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The US census and the Kurdish diaspora

Dr. Amir Sharifi

Amid fears and mounting uncertainty about Coronavirus, the U.S 2020 census will soon be underway on April 1.

Most American households must have received the census mailings that went out in March, with instructions reminding us how to pencil in responses on those funny folding papers every ten years. Most Kurdish-Americans have probably heard of it, but may be asking themselves: ‘why should we take the census seriously?’

The census is not just another step of boring bureaucracy. It’s a crucial exercise in taking stock of Americans. Every ten years, it resets the clock key data on the humans that make this country, giving us updated indicators on education, economic development, education, public health, and, of course, ethnicity.

In 2020, having accurate data is more important than ever. The census is used by countless fields: It’s used by civil society to analyze and determine where to put their efforts. It is used by businesses in deciding how to route shipping orders and where to open new branches. Population data is used by universities to help make decisions on where to recruit talent and ensure diverse access to education.

And perhaps most importantly, it determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how the state and federal budgets get distributed.

For Kurds who identify themselves through their ethnicity and language, this a golden opportunity to confirm their distinct identity confidently as the census approaches.

Despite the Trump administration’s best efforts, a controversial question on citizenship status will not be included on the 2020 census. Religious affiliation is not included, either.

Although the Kurdish diaspora in America is statistically smaller than other ethnic groups, that certainly does not make it any less or more important. Having an accurate figure of the community is of tangible political and economic importance.

The results of the US Census have a direct effect on us as individuals and a distinct community throughout the next decade as federal funding and political representations will be determined by the census results.

We as Kurdish-Americans want to ensure that the process is fair and accurate so that we are not undercounted, unrepresented, and unfunded.

Kurdish-American communities across the U.S are yet to mobilize to represent themselves as Kurdish ethnically and linguistically.

The important task is to be a cohesive force with a common goal and planning in using both conventional and digital networks such as word of mouth, face to face interaction, familial bonds, phone calls, email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.

Our participation is dually important to raise public awareness and urge the Kurdish diaspora to participate widely if we do not wish our community to be undercounted. In the period of 2006-2008, we were estimated to be 12,982, much lower than the actual population of Kurds then. It is time that we educate ourselves and our government by taking a more proactive role in partnering with other organizations, advocating to government agencies, and actively participating in complete and accurate counting of our population now that our demography has gone through dramatic changes.

Kurdish communities are proactive and enthusiastic in Southern California – but our campaign should expand. Fortunately, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, is also actively encouraging Kurds to make sure they are counted in the census.

Our task as Kurdish-Americans is to mobilize political and cultural resources to empower our communities throughout the U.S.

Social media are, of course, a useful way to build relationships – a desirable objective that we still have a long way to go on. But they don’t by themselves lead to wide participation if individuals merely take personal initiatives.

Our response needs a cohesive and persistent network of committed individuals and groups. The real medium is the people — rather than just the digital technology per se.

If we want to be represented, we have to create this change in the real world. The change is not just determined by our attitudes but by our capability to organize social action through different means of communication. It could create and expand communication networks within and across Kurdish-American communities so that we make ourselves count.

Dr. Amir Sharifi is a lecturer in linguistics at California State University, Long Beach and co-director of the US-based Kurdish Human Rights Advocacy Group.

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