Nepali Experience in the US Census

“Your participation in the census is easy, secure, and vital. If you do not want a census worker to visit you, fill out and mail back your census form by April 19, 2010.” This was one of the sentences in the pamphlet made in many languages including Nepali, for the American census.

Exactly one year before the census in Nepal, Nepalis living in America expressed their participation in the American Census.  In the last few censuses, the population of Nepalis in America has grown from 2,616 in 1990 to 9,399 in 2000. According to NRN, in 2001, there were 11,715 Nepalis in the USA.

On another pamphlet, the words “Our future is in out hands: let’s participate in the 2010 census to make sure Nepali voices are heard” were printed in English. Nepali volunteers and organizations were very actively working to make sure that no Nepali was left behind in the census this time. Everyone did the best they could in their respective roles.
The volunteers and organizations working for the census did not just distribute pamphlets and tee-shirts; they also made websites and blogs ( They organized meetings to make the campaign successful, and talked about benefits of participating in the census wherever and whenever possible. To increase participation, they also formed the “Nepali Complete Count Committee”.
The American Government had also allotted funds for the Nepali communities to ensure Nepali participation in the census. Those funds were provided through the Asian American Organization. “We used those funds to recruit volunteers, and go from door to door”, said Narwada Chhetri of Adhikar, a New York based NGO which had set up a whole different department for the census. In the vehicles that went around neighborhoods to promote participation in the census, there were slogans and requests in Nepali.
The eighth page census form was printed in English. Because not everyone would understand the technical terms used in that form, Adhikar translated it into Nepali and used it to educate people.
The website run by the American Government, there was a page in Nepali- with instructions on how to fill the census form. If people read the whole page, they would easily know how to participate in the Census. To make it easier to fill the census forms, the animated voice message was also recorded in a Nepali voice.
The website for census had information in five dozen languages besides English. It is clear from those five dozen languages that people from all over the world have settled in America. The Asian languages represented were: Gujrati, Hindi, Japanese, Cambodian, Korean, Malayan, Nepali, Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Thai, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Nepali newspapers, magazines, and e-newspapers that are published from different parts of America requested Nepali people to participate in the census. The print media carried information on it, while e-newspapers provided links to the website. They also published news about the census.
“When we went to our communities, we talked about benefits of participating in the census.” said Nepali ambassador to the United States, Dr. Shankar Prasad Sharma. Although there are many political and social benefits of having number of Nepali people counted, according to ambassador Sharma, there is no any official record of how many people of Nepali origin live in the US. Nepali Embassy in the US also helped distribute census information kits written in Nepali to its visitors.
American constitution requires a national census once every 10 years to count the population and determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. Every year, the US federal government allocates more than $400 billion to states and communities based, in part, on census data. Having number of people counted, will help Nepali voice to be heard by US political and government system.
Nepalis in the USA can be categorized into three categories, including people who migrated after obtaining a diversity visa, people who came in as students, and those who migrated in other ways.    “I participated in the census for the better future of my children. In my town, all of us participated in the Census. We have an organization called the Nepal American Friendship Association (NAFA). After the census started, the president of NAFA wrote personally to all the Nepalis to participate in the census,” said Himal Regmi, who had come to America after getting a DV visa. Regmi, who works at Wisconsin University, has two children.
Some Nepalis who are citizens or have green cards even said ‘we are already citizen / have a green card, why participate?’ Some of the people who don’t have legal status to live the US were afraid that they would get caught by census information and forced to leave the country. Community organizations and government agencies faced difficulties to motivate people to fill and return the forms. It was also challenging to explain that there is nothing to fear from the census because it does not differentiate between illegal and legal residents. By law, an individual’s responses from census cannot be shared with any agencies including those responsible for immigration enforcement.
In America, only people who were born in Nepal are counted as Nepalis. The broad definition of American Nepali has no significance in the census. Therefore, it is hard to predict the size of the Nepali-speaking population in America. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of 20th June, 27,926 Bhutanese of Nepali origin have been resettled in America. But the term “Nepali” should refer to Nepalis who entered America through India, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, etc.
Doug Hall, the former New Hampshire state house representative who has been helping Bhutanese refugees, said “parents and grandparents born in Bhutan filled the form out as Bhutanese. The generation that was born in Nepal called themselves Nepalis. There has been some confusion, and it will obviously be confusion when the statistics are analyzed.”
The Census Bureau will present population counts to the President on December 31st, 2010. It is estimated that the population of America will be over 308.4 million by the end of 2010. “After putting so much effort into this, we would be really happy if Nepali population count reached at least 50 thousand,” says Chhetri of Adhikar.

(Koirala, a senior sub-editor of Kantipur Daily, Currently in the USA)

Posted on 9th November 2010 on

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