Forgetting someone?

Forgetting someone?

America, land of the free and home of the ethnically undefined.
This month, about 120 million households are expected to fill out the 2010 U.S. Census: just a few questions that, in theory, shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, and will help the government determine the demographic landscape of the country and how it’s changed in the past 10 years. The census inarguably carries great importance, not only in helping officials create and redefine fair voting district lines, but also by creating a map of change, of the movement of people carving out what will become the new face of the country.
If that sounds somewhat inspired, well, it is. Few acts of the government, aside from actual voting, provide such a sense of the “stand up and be counted” mentality on which this country prides itself. But what if, scanning the questions on this year’s succinct census form (prided by the bureau as “one of the shortest forms in history”), you don’t see yourself?
Question nine, in which Americans are asked to describe their ethnic makeup by checking one or more boxes, has long been controversial. In an interview with The Chronicle, Census Chief Robert M. Groves simply said, “There’s no right answer here.” He was answering the question: which races or ethnicities merit being listed on the form, and which must be left as write-ins? Groves sited space restraints as limiting the number of categories listed (14 this year), but we can’t help but wondering: where are those of Middle Eastern descent, including, of course, the Jews (but not only, there were about 1.2 million Americans of Arab ancestry in 2000, according to the last census)?
Maybe Jews and Arabs don’t comprise a huge number, but compare our numbers to the 58,000 Chamorros counted in 2000 (Guamanian or Chamorro is its own checkbox), and there seems to be an imbalance, especially when, as Groves said, “The discussion concerns what groups are most prevalent. We cover them first, then go down the sides of the group.” Granted, of course, that Guam and Chamorro are U.S. territories. Still, are they any more American than other larger, ethnic minorities in the country?
Counting Jews in the census, of course, raises old questions, are we a religion or a people? If we’re a religion, then the Census Bureau is right to exclude us, but if we’re a people, even an ethnic group — and we have strong ethnic traits as well (a language, a country or origin, a common history and customs) — then why are we excluded and the Chamorros for example, are in?
Adding a box for Americans of Middle Eastern descent could have at least partly addressed this question.
It seems odd that Americans of Middle Eastern descent weren’t added as a category this decade after revealing in 2000 numbers much larger than other groups. The census should measure the change in the country (Groves noted that the term Negro will likely disappear from the census form); in 2010, they simply didn’t adapt fast enough.