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UTOPIA works to make sure Pacific Islanders are counted in this year’s census

United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) has done census outreach within its communities through the nonprofit's food distribution program.
Courtesy of UTOPIA
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United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) has done census outreach within its communities through the nonprofit's food distribution program.

The 2020 census deadline was extended to Sept. 30 from its original date in April, due to COVID-19. The data collected will help decide how billions of dollars in federal funding are spent on programs like Medicaid and mental health services.

Between 2000 and 2010, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, or NHPI, communities were among the fastest-growing race groups, according to census data.

The Kent-based nonprofit, United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA), is working to make sure its community is not undercounted. The organization also uses census data to tailor programs to the community’s specific needs.

Tweetie Fatuesi, a community organizer for UTOPIA, explains how they’re reaching out to make sure community members fill out the census.

“Most recently we’ve been doing it through our food distribution program,” Fatuesi said. “We’re able to meet with them at their cars and hand out census outreach messages.”

UTOPIA’s food distribution program has since stopped, but the organization is continuing its census efforts online through social media.

Taffy Johnson, the executive director of UTOPIA, says one of the reasons NHPI communities are at such high risk of being undercounted relates to citizenship.

“You know there was a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear that was imposed on our community as well, working with folks who were undocumented when there were conversations about the citizenship question being added to the census,” Johnson said.

Additionally, for folks in the LGBTQ community, there’s the complicated matter of gender identification.

“On there, the question asks about your gender, if you are male or female,” Johnson said. “A lot of the folks we work with they don’t identify as either or.”

UTOPIA is hosting a panel discussion about the importance of filling out the census next Thursday, Sept. 24. It will be livestreamed and available on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.