This year marks my third Census, although it’s the first time I’m filling it out as the “head-of-household”. I was pretty excited when I first saw the advertisements, although having spent the last (literally) two minutes filling it out, I’m not sure why. It looks like a long form, but it’s just several columns – one column for each person – asking for the names, ages and races of the people living at that address. I kept waiting for the trick (how many times do people have to spend the night here in order for us to consider them residents?), but it never came. I didn’t even have to leave it on the table for E to fill out his portion – I could answer everything for him (although I did take great liberties in defining our relationship).
I think the reason I thought it was such a big deal is because of the choice I had to make on the 1990 form. Back then they didn’t have a multi-racial box or allow you to check more than one box. So my mother asked us which box we would like to check. I don’t actually remember anything beyond her question, but later I would think about it and be reminded of a chapter in Farewell to Manzanar, where the author’s father points out that he cannot possibly choose between Japan and America. For those of you who have read the book, I’m not trying to be melodramatic, it’s just that the choice is not dissimilar and I find it noteworthy and a little sad that as recent as 1990, America did not have a way of counting its multi-racial residents.
The literature that comes with the census makes it very clear that it is really important that we fill it out and return it. The reason is because the number of people living in an area determines the number of representatives they get and also how resources are allocated. A part of me is deeply suspicious of the “counting” process (it requires a noticeable amount of effort for me not to lose myself in a conspiracy theory fantasy), but the other part wants to be heard, to matter, even if it’s just in this small way.