The television ad focuses on a little desi girl walking hand in hand with her dad towards a mailbox, as members of the community cheer them on. As they drop the census form into the mail, the narrator reiterates the need for the South Asian community to participate in the 2010 census. The clip ends with the slogan, “Hamara Bhavishya, Hamare Haath (Our future is in our hands).”

If you have noticed this advertisement, in between watching Shahrukh Khan putting his hands up in the air for “Om-Shanti-Om” or dancing his heart out to “Mar Jani,” it’s an indication of the success of the “Census 2010: South Asians Count! Campaign.”

Says Sacidhar Nambakkam, a first generation Indian American who participated in the 2000 census, “It is important for Indians to participate in the census and help reflect our numerical strength. Only if we are part of a sufficiently large group will we get noticed. The census data will be used by many, from restaurant owners who decide if an area has a sufficiently large Indian population to start an Indian restaurant to librarians who decide if their libraries need to carry books in Indian languages.”

The U.S. Census counts every resident (citizen or non-citizen) in the United States, and is required by the Constitution to take place every 10 years. The data collected in the census is used to decide if the number of schools, hospitals, and senior centers in a particular area is keeping pace with the population there. Census data is also used to determine if a community has enough representation in Congress. Says Prof C.N.Le of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “An accurate count of the U.S. population forms the basis for many important but often overlooked political, economic, and social decisions that end up affecting our daily lives.”

Census forms have already been mailed to every residence in the United States. The 2010 census is the shortest one in history. It has just 10 simple questions. The bulk of the questions concentrate on the number of persons living in the house, their names, and gender. Question 9 on the form is about the race. Indian Americans would check the box titled “Asian Indian.”

“Several sectors, including health-care, use the census data. It is important for the census data to reflect the accurate South Asian population in a community. Only then will health-providers in areas with high South Asian populations be geared to deal with diseases that are especially prevalent among South Asians,” says Aparna Kothari, Communications Fellow at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). One example of this kind of customization is the South Asian Heart Center in the El Camino Hospital in the Bay Area, which has a high population of South Asian immigrants. The Center’s mission statement “to dramatically reduce the high incidence of coronary artery disease among South Asians, and save lives, through a comprehensive, culturally-appropriate program..” reflects the population it serves.

Though participation in census is mandatory, traditionally there has been a section of the population, especially South Asians, which has been reluctant to participate in the census. The Census Bureau has been working extra hard to target and encourage this segment of the population. Ads about the importance of participating in the census have been launched in 28 different languages. A help sheet to fill out the census form is available in 59 languages including several Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

According to SAALT, “The latest figures from the Office of Immigration estimates that there are about 200,000 undocumented immigrants from India. Their failure to participating in the Census will result in a serious under count of South Asians. Undocumented immigrants should not fear the census. Federal Census confidentiality laws override the Patriot Act. No information filled in the census form can be divulged to the Immigration authorities.”

Information collected in the Census is solely used to produce statistics. Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of all information. All Census Bureau employees take the oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. Only aggregate data is available to the public. Statistics like the number of persons living in the United States, and the number of foreign born persons in a state are calculated from the census data and are available for the public here.

Information regarding individual households, names, phone numbers, and immigration status of individuals are all kept confidential.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of SAALT says, “It is important for all South Asians to participate in the Census. It is easy, and will take only 10 minutes of your time.” If you don’t mail your form back, you impose additional cost on the Census process. For every percentage point increase in the 2010 Census mail-back participation rate, the Census Bureau saves about $85 million in follow-up costs.

“If you don’t mail in your census form, you might receive a visit from the census taker. Take care to check his or her identification before divulging information about yourself and your family,” adds Iyer.

The first step in having our voices heard is getting counted. Be sure to mail the Census form back this April.

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Sujatha Ramprasad loves to read poetry and  philosophy.

Key Dates to Remember:

• March 15 2010: Census forms are mailed or delivered to households

• April 1st 2010:  National Census Day. Completed forms need to be back in the mail

• April-July 2010: Census takers visit households that did not return a form by mail