Editor’s Note: In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, California’s State Treasurer Fiona Ma wrote this call-to-action to Chinese Americans, especially those living in her home town San Francisco: Fill out the census, or risk losing hard won gains!
By State Treasurer Fiona Ma, CPA
Chinese immigrants, like my parents, began coming to America in the mid-1800s in search of a better life and greater opportunity for their children and grandchildren. Today, more than a fifth of San Francisco residents are of Chinese descent, and the City is home to the second-largest Chinese population in the United States.
Despite our numbers, however, political power and representation for Chinese Americans was a long time coming. The first Chinese American on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors wasn’t appointed until 1977, and we had to wait until the 1990s for the 11-member Board to include more than one Asian American supervisor. Since then, San Francisco has elected its first Chinese mayor, I am one of two statewide elected Chinese constitutional officers, and Asian American elected officials at all levels of California’s government now number in the hundreds.
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we celebrate the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders past and present – but we also look to the future and how we can ensure our voices are heard. One of the most critical ways we can take a stand for our communities and our families is to be counted in the 2020 Census.
Census data informs billions of dollars in federal funding for key programs such as Head Start, childcare and development programs, community mental health programs, nutrition programs, educational and health care resources, and much more. Many of these programs are especially important now – in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis – because they impact the state’s ability to appropriately plan for emergencies and critical patient care needs. Estimates show that for every person uncounted, California could lose $1,000 a year for 10 years, or as much as $10,000 per person over the next decade.
Census data also determines the state’s political representation through the number of representatives in the U.S. Congress and the redrawing of political lines at the local and state levels. That means that participating in the Census will help ensure your community’s voice is heard in city halls across the state, at the State Capitol in Sacramento and under the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.
That’s why it’s so incredibly important that your entire family and everyone living in your household is counted. The Census is a simple, confidential nine-question survey that you can complete online now at my2020census.gov or by phone. Paper Census forms will soon be arriving in the mail for those families who have not yet completed the Census. Most importantly, you must count every person in your household – whether that’s extended family, small children, tenants, and anyone else who stays with you most of the time.
When you dive into the response rate data in places like San Francisco’s Chinatown, you see the need for greater participation in the Census. Whereas the Bay Area is outperforming other regions with a median response rate of 68.4 percent regionally, as compared to 60.8 percent statewide, San Francisco County has seen less participation, with a response rate of 57.7 percent.
Of particularly concern is the fact that hundreds of thousands of the hardest-to-count households in California still have not yet participated in the Census. In San Francisco, these include people who live around Chinatown, the Sunset and the Bayview neighborhoods, among others.
As a child, my parents instilled in me that education was the great equalizer and encouraged me to pursue one of the so-called “LEAD” (lawyer, engineer, accountant, doctor) professions. They were initially hesitant to embrace my career as an elected government official. But today they are proud I am using my education and public- and private-sector experience serving as the State Treasurer of the fifth largest economy in the world and working to ensure that other Asian Americans are seen and heard at all levels of government by urging everyone to stand up and be counted in the 2020 Census.