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Chicago-Area Groups Seek Accurate Census Count Of Chinese Communities

A coalition of Chinese groups have formed a “complete count” committee to plan outreach efforts in preparation for next year’s census.

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Wentworth Avenue teems with activity Tuesday afternoon in Chicago’s Chinatown community. In an effort to ensure that residents there and other communities are counted in next year’s census, a coalition of more than 20 Chinese groups have formed a committee to coordinate outreach efforts in preparation for census 2020.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang

More than 20 Chinese groups in the Chicago area have collaborated to form a “complete count” committee, which will plan outreach efforts to ensure an accurate count of Chinese communities in next year’s census.

The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) announced the establishment of the committee at a press conference Tuesday in Chinatown.

Joined by State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, and staff members of the U.S. Census Bureau and the city of Chicago, CBCAC leaders stressed the importance of a robust census count in the Chinese community.

“Ten years ago, at the last census, there [were] so many things that this community did not have,” said the coalition’s board chairman David Wu. “It did not have a library, it did not have a field house, streets needed to be improved, and so many things have happened because we’ve been counted.”

Mah, whose district includes Chinatown and its surrounding neighborhoods, also reminded the community that the census lays the groundwork for redistricting.

“I started my career working in the community here in Chinatown almost ten years ago,” Mah said, “and the work that we did to push the redrawing of boundaries around the Chinese community really couldn’t have been done without the work that we did two years before, getting ready to count everybody in the community.”

Sigcho-Lopez said the city — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot — is committed to helping residents in neighborhoods like Chinatown get counted, especially in light of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the president’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

“In a community like Chinatown, like Pilsen, like the many immigrant communities that make the city a very special place ... we’re here to make sure that we let the [Trump] administration know that we will organize to make sure that everyone is counted,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

chinatown census

Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community Executive Director Grace Chan McKibben discusses the census outreach strategy at a news conference on July 23, 2019.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang

The complete count committee’s chair, Grace Chan McKibben, said she led the 2010 get-out-the-count efforts. “With language and cultural and other barriers, [Chinatown] is an area that traditionally has a lower count,” she said.

However, unlike in 2010, when her efforts were focused on three census tracts in Armour Square and four in Bridgeport, McKibben said next year’s census outreach will extend to McKinley Park, Brighton Park, Douglas and Oakland, as well as South Loop and Pilsen — each of which have sizable Chinese populations.

McKibben cited language barriers and distrust in the government as two big reasons why Chinese residents are hesitant to fill out the census questionnaires.

And with the self-response questionnaire going online for the first time in 2020, McKibben said the digital divide may be a problem as well. Nearly a quarter of Chinatown households do not have internet access, she said, citing data from a hard-to-count map created by the City University of New York.

According to a census bureau survey, Asian residents were the least familiar with the census, as well as the least likely to report their intention to respond to the decennial headcount.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.

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