Part of ELA’s mission is to help give ignored communities a larger voice in the public sphere, putting our knowledge to work in helping reach the hardest-to-reach New Yorkers. Given our focus on endangered languages, we commonly work with communities that are virtually invisible, lumped together with larger groups for various reasons and usually not recognized as the distinct populations they are.
ELA worked with the unprecedented NYC Census 2020 Complete Count Fund effort to ensure that these communities are counted in the decennial survey, which allocates funds and determines political representation for every city in the U.S. New York’s history of being undercounted is fueled in part by the city’s large population of immigrants, many of whom justifiably distrust government solicitations or don’t speak any of the languages in which the census is administered. In undercounted areas, insufficient resources and political power exacerbate the problems that these immigrant communities already face. To avoid another undercount in 2020, ELA is using various outreach methods to explain the importance of the census to speakers of small, minority, and indigenous languages.
Two of the biggest challenges in reaching out to the communities described here are fear and suspicion in the current political climate. As a consequence, many of those in the communities we are trying to reach have essentially gone clandestine. To overcome this, it is crucial that we reach out to communities not just in official state languages like Spanish but in the mother tongues that these communities use at home and with family. This is not only a matter of improving comprehension but of building trust.
As part of its outreach efforts, ELA has released 20 video messages and three audio messages recorded by our network of speakers explaining and promoting the census in over a dozen languages with no census support, including Indigenous Latin American languages: Garifuna, K’iche’, Mixtec / Tu’un Savi (Cuautipian), Mixtec / Tu’un Savi (Yuvinani), Kichwa (Ecuador), Quechua (Peru), and Me’phaa (Tlapanec). Other census videos in Tibetan, Nepali, Tajik, and Indonesian targeted national languages of Asia in which few if any census-related materials available. Speakers of these languages make the important case that an accurate count can improve resources for schools, libraries, infrastructure, services and political representation. Collectively as of 2021, the videos had received over 35,000 views across Facebook and YouTube and were shared widely in the relevant communities not only in New York but around the world.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ELA replaced plans to hold public events and canvass in person with heavier remote efforts like text-banking and phone-banking, specifically targeted to areas with low census response rates. With the global pandemic threatening the count, ELA continues to do everything possible to avoid an undercount of the diverse communities that define New York City.