Oct 22, 2020 Letters
The US census count that was supposed to formally end on October 31, has come to an abrupt end. Trump Administration got the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court order that allowed an extension of the count through the month. Trump wanted to discontinue the process a month ago. The court ruled earlier this week in Trump’s favor ending it now and its ruling cannot be appealed. The Guyanese diaspora in New York and elsewhere are severely undercounted.
Politicians and Guyanese closely involved in the census told this writer that just about half of the Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Caribbean population of New York has been counted. Over half Afro Guyanese are counted; their response rate seems higher because of elected representatives determined effort to count them. Their legislative seat numbers depend on an accurate and full count. The higher the count, the more seats they get. Indo Guyanese have no elected representation in any influential government in America, and thus virtually no one in government circles champion their interests.
Sections of Queens where most Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese in particular are settled, are severely undercounted. Afro Guyanese gravitate towards Brooklyn where 63% of census is completed. The response rate was very low – just under 50% — for Richmond Hill, dubbed Little Indo-Guyana.
Hundreds of thousands of Indo-Guyanese are missed in the count. Afros are also undercounted. Among those excluded from the census are renters, those living in illegal apartments (basements, attics, divided apartments), and undocumented immigrants. Thousands of Indo and Afro Guyanese live in illegal apartments. Undocumented immigrants numbering some 11M are afraid to fill out the census and as such are undercounted. Guyanese are estimated at about 3% of the undocumented or a total of over 30,000. One of three Indo-Guyanese families owns a home in the greater Queens or about 70K homes. Of these, one of three homes has an illegal apartment in which reside between two and three individuals. That would total over 20K illegal apartments in which are an estimated 45K undercounted residents. Some half of the Indo-Guyanese population who are citizens or residents did not complete the census. So some 75K Guyanese are not counted as a result of immigration status and or living in illegal dwelling units. And a further 150K are not counted because the head of households don’t see any benefits from completing the census. “How meh guh benefit from dah”, they comment. So at least 200K Indo-Guyanese are not counted in the census. Afro Guyanese undercount is being estimated by their community leaders. At $7K per person, the Indo Guyanese community stands to be deprived of $1.4B annually over the next decade and that is only in the greater Queens area. Statewide and country-wide, the amount would exceed $2B annually. The count of Guyanese in other states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, and Illinois are not known. Southern states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida where Guyanese are also clustered tend to have a higher count than in the northeast.
Less Afro-Guyanese live in illegal dwellings and therefore are less likely to be undercounted. African American completion rate is about 60%. The completion rate for Flatbush where many Afro Guyanese reside is 60%. In some middle class neighbourhoods where Afro Guyanese cluster in Brooklyn and Queens is also around 60% in line with city trend.
Community outreach organiser Ashook Ramsaran, who is co-chair of Queens Complete Count Committee, said a valiant effort was made to get Guyanese to fill out the census but the success rate and interest in filling out the form was very low.
Much persistent effort was put into getting Guyanese to complete the census. It has been a problem every ten years with Guyanese showing disinterest in filing out government issued forms.
This year, aside from Ramsaran, community advocates Vishnu Mahadeo, Aminta Kilawan Narine, Annetta Seecharran, and a few others were involved in voluntary reach out effort to convince Indo Caribbean owned families in Queens to complete the form. They also worked assiduously on the streets to encourage adults to complete and return the form. Jamal Baksh was on the census payroll to boost turnout in the Caribbean community; he liaised with city officials to boost numbers. Virtually no one worked harder than Vishnu Mahadeo moving around the South Asian, Afro Guyanese and Indo Caribbean communities to sensitize them on the importance of completing the census. He organized seminars and several social functions with social distancing to boost the count. He worked feverishly engaging grass roots efforts and strategies to increase the count. This writer also chipped in to sensitize the public about the census, appealing to the public in writings and to organizations to encourage their membership to complete the process. The Arya Spiritual Center and a few other Guyanese organizations donated foods to promote census completion.
But “Wha meh guh get out a dah”, or “what dah guh do fuh me” was a typical response among Indo Guyanese. Even educated Guyanese were resistant to completing the census form. They are fearful of government obtaining information on them reminiscent of the days of Burnham and Hoyte on filling out forms during the 1980s. Indo Caribbeans worry that government would become familiar with their financial worth and tax them. Some say that criminals would prey on them. Guyanese or others need not be afraid of providing information on the census. The census cannot be used against anyone not even undocumented immigrants and it is required by the Constitution. The US Constitution may be the only one in the world to mandate a census at the start of every decade to reapportion seats to a legislature. The census also determines the amount of resources and services, including hospitals, schools, colleges, public housing, etc. a community gets. “Regrettably, Guyanese Americans can’t see beyond their immediate personal benefits”, lamented an activist deeply involved in the effort to boost the count among Indo-Caribbean people. The entire community and the city and state benefits when people complete the census.
The undercount would deprive the community of much needed resources and electoral representation in all branches of US legislature – City Council, State Senate and State Assembly, and the US House of Representatives. That money would probably end up going to other communities that are properly counted. Afro Guyanese are also undercounted in the census and also stand to lose money though their undercount is lower than Indians.
In the city, just under 63% completed the forms. In Richmond Hill, it is about 48%. In Flatbush and other Afro Caribbean communities, it is in the 50s percentile. This means that the community could be deprived of a lot of federal government money. The census completion rate for other parts of NYC, NY State and other states are not known. Rural states and rural and suburban communities seem to have a higher census response rate. Whites have a higher response rate than non- Whites. Jewish Americans have the highest response rate among all ethnic groups.
Aside from monetary value, undercounting also means a community would lose political power and House representation that would protect their interests, as well as crucial funding for schools, hospitals, roads, Medicaid, and other programs. It will be a rough decade for the diaspora in America.
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