Tag Archives: Sandy Close

Don’t Let Us Disappear From The Census Say Youth Contest Winners

At a time when San Francisco lags behind the statewide average in census response rates, youth artists and writers have a special message for those who have not yet filled out their forms: “Don’t let us disappear.” 

The young people spoke at a June 3 virtual awards celebration honoring winners of a Census contest for 14-21 year olds dubbed “Why My Family Counts.” The contest drew over 100 contestants working in several mediums, including watercolor, charcoal and pencil sketches, as well as poetry, essay, spoken word and video. The contest was designed to engage youth in the process of ensuring an accurate census count.

The celebration opened with a panel of civic leaders and census experts who drew direct connections between young people insisting on being counted and nationwide protests over racist violence.

 “Our communities of color and particularly our black community are in pain,” noted Adrienne Pon, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Community Affairs which sponsored the contest. “Today’s event is about more than an art contest.  It’s about celebrating the voices and creativity of our youth who choose to express themselves … in ways that give us reasons to hope that tomorrow will be a better day, that black lives matter, that we ALL count.”

Currently, San Francisco has a response rate of 58% compared to the state average of 61%. The Bay Area overall has a 68% response rate. Last week, the county hit a plateau, registering an increase of only 1%, noted Robert Clinton, OCEIA’s project manager for the 2020 Census. Clinton noted that tracts of the city which reported high rates of COVID-19 infections also had low census participation rates, as did neighborhoods with the lowest income levels.   

Clinton said that the census “is one of the many tools that our federal government has to make us seen as a people but also to erase us as a people.” He referenced the long lengths of time people wait on the phone to reach a census operator as well as limited language options.

“The language of the census doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to people who are limited English proficient who are under educated or who have been marginalized in many other ways,” Clinton said.

Stephanie Kim, Director of United Way Bay Area, described the census as a tool of empowerment that “gives communities a say in who leads the political institutions that have the power to protect or to harm us.”

“Our communities deserve to thrive, not just survive. The same racism that permeates our justice system and sanctions police brutality also has robbed many black communities of the resources they need and deserve,” said Kim.

David Tucker, a census expert with the state complete count committee, pointed out that since 1980 California’s black population has had a below average participation rate. “We need to use this opportunity that we are under siege for social injustice to speak out. While I know we are getting exhausted, I am encouraged and excited by the messages you are sending out to your families and friends. The census is the thread that binds us all.”

Sonny Le, a specialist with the  Census Bureau, announced that the Census Bureau wants to activate youth leaders who could become census enumerators in their own communities. Le, who  grew up as a refugee from Vietnam in a Tenderloin apartment with three other families, noted that  “For me, the census is  personal. Some of my relatives are still facing the same problems of access and services I did in the 1980s.”  

Youth speakers followed the census advocates with personal stories echoing the importance of the census as a tool of visibility and empowerment.   Angelo Gerard Ubas, 14, said “I  painted a family of birds standing on a tree branch looking at the city skyline which was blurry. I know the census doesn’t count animals…but the census will sharpen the image of the city, of who lives here, and help government know what they have to do to improve.”

Maygie Li, 21, said her family immigrated from China and moved to Montana where her grandparents helped build the railway. She is currently a student at California College of Arts. In drawing the face of  a woman etched against a map of Native lands in Montana, she aimed to uplift an invisible population, and show “how we are all connected and need to be counted.”

Elijah Ladeki, 18, recited his poem entitled “Counted Out” which he wrote “as an opportunity to help my community.” The poem, excerpted here, describes “all my life” living in housing projects.  “I will look  at my single mother and wonder why she is stressed/I can’t miss out trying to give us a mention/It’s been way too long putting our rights on layaway.”  

Jesse Martin, 15, shared his video of a Thanksgiving meal celebrating his large family which he calls “a mix of different ethnicities which are the foundation of San Francisco. If we don’t get counted, we get silenced.” 

Bobbi Brown, 21, recited her tribute to the 2010 census, “No one should disappear/Everyone should count/community and fear/that out/2020 Census include all of mine …”

For full texts and paintings by these and other winners, please go to https://ethnicmediaservices.org/myfamilycounts/

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Measure T – How Will We Measure Up?

On a pleasant October afternoon, a diverse group of media representatives gathered on a quiet street in San Jose, around a picnic table laden with goodies. This was not a mere picnic.The meet was hosted by Ethnic Media Services (EMS), a Bay Area non profit organization that calls for wider representation in terms of diversity on public issues. The organization works to increase the scope of the ethnic media to engage audiences and increase participation towards forming an inclusive democracy. It aims to give a human face to an otherwise “invisible” ethnic media sector.

Ethnic Media Services Founder, Sandy Closehas worn many hats an award winn

ing journalist, editor, and Director of New America Media (NAM) which was the first and largest collaboration of ethnic news organizations. She founded EMS to continue key projects with ethnic media in December 2017.  The agenda on hand was Measure T – A bond issue for Public Safety and Infrastructure which is on the ballot for San Jose voters in Santa Clara County, on November 6, 2018.

The location chosen for the meet was Rock Springs Park, a children’s park, situated against a lush backdrop of wooded area. You wouldn’t think much of it, were it not for the image on the media briefing that was handed out. A dramatic picture showed the same park totally flooded with murky water. A second aerial shot showed a residential neighborhood similarly flooded, rows of half submerged cars lining the street. These images were from the February 2017 flooding of Coyote Creek. Years of drought had led to an accumulation of brush and other vegetation all along the creek bed. This meant that it could not channel the large volume of rain water, which further led to the overflow and flooding.

Ms. Ming Ngoc Do, a local resident and flood survivor, gave a moving first-person account of the flood. She spoke of the devastation and helplessness, she and many of her friends faced due to being displaced from their homes. Lack of warning from the USGS and other authorities left the residents angry and frustrated. Roughly 14,000 homes were evacuated and the city sustained nearly $100 million in damages.  Ms. Do, spent days after the waters receded, cleaning up debris and salvaging belongings. “It was a very very tough time for us! We cannot sustain another flood!” she exclaimed.

Support for Measure T:

San Jose is the largest city in Northern California. It has experienced rapid growth in the technological sector which has resulted in a booming metropolis, leaving its aging infrastructure suffering at the same time.  Measure T makes an important point when it comes to addressing the upgrade of existing infrastructure. It takes into account that infrastructure improvement does not mean adding concrete and asphalt; but instead, aims to work with the natural environmental systems that surround us. It calls for preventive measures being put in place to help in effective disaster planning measures.

San Jose Mayor, Sam Liccardo spoke at the event and called for critical action in favor of Measure-T. With reference to the Coyote Creek flooding, Mayor Liccardo stated that important lessons had been learned in the aftermath of the event. He outlined how the sum of $ 650 million would be used to update community services like emergency operations, 911 communication facilities, fire and road safety, flood control measures, and repairing seismically vulnerable local bridges, to list a few. $50 million of the funds will be allocated towards buying land in Coyote Valley to protect against floods and preserve water quality.  He lauded Measure T as being a forward-thinking, 21st century infrastructure; working to co-exist with the environment, and for the protection of nature. “San Jose is at the forefront of such a bond measure”, he stated.

Alice Kaufman, is the Legislative Advocacy Director with Committee for Green Foothills, a Bay Area organization whose mission is to protect the open spaces, farmlands, and natural resources through advocacy, education, and grassroots action. Ms. Kaufman stressed the importance of retaining our green spaces in this rapidly expanding world we live in. She added her voice towards preserving healthy, working ecosystems as being our best investment in the future. The Committee for Green Foothills is a strong supporter of Measure-T.

Andrea Mackenzie and Mark Landgraf represented the Open Space Authority, an organization whose main objective is the conservation of natural environment. They work to preserve undeveloped land and restore it to its natural state, while safeguarding water sources and regional trails. They also work with partners and private landowners on acquisitions that help achieve their objective of preserving greenbelts and urban buffers. In the case of Coyote valley, the idea is to acquire land surrounding Coyote creek, and planting vegetation that helps soil absorption while purifying aquifers. This will create a natural flood protection zone that prevents catastrophic events like the flooding of February 2017. Measure-T will allocate a budget of $50 million towards such improvements in the Coyote Valley.

Opposition for Measure T: 

While it has a broad bipartisan coalition support, Measure T has its share of nay sayersCitizens for Fiscal Responsibility (CFR) has voiced concerns about the proposal. Their argument is that the city of San Jose should take a conservative view on fiscal measures. In an already existing housing crisis, homeowners will be looking at an increase in property taxes with this bond proposal. CFR is concerned that such a move will make the dream of home ownership unattainable for many San Jose residents. This will further lead to landlords raising rents to offset the increase, squeezing tenants and worsening an already escalating rental market. CFR states that San Jose has the funds it needs, but cites government inefficiency as the reason for poor management of its budget. It is one of the voices against the proposed bond measure.

The Silicon Valley Tax Payers Association is another organization that argues against Measure T. Calling taxpayers to ‘Vote NO on T’, the organization cautions residents that the long term interest (25 – 30 years) on $650 million is a setback that neither they nor the city can afford to undertake. Their argument is that while many of the communication technologies Measure T seeks to improve are necessary, they will likely be obsolete over the period it takes to pay back the interest on the bond.

The tag-line for the bond measure reads, “Measure T puts SAFE-T first”. The list of proposed improvements promise a city better equipped to mitigate damage from inevitable natural disasters.

A two-third voter majority is required to successfully pass the measure. The date to vote on Measure T is November 6th.

Will San Jose measure up?!