The last time the Census was taken in 2000, Richmond Hill’s response rate was lower than 40 percent — well below the national and citywide averages.
But this year a number of South Asian and community groups are working together and have formed the Richmond Hill 2010 Census Committee to make sure the 2010 Census will not be a repeat performance.
“The campaign is essentially word of mouth, creating a buzz,” said Gurpal Singh, a staffer to state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and a member of SEVA, one of the organizations that comprise the Richmond Hill 2010 Census Committee.
Areas of Ozone Park and South Ozone Park had Census response rates ranging from fewer than 40 percent to 60.9 percent.
With its large South Asian and Indo-Guyanese community, Singh said the committee is focusing on letting Richmond Hill residents know that the Census forms hitting mailboxes in March will not be asking about immigration status for the first time.
“Even if you don’t have any papers, you must get counted and should get counted,” Singh told a crowd assembled at Villa Russo on Lefferts Boulevard.
In 2000, there was a question about immigration status on the Census.
“People saw that and didn’t know what to do because you don’t want to lie on an official government form. That was a big issue,” Singh said.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars is at stake,” he said, noting that $400 billion in federal funds is spent based on Census data, including money for schools, public transit and sewers.
Census data is also used to apportion congressional and state Assembly and state Senate seats.
“The political power is at stake, too,” Singh said.
When the Census was taken in 2000, fewer than 40 percent of Richmond Hill residents participated.
“We lose in Richmond Hill,” Singh said, noting that for every person not counted in the Census, $30,000 in funding is lost. “We’re underrepresented and undercounted in Richmond Hill. Our goal should be to increase our count.”
This year the Census is limited to only 10 questions.
For Richmond Hill, Singh said the ninth question — about race — is important for the community.
The question allows for a variety of choices, including “Asian Indian,” but there is the option to fill in your own race.
Singh cautioned that if Indo-Guyanese residents write in “Caribbean,” they will automatically be counted as black by the Census. But if they write “Indo-Caribbean” or “Sikh,” they will be counted as Asian Indian.
Singh said if South Asian, Indo-Caribbean and Sikh residents accurately write down their race, it means it will be easier for Indo-Caribbean, South Asian and Sikh community groups to get funding.
Mohinder Singh, a Sikh community leader, said it is also important for those groups to write down their correct race so elected officials will notice them.
“If you prove that we are a large group, then the politicians will come to you,” Singh said. “The first task is to prove we are the largest group in the neighborhood.”
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), who dropped in on the meeting along with Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) pointed out that the Census helped blacks in southeast Queens gain political representation and said she hoped the same would come true for South Asians in the audience.
“Everyone must be counted. It’s important because of political lines,” she said. “I frankly think you are entitled to your own political lines.”
Addabbo pointed to Richmond Hill’s dismal response rate in 2000.
“We have to do better than this and it’s going to take a teamwork to do this,” he said. “Far too often in the past, things fell apart like a house of cards.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2010 Community News Group
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