We heard expressions of fear, confusion and excitement among Chicagoans who generally want to know more about the census and how it’s used.

By Irene Romulo, Alexis Kwan, Morgan Lee and Sarah Conway

(clockwise from top left) Chau Le, Khan Osama, Tevy Chuck and Connie Chang. (Photos: Alexis Kwan)

(clockwise from top left) Chau Le, Khan Osama, Tevy Chuck and Connie Chang. (Photos: Alexis Kwan)

This summer, City Bureau reporting fellows are looking to communities that historically have been undercounted by the U.S. Census, specifically immigrant families in Chicago. We hit the streets this summer and visited a handful of neighborhoods (Chatham, Uptown, West Ridge, Rogers Park and Little Village) to talk with residents about how they feel about the upcoming 2020 census.

What is your current knowledge about the U.S. Census?

“I know we fill it out whenever it comes in the mail. It’s like ethnicity, household, whatever amount of people are in the household. That’s as much as I know about it, I don’t really pay attention. We get the feedback after we filled it out, like population of what ethnicity or race is in our community.” — Tevy Chuck, 35, North Lake, Ill.

“I heard on the news that the president want to include the citizenship [question]. I think that someone say no and the thing is supposed to go to the court and I think that they say that the government has to give a valid reason why they want to include it in. That’s what I know so far about it. Now, at least that’s what I heard from the news.” — Alioune Diagne, 52, Chatham

“I have no idea, I’ve heard of it. I know, it’s like what, to keep count of how many of us there are. Is that what it is?” — Julio Adrian Martinez, 24, Little Village

“Where I’m from, Karachi, it’s a very overpopulated area and it’s constantly expanding, so the census never has an accurate representation of how many people there are there. I know that causes problems when it comes to the kind of things you have to tackle in a certain area or how many people are actually being represented and the people that are being taken care of, but I don’t know how that applies to the United States.” — Khan Osama, 24, Uptown

“I received information from [the community group] Enlace, my children’s schools, and from various workshops about this subject. I also am part of a group on Facebook that shares information, as well as groups on Whatsapp. I also got information from my church.” — Margarita Márquez, 48, Little Village

Have you participated in a census in the past? If so, what do you remember about it?

“Have I filled out the form? Yes, I did, I did. I'm very, what you call, obedient citizen... I think it’s very useful. [An acquaintance] just told me this year it won’t come on a form. It used to be the paper form, so I had to fill out the form and mail it to the address on the envelope.” — Connie Chang, 58, Uptown

“No, no, no. What were we voting for? What were we participating in the census for? The [Mexican] government barely ever works.  I was born there [near Mexico City] and I know the government. No government ever came to your door with the census. Not a single one.” — Mario Morales, Rogers Park, 64

Back in Burma, every year the government counted house by house and village by village. We had a piece of paper [that had the names of the people living there.] Whoever was present, they marked gray. Whoever was not present, they put a red x for that person doesn’t live there or is out of the country. That person is not able to come back again to the country. If he or she comes back, he or she could be arrested. In my country, the census is only for the citizens, not anyone else.” — Abdul Jabbar, Rogers Park, 32

“I can’t recall filling out one, to be exact, I probably did. I just feel like, at the time, like being young, and you’re just filling it out. And then if you move toward learning about the politics and all the wonders behind it, you’re like ah, there’s a lot of controversy. I pretty much think it’s whatever, but it means more to other people. And of course it affects each state because of that.” — Chau Le, 22, Uptown

What do you want to know about the census?

“What’s it for and how does one take part in it? Because again, I don’t know where you would go for that.”— Julio Adrian Martinez, 24, Little Village 

I would like to know what else the information is used for.”— Jose Luis Trejo, 43, Cicero

“I don’t know any details about the U.S. census and would like to know.” — Abdul Jabbar, Rogers Park, 32

“Why the race part of it? Why do you need to know about the money that people are making here? You just need to know the population, no? Cause that’s kind of what I understood when I was learning about it, like, you only wanna know about the population. And then, why ask about money and so forth?” — Chau Le, 22, Uptown

What would motivate people in your community to answer the census?
“I think that it’s important to raise awareness and help [immigrants] understand exactly what it is and how it can impact their life. I think that once they know that, they will be more willing to participate and I think that is something important.” — Alioune Diagne, 52, Chatham

“People need to know how important it is to be counted. It’s an awesome feeling to find ancestors from a couple of hundred years ago in a census record. To see where they lived and who they lived with, it helps you to build the story and recreate the history of your family. It’s not for you today but it’s what you give to your children and your children’s children and so forth. That’s the importance, it means that you exist.” — Patricia “Pat” Adams, ‘old enough to get Social Security,’ Uptown

“The motivation is people knowing the differences between the U.S. and our own country [Burma]. Mostly we came here because of persecution and we face a lot of discrimination [as Rohingya in Burma] so people want to know what is the difference between my country and here.” — Abdul Jabbar, Rogers Park, 32

“A lot of the older people don’t really pay attention to that. No one really reads it, so no one explains it. Like me, myself, I fill it out, it comes in the mail, but I honestly don’t pay attention to it. That’s like such a bad thing, I do vote but it’s one of those things I don’t really pay much attention to. If people knew what options they have that can help them get more funding people would do it, versus just complaining.” — Tevy Chuck, 35, North Lake, Ill.

“Well, generally, our state needs more money, so by all means fill it out. So the more people who are living here, the more we can have more money. We need money for our state, we have a lot of people you know!” — Chau Le, 22, Uptown

Do you think you’ll be participating in the census? Why or why not?

“It’s a good thing, a positive thing. Of course I will! I feel a lot more peace now because you said that they removed the question about citizenship.” — Margarita Márquez, 48, Little Village

“If I’m here, well, with all the things happening, who knows? But yes, if I’m here.” — Mario Morales, Rogers Park, 64

“I’m only here for a short amount of time but I would only do it if it were very easy to do. I’m not gonna lie about that. I would be more inclined to that for my own country [Pakistan] because I know that I’m going to live there.” — Khan Osama, 24, Uptown

“I probably will, because I’m told ‘Fill it out! Just fill it out!’” — Chau Le, 22, Uptown

Do you think people in your community will be participating in the census?

 “I don’t think so. People, you don’t know the intention of everybody. Some people, they can think it is a threat. Yeah, because they are not sure about the purpose of that.” —Tidiane Soumare, 63, Chatham

 “I think the census is good. But many people won’t count because they’re afraid and for that reason they won’t benefit. We have to count these people in our community for schools, for everything that will help us. But there’s so much fear here with this president. We [Enlace] have many workshops where we educate people about their rights but there are few people who come...I go to all the workshops and there’s 5, 6, 7 people. So I’m worried because they’re also not informed.” — Margarita Márquez, 48, Little Village

“Right now, everyone is afraid and they’re not going to participate in something like this.” — Mario Morales, Rogers Park, 64 

“It’s one of those things where if you know it’s an issue or if you know there is a point to doing it then you will be more likely to do it. Before you guys told me about it, I didn’t know that this was happening. If people don’t know that a census is happening, it might be because some people benefit from others not knowing, right?” — Khan Osama, 24, Uptown

How does the U.S. government use census data?

“I think it is used to better have an idea about the population and the different segment of the population in order for them to plan for the future what they need to do about health care, about infrastructure and so forth and so on.” — Alioune Diagne, 52, Chatham

“I know that it is used for government allocations, for schools, transportation, for infrastructure. I know that the census is major and it helps to determine the levels of political power that we have in this nation and representation.” — Patricia “Pat” Adams, ‘old enough to get Social Security,’ Uptown

“When the Census gathers sufficient data, then the Census Bureau can do analysis, all kinds of analysis. And then it will provide more accurate information to do research or to use it.” — Connie Chang, 58, Uptown


Have an idea or tip you would like to share on how the U.S. Census impacts immigrant communities? Send us your thoughts on how we should cover the U.S. Census at sarah@citybureau.org. 

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