A few days ago, our English as a Second Language (ESL) program hosted an informative presentation regarding Census2020. The tutors and the students learned about the process and the content of this nation-wide plan for counting everyone in the United States. The program, presented in English and translated into Arabic and Amharic, provided all of us what we need in anticipation of receiving the forms in the next weeks.
Beneath the positive reactions were stories. My student’s tale may be an example of how important—and how difficult—the census-taking will be. Perhaps her thoughts will help you understand how the census might be received by some people.
A native of a sub-Saharan country still plagued by tribal and religious division, Srynjar knows firsthand the horrors of violence and oppression that can accompany corrupt political systems. Before the census presentation, she related how “the tribe that has the guns” is able to dominate other ethnic groups with threats of death. How her country’s natural resources are appropriated by foreign interests. How danger will likely continue for her native village.
In her country, any counting of people provides data for governmental leaders who cannot be trusted. Providing personal information to census-takers there is not only a forced invasion of privacy, but also becomes another means for authorities to steal property, punish enemies and levy taxes on minority ethnic groups. There is nothing just about the census in her country.
No wonder that expatriates from that nation may not look at the coming U.S. census as a process that could benefit anyone except a top tier of rulers. In Srynjar’s estimation, when the census letter arrives in a few days, it will be discarded. Many immigrants still do not understand written English and the whole process is reminiscent of the unjust countings they have experienced in their native land. When the follow-up paper form arrives, the same response will occur: The mailing will be thrown away. She hopes that the door-to-door census takers will be treated differently.
Without an outreach directly focused on Srynjar’s ethnic community, the 2020 census will likely undercount this large group of immigrants, lessening their influence in U.S. governmental programs. These already vulnerable people will remain largely invisible to the data-seekers who will eventually make policy decisions. Another sad form of injustice right in front of us.
Fortunately, Srynjar is part of a Christian community—a gathering of immigrants from her birth-country—and so she will serve as a voice of encouragement for her ethnic family. Fortunately for them, skilled interpreters are available at a number of our local libraries and non-profit agencies.
Fortunately for Srynjar, we can work on the forms together as part of our ESL program. And fortunately for all of us, our nation’s census is not a tool of an unjust government that oppresses racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
Srynjar’s reactions are similar to those told by other groups within our nation. Her story can help us realize how individual Christians and their congregations can be a bulwark of justice, love and care for all people beloved by God. No exceptions.
Just counting will continue….