Friday, March 05, 2010

U.S. Census Reaches Out to Muslims

While attending Friday prayers at the Downtown Islamic Center this past week, I was greeted by an over-sized Census poster and 2010 Census volunteers handing out bags of goodies to the throngs of faithful entering the mosque. When I received my bag, I prompted one of the volunteers, Kacia Rivera, about the work she was doing. She explained that she was a part of the “2010 Islamic and Arab Voices Complete Count Committee” of the U.S. Census Bureau. Ms. Rivera as part of this specific team helps educate Muslims by traveling to different mosques every Friday distributing Census information and by responding to the specific concerns that Muslims and Arabs might have regarding the Census.

Confidentiality, language barriers, and confusion surrounding the racial identity of Arabs are among the Muslim community’s greatest concerns with participating in the Census. Most of these concerns were addressed in the over-packed folder. The folder contained basic information about the Census in both Arabic and English, reassurance of confidentiality also in Arabic and English, as well as sample questionnaires in Arabic, English, and Urdu. Rivera said that there is still confusion as to whether Arabs should mark “white” or “other” on the questionnaire but said that this confusion should not be reason to neglect the Census altogether.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the Census care package so to speak was the Census poster which read “Paint a New Portrait of America,” underneath which was a collage of Americans forming the shape of the United States including a Muslim woman donning the hijab or headscarf. The Muslim community is being actively sought out to participate in the American political process and as Muslim-Americans we should recognize the importance in participating in this tradition that reaches almost as far back as the birth of the nation itself.

The US Census was conducted for the first time in our country's history in 1790, and has been conducted every ten years since then as prescribed in Article 1, Section 2 of our constitution. The Census basically takes account of the number of people residing within the borders of the U.S. and its territories, regardless of legal status (the legal status of residents, or any other information acquired by the Census for that matter cannot be shared with any other agency), in order for the national government to respond to the needs of the governed.

What that means is, the number of people residing within a state determine how many Members of Congress will be representing them in the House of Representatives. If the population in a certain area has increased, then they may be due for another seat in the House, however if the population has decreased since 2000, a seat may be lost. This is not the only way the Census helps our government respond to our needs. There is also about $400 billion in federal funding that is up for grabs that the Census data helps allocate. This money is used to build hospitals, highways, schools, and other public services.

Participating in the U.S. Census is important for Muslims not only for all of the reasons mentioned above, but also because faith-based organizations, such as CAIR-Chicago who advocate for Muslims' rights, rely on Census data to communicate needs to elected officials and apply for federal grants. And for the record, Muslim organizations have been responding to the call of the U.S. Census Bureau including CAIR-Chicago and Islamic Relief USA by disseminating educational information throughout the Muslim Community. Additionally, CAIR-Chicago will host a Census worker in the coming weeks as part of a Questionnaire Assistance Center that will be stationed within the CAIR-Chicago office.

Individual Muslims must also take heed and fill out their Census questionnaires by the appointed time, April 1, to showcase the willingness of the Muslim community to participate in the American political process, and to show a strong, active, and proud presence in this country.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing. Truly inspiring.

~ Esperanza

8:22 AM


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