Connecting with Arabic Speakers

Billboard in Reseda/Northridge, CA (Camille Lehmann)

As I came across the billboard in Arabic, I did some research and it seemed a bit out of place in the area. About 3% of adults in Reseda and 5% in Northridge, CA speak a language at home that is categorized as “other” by the Census. Despite what some would consider an insignificant number, the U.S Census Bureau has launched an advertisement in the middle of these areas targeting Arabic speakers, which is an even smaller percentage in the “other” category. Although these areas have a small percentage of Arabic-speakers, there is a mosque that brings the people in these communities together to pray. The goal of the billboard advertisement was to make a connection with the Arabic speakers and their chance to fill out the census.

“Tampa Masjid” is a mosque that is within walking distance of the Arabic billboard. It’s apparent that they are targeting Arabic speakers in the community to make sure they are counted in the 2020 Census. Mrs. Fam is a perfect example of how this advertising is aiding in encouraging Arabic speakers. Fam stated, “I saw a sign on Tampa, close to a mosque, probably because there is a lot of Arabic people.” Fam mentioned that the signs in Arabic are encouraging and helping people who don’t speak English that well. Although the number of Arabic speakers can be considered insignificant in the previous Census, the Census Bureau paid for an advertisment in this area hoping to attract the members of the mosque. This indicates that the government is trying to adjust its count on this underrepresented community.

Connecting to Arabic speakers was a much bigger plan due to the increasing population. Biane Abdulla, a leadership fellow for the Arab American Civic Council (AACC), said that they’ve been doing outreach work in the greater Los Angeles area for the Census. Abdulla stated, “We launched a campaign called Arab Americans rising, to encourage people to engage in civic participation like filling out the Census.” The AACC did door to door canvassing to talk about the Census and drop-off flyers to mainly Middle Eastern homes. Because of the Coronavirus, these types of campaigns are no longer being continued making it harder to reach the undercounted communities.

According to NPR, Arab-Americans are a growing population in the U.S. and are being undercounted by the Census. Arab immigrants started to come to the United States during the 1880’s according to the Arab American Institute. The AAI stated that the majority of Arab Americans are native-born and about 82% are citizens. Amani Fam and her husband said they moved to America in 1985 and have filled the past three census forms.

As it has been reported in the Public Policy Institute of California, Los Angeles is home to one of the largest “hard-to-count” populations. The communities in LA are undercounted in the Census due to large number of renters, language barriers, immigration status issues, and misrepresentation with individuals’ racial identities. Efforts such as the billboard above are helping to raise awareness of the importance of the Census and mitigating the problem of a language barrier.

The X represents the location of the billboard. Northridge and Reseda area is mostly yellow and light blue which ranges from 40–56%.

For the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau officials introduced a half-billion-dollar media campaign for digital ads, print ads, TV, radio commercials, and billboards in 13 different languages. With diverse advertising, the Census Bureau is hoping for the campaign to reach many individuals encouraging their responses to the 2020 Census.

The Coronavirus pandemic has increased in California and the advertising for the Census has changed dramatically. People aren’t leaving their homes on a daily basis and it’s getting difficult for everyone to be reached. As of March, the advertising for the Census has become an issue. Since there has been a stay at home order, people haven’t been traveling limiting the campaigns on billboards and bus stops. The only ads people are seeing and hearing are on TV, radio, and social media. Luckily, Fatima Mohamed Jdid was able to see advertisements inside of a shopping center before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fatima Mohamed Jdid, who moved to the U.S. in 1996 stated, “I’ve seen no advertisements other than notices in the mall in English not Arabic.” Although she hasn’t seen any other forms of advertising her daughter, Diana Jdid, mentioned she’s seen Census ads on social media and TV commercials only in English. The Jdid family managed to submit their Census form and are going to be counted into the statistics of residents in Northridge, CA that speak a language categorized as “other” in the 2020 Census.

As the Census deadline was postponed due to the Coronavirus, the Census operation plan will continue after June 1, 2020. Census offices will reopen with a full staff and will resume with the in-person activities following the guidelines from the Federal, State, and local authorities about COVID-19. With this extension, people will be encouraged to participate and be counted in the 2020 census. Hopefully, the Arabic speaking community will have better representation in this coming count due to the extended period and the many outreach programs.

2020 Census Operational Adjustments Due to COVID-19



CSUN Journalism

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