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Austin's Asian Population Is Underrepresented In Public Life. The Census Could Help.

Alice Yi, the community engagement manager for the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Alice Yi, the community engagement manager for the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, says she worries Asians in the Austin area won't respond to the census.

Austin’s Asian-American population has been among the city’s fastest growing communities in the past decade, but groups are worried the upcoming census won’t reflect that.

The census is a national headcount that happens every 10 years. It informs the federal government about where it should spend money and how political power should be divvied up. An undercount of the Asian-American population could translate into less political representation in the years to come.

Alice Yi, the community engagement manager for the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, said that’s been a problem for a long time.

“Asian Americans are not represented in all different levels of leadership, and this is related to our civic engagement,” she said.

Yi is working to make sure Austin's Asian population is accurately counted. Officials expect to start sending out postcardsnext month directing residents to a website where they can respond to the census.  

The city also created a “complete count committee” specifically focused on the Asian population. Between 2010 and 2017, Yi said, the Asian-American population in Travis County grew by a whopping 30 percent – and it’s grown by another 25 percent since.

“There are about 130,000 Asian Americans that live in [Travis and Williamson] counties alone,” Yi said. “It’s surprising.”

Yi said she is worried many Asian Americans living in the Austin area won’t respond to the census. Those populations have historically been “very sensitive” to the count, she said, "because of a history of discriminatory federal policies aimed at them, such as Japanese internment and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Fear of interacting with the federal government has only grown since the Trump administration sought to add a citizenship question to the census, she said. Even though Latinos were expected to be most affected by the question – which in the end was not added – Yi said it could also have a big effect on Asian immigrants.

“This just builds up the anxiety for Asian Americans not to trust the government,” Yi said.

That’s why groups have been trying to get the word out. On Tuesday, the Center for Community Engagement at UT Austin is hosting a conversation about the census as part of its Front Porch Gathering series at 6:30 p.m. at the Asian American Resource Center.

Virginia Cumberbatch, the director of equity and community advocacy for the Center for Community Engagement, said Asian Americans have largely been invisible during conversations of underserved communities or communities of color in Austin.

Those communities are still vastly unrepresented and underserved in various levels of public life, she said, and there should be a wider conversation about why that is.

“We think about the Latinx community, the black community – all vital conversation when it comes to the census," Cumberbatch said, "but the Asian American community historically … is the most undercounted.”

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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