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Census 2010: Going to Bat for South-Asian Participation

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Richmond Hill, Queens, had some of the city's lowest response rates in the 2000 census. And as of this week, the community's response rates remained almost 10 percent lower than the city's average. So for this census, the bureau is working with cricket teams hoping to reach South-Asians and Indo-Caribbeans who might not otherwise fill out the form.

It's Saturday night in a decked-out hall with gold trimming on the wall and lots of food. An Indian singer entertains the crowd. On any other night, it could be an Indian wedding, but tonight more than 100 cricket players and their families have come to hear a presentation about the census. It's a skeptical audience.

"They send you a form and say, 'Here, fill this out,'" says one of the cricketers, Tony Ramagan, who says he threw out his census form in 2000. "Somebody comes at your door," he continues, "I am not going to open my door....I don't know you."

Click here to find census participation rates for Richmond Hill and other neighborhoods.

Tonight's event is expected to teach a few players from each team how to fill out the form. The goal is to have them teach other players and their families how to do the same. Ramagan says his fellow cricketers worry about who will have access to the census answers.

"I guess there is a lot of fear. That's why I asked one of the questions whether is there any agency that have access to the questionnaire after you fill them out. So you know why should I fill this out just to expose myself?"

That's the type of fear Gurpal Singh is here to address. He helps run the non-profit organization SEVA, which works with the South-Asian community and organized tonight's dinner as a partnership with census officials. He stands in front of the room in a suit delivering a PowerPoint presentation.

Singh answers one cricketer's question about whether he should fill out the census form if he's an illegal immigrant.

"Did anybody see a question on immigration status? In 2000, there was. This time around there's not. And the message has not been going out that there is no immigration question anymore," he says.

Singh knows his audience and he knows immigration status isn't their only fear.

"How many people have more than five people in their house? Not just family in your house...more than five people that live in your house. Don't lie...you know you have someone in the basement. I know every single one of you who owns a house has somebody in the basement and probably a whole family in the attic. There are no secrets here."

And Singh says there's no reason to fear -- that even if people are renting their apartments illegally, and more people live in them than allowed by law, the census is forbidden from alerting other authorities. Otherwise a census employee could face a $250,000 fine.

So the census is hoping the community's high-profile cricket players, like Tony Ramagan, will drive home that message.

"There is a lot of respect that goes on in the cricket community if you are a really good player," Ramagan says.

There are dozens of cricket leagues in the Tri-State area alone and reaching their thousands of players could save the Census Bureau millions of dollars. The bureau says it costs less than 50 cents per household when someone returns a form -- and $57 per household if a census worker has to follow up with a visit. Cricket player Navdeep Saini says he's ready to "bat for the census."

"I am the captain in tomorrow's game, so I have to tell my teammates, 'Fill it out. Otherwise you don't play in the next game,'" he says.

When the dinner and music have ended, it's clear most of the crowd has bought the message. The free t-shirts and cricket bats with the census logo are all gone. But how far the players will spread the message remains to be seen.

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