San Jose Mercury News: “Taiwanese-Americans spread word to increase 2010 census numbers”

By Joe Rodriguez

When Grace Hwang Lynch fills out the census questionnaire that arrived at her San Jose home recently, she will think back to how her father greeted a census taker 30 years ago and follow his lead: She will ignore the box marked Chinese, and carefully write in “Taiwanese.”

“He felt that strongly about his Taiwanese identity,” Hwang said, “and he’s told every census since then that he’s Taiwanese.”

Hwang is joining a growing Taiwanese-American movement that is using the power of the Internet to increase its census count, a result that could benefit her community — but has already irritated mainland China.

The effort is more than just political statement. While there is no Taiwanese box for them to mark, people who write the word on their form are counted as Taiwanese, just as the U.S. government would count Vietnamese, Japanese and other Asian groups.

“It’s a way of telling our government how many of us are in the United States,” said, Hwang Lynch, a freelance writer whose American husband is white.

However, the Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China, is troubled by the movement.

“We are concerned that some organizations are encouraging people being counted as ‘Taiwanese’ instead of ‘Chinese,'” Yunliang Zhou, spokesman for the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, said in an e-mail to the Mercury News. “Our position is quite clear and consistent. Taiwan is an integral part of China. The Chinese people living on both the mainland and the island share a same language and a common cultural heritage, which can never be denied.”

There have been previous Taiwanese write-in efforts. But the campaign this year has a powerful and inexpensive tool it didn’t have for previous census efforts — social media on the Internet. A video on YouTube pushing the write-in campaign has had more than 150,000 hits. Separate campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and smaller sites seem to be catching on, too.

Of course, the greatest success would be to get a separate box on the census questionnaire. But while many American racial and ethnic groups, including Taiwanese, have lobbied the U.S. Census Bureau for decades for their own check boxes, relatively few get one.

For example, this year’s forms have 13 distinct check boxes for a person’s race. There are boxes for whites and blacks, and even for groups based on national origin, such as Chinese, Korean and Samoan.

There also is a box for other Asians and space for writing in national or ethnic groups.

The Taiwanese American Citizens League, a nonprofit organization leading the campaign, insists that previous censuses missed more than half of its community in the country. The 2000 census counted 145,000 Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans who wrote the identifying term into their questionnaires.

“It was a huge undercount,” said Naomi Hsu, the organization’s census coordinator for Northern California. The group estimates the national population “conservatively at about 800,000.

The main reason for the undercount, Hsu said, was that Taiwanese-Americans didn’t know they had a choice to write in on census forms. Since most immigrants from Taiwan are of Chinese heritage, they selected the Chinese box because it was the closest term, at least culturally.

“I just marked the next best option by default,” Taiwanese-American film actor Adam Wang said in a TACL news release.

Hsu is confident an accurate count would give Taiwanese-Americans the large numbers needed to persuade Washington and the United Nations to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. Here at home, she said, a higher count would mean more public services based on census results for Taiwanese communities, including election ballots printed in the traditional Chinese writing that older Taiwanese favor.

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