoCensus.com is also surprised that the mainstream media has failed to pick up on this, and we urge media outlets to report this story. Are there a million Creole speakers in America? 1.5 million? More? This is an example of yet another community getting the shaft based on poor planning…but the Census Bureau still has time to act and create a creole language 2010 Census form as well as an ad campaign targeting creole-speakers. To the Census Bureau officials reading this: Please take our advice, and start this process ASAP!