An Accurate AAPI Count in 2020


with John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC


May 04, 2018

Preparations are underway for the 2020 United States Census. A fair and accurate count of all communities is of major importance, as data gathered is used to determine federal funding, congressional representation and more. For some populations, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the process can be of concern due to immigration status, language barriers and fear of providing personal information. John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC joins Robert Traynham to discuss the importance of an accurate count, especially for the AAPI population in America.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: The 2020 Census is just two years away, as the data gathered determines everything from federal funding for communities to congressional representation. A fair and accurate count is of major importance, especially for underserved populations. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. With me to discuss the U.S. Census and its importance to the AAPI community is John Yang, president and executive director of Asia Americans Advancing Justice -- or AAJC. John, welcome to the program. -

Yang: Thank you very much.

Traynham: I think it´s important to set this up. The Constitution mandates that every 10 years, the country counts itself. So, here we are in 2018. Two years away in 2020, we as a society should have an accurate count of how many people are in this country. As I mentioned before, it´s everything from who represents them or us in the government, but also funding. As I understand it, John, there are a lot of people out there in the community that are very, very concerned about a government worker knocking on their door... [ Knocks on desk ] ...and saying, "I want to count you." No? -

Yang: That´s absolutely right. One of the greatest concerns, especially in the current environment, is to have government workers asking for information about people. And especially in this environment, which, unfortunately, is anti-immigrant, it is targeting vulnerable populations, whether it is people of color, whether it is people that are disabled. We are very concerned that we aren´t going to get an accurate count. At the end of the day, we don´t get a chance for a do over. The Census only comes every 10 years, and so we have to get it right this first time. So it´s incumbent on all of us to make sure that we get the message out, to make sure people understand how important it is and why the census is necessary to get the resources to people.

Traynham: John, it sounds like there´s a lack of trust between minority-served communities and the federal government. As you mentioned, there´s an environment out there that is perceived to be anti-immigrant, that is perceived to be anti-brown people, that is perceived to be hostile. So how do you bridge that gap when it comes to the lack of trust in the community? How do you lower the anxiety, and, quite frankly, legitimately, some of the fear that some people have?

Yang: Absolutely. And so you have to do a number of different things. Part of it is making sure you have what we call trusted messengers. So, it will not necessarily be government workers. It might be, for certain people, their ministers, their pastors assuring them that this information is important and they need to respond to the census. The other aspect of the census is that this time, for the first time, we´re going to use a lot more technology so that people can respond to the census online. So that offers a degree of protection, certainly, but people do have worries and concerns about online privacy, as well. So, again, how do we bridge that gap, make sure that information gets out there, proper information gets out there, accurate information gets out there, to put people at ease in responding to the census?

Traynham: It sounds like, John, there needs to be local ambassadors -- your words -- trusted individuals that people trust. I´m more willing to chat with you if you look like me. I´m willing to share some personal information about myself if, in fact, I feel as though my information is safe. So, how are you doing that? -

Yang: That´s correct. So there´s a couple of different components to that. One is actually to work with the Census Bureau. Make sure that they hire people, what they call enumerators, that reflect the communities that they will be serving, that they will be going out in. Because you´re absolutely right. If they culturally, linguistically, with respect to language skills, can work with that community, we will get a much better count. But then the second component is the community itself -- making sure that the community gets out the word, whether it is through fliers, whether it is through advertisements, to say, "This is important," and to earn that trust over the next couple of years so that when the day comes, we get what we need.

Traynham: John, we´ve got about 45 seconds left. Specifically for the community that you represent, AAJC, is there any message that you would like to send to the folks that are watching this program, perhaps at home or on their smart device? Is there one take away? And my second part of the question is, is there any place where they can go to get information?

Yang: Sure. So one place is, obviously, our website, which is And we have information about the census, information about what is going on out there that should put people a little bit more at ease. But the other thing I would encourage people to do is start looking out for materials on the census. The Census Bureau, as well as community organizations, will have materials in the field. Start to be on the lookout for them starting in 2019 in the ramp up to 2020, and get themselves familiar with what to expect.

Traynham: John Yang, we look forward to having you back on the program to talk about all of the progress that your organization is doing. President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Thank you very much for joining us.

Yang: Thank you.

Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham.

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