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Taiwanese Americans want own census box, instead of just "other Asian"

Taiwanese Americans are being encouraged to write in "Taiwanese," on top of checking the "other Asian" box on the census.
A worker gets ready to pass out instructions on how to fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga., on Aug. 13, 2019.
A worker gets ready to pass out instructions on how to fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga., on Aug. 13, 2019.John Amis / AP file

The United States census has never included Taiwan in its race and ethnicity category — but the Taiwanese American Citizens League is fighting for the community to be counted leading up to the 2020 survey.

The nonprofit advocacy group launched the 2020 Write in Taiwanese Census Campaign last year to encourage Taiwanese Americans to check the “Other Asian” category and also write in “Taiwanese” in this year’s census. U.S. households will begin receiving information on how to respond to the 2020 census beginning next week, according to the Census Bureau.

Since the organization’s founding in 1985, it has also conducted campaigns to encourage Taiwanese Americans to self identify on the last three census counts, Christina Hu, the group's director of civic engagement, told NBC Asian America. The race and ethnicity category on the decennial census allows Asian Americans to identify as Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Asian Indian, Vietnamese or Other Asian. The Census Bureau does count write-in responses in its reports.

“If you’re not any of those six types of Asian, then the only other option you have is the ‘other Asian’ box,” she said. “And then they have a line underneath it where you can write in.”

Among other factors, Hu points out that the presidential elections in both Taiwan and the United States make this year different. Taiwan held its presidential election in January, reinforcing Taiwanese Americans’ sense of identity.

“Whenever there is [an] election in Taiwan, then there's a resurgence of political awareness,” she said.

Washington does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, and the Department of State’s website says the U.S. does not support Taiwanese independence and acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is a part of China.

Census data is used to determine the allotment of congressional seats to states, distribute billions of dollars in funding to local, state and tribal governments and help plan community services such as new roads and schools.

The campaign aims to both educate the community on the importance of the census and to ensure that Taiwanese Americans are counted. The group has launched a digital campaign with videos and media kits in both English and Chinese to spread the message, and it also advocates for people to write in their race during local social and cultural events.

Hu pointed to the 2010 census to show the success of past campaigns. That survey showed a more than 65 percent increase in Taiwanese Americans counted since the 2000 census.

“I think what we’re doing in terms of educating people about the ‘Other Asians’ category and also not just checking the ‘Other Asians,’ but write in what kind of other Asian you are is really important for — across the board — for a lot of Asian communities, as well,” she said.

Hu emphasized that this year’s campaign is building on the work from past campaigns, and that she believes it has always been important for people to participate in the census and to vote because democracy is made up of people.

“We have to do this because this is the backbone of democracy — in America, anyway,” Hu said.