Thursday, 1 October 2009

Long Beach Cambodians want to be counted

Sara Pol-Lim discusses a the census count during the Cambodian Complete Count committee s regular meeting in Long Beach on Tuesday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/30/2009

(Post by CAAI News Media)

LONG BEACH - On the day the U.S. Census released poverty numbers showing 21 percent of Asians in Long Beach lived at or below the poverty line, the Cambodian Complete Count Committee met determined to do something about it.

The bleak numbers underscored the importance of making sure the community is adequately represented.

Cambodians have typically been what's called an "underserved" community, in part because they, like many impoverished and ethnic communities, prefer anonymity.

Finding such invisible populations is a challenge, particularly in efforts such as the dicennial census, which ramps up in January.

This is important because the federal government distributes hundreds of billions of dollars each year to states and communities based on census numbers. Simply stated, the more people, the more money. The more money, the better the funding for programs, including those in so-called "underserved" communities.

Census monitoring and outreach groups estimate each uncounted person can cost a state between $1,000 to $2,000 per year in federal funds.

"We have been undercounted for the last three decades," says Sara Pol-Lim, executive director of the United Cambodian Community, talking about Cambodian refugees who began flooding into Long Beach in 1979 in the wake

of the genocide in her home country.
The 2000 U.S. Census placed the Long Beach Cambodian population at about 17,000, second among Asians to Filipinos. Pol-Lim says that figure is grossly low.

Informal estimates from local groups put the number closer to 50,000, although many say that is high.

Wherever the truth lies, it's worth 10s of millions of dollars to the community annually.

In the 2000 Census, Pricewaterhouse Coopers estimated more than 500,000 people in California were uncounted, including more than 175,000 in Los Angeles county.

Ron Sok puts pins a map showing where certain demographics are in a hard to count area during the Cambodian Complete Count committee s meeting on Tuesday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Pol-Lim and the seven other members of the committee who met Tuesday want to change that.

"It's about challenging our community (to respond to the survey)," she said. "I've said before, it's our community to lose, or to gain."

In past counts, Cambodians were notorious for not responding due to difficulties with language and heightened fear of government and authority.

The key to Pol-Lim is finding a message that resonates within the community.

"If you trigger the right message," she said, "they're going to come up." That message would include family and respect.

As part of its outreach, the count committee is considering slogans such at "Stand up and be counted," "Respect yourself, be counted," "Count me in" and "Yes, we can in 2010."

The group also wants to be sure the messages translate well into Khmer.

Chan Hopson, of the Khmer Parents Association, wanted to make sure that youth were consulted and that the message reach them as well.

The group also began work on an asset allocation map, that looks at community services in Long Beach and where they are located, particularly within areas the census says were grossly undercounted.

"We need to look at who we're missing on the map," said Lian Cheun, program director of Khmer Girls in Action and the committee chair. "The next step will be to identify an action plan."

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