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Meet the Census Team: Tomoyo Sakai

In the lead-up to the 2020 Census, many reports have been published revealing how severely certain communities in New York City and across the United States are undercounted in the decennial Census. This information has inspired local elected officials and community organizations like CIANA to get out the count in this year's Census.

Our Census Outreach Intern Tomoyo Sakai, however, found this information out largely on her own. As a student of urban planning who often uses Census data for research, Tomoyo discovered that certain cultures, ethnicities, and religions are less reported in the Census, and their communities miss out on crucial funding as a result.

Being a Latin American Studies student has also informed Tomoyo of the “current issues and struggles of US immigrants such as a lack of access to public services and public information.” It became Tomoyo's dream "to contribute to the US immigrant community in some way.”

Tomoyo’s drive to get immigrants counted in the 2020 Census comes from both solidarity with the community, as well as with facts and statistics. “UN Habitat projects that by 2025…there will be more international and domestic migration in the world, and those migrants will need some kind of support to survive in their new environment.”

Support to migrants in the US from the government largely comes from Census data. Historical undercounts are what have prevented immigrant communities from attaining this much-needed funding.

“Unequal distribution of resources is a huge problem in the world including the United States, and getting counted in the Census is one step to reduce inequality. Underrepresentation of minorities in the data causes a lack of resources and an increase of inequality. That’s why I wanted to encourage people to complete the Census.”

Getting immigrants counted means more than just reaching a number; to Tomoyo, being counted shows that immigrants are full members of the larger community. The Census is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: achieve funding for their community, and let the government know that immigrants are a large, vibrant, and vital segment of the population.

“US immigrants have been exploited in many ways, and a lot of immigrants prefer to be ‘invisible’ in order to survive in this society…Therefore, the Census is one of the best ways for immigrants to tell the government about their existence, which eventually contributes to better public services in their neighborhoods.”

Tomoyo has been at CIANA since March 9, and, along with fellow Intern Doaa Al-Tameemi, has been reaching out to clients to inform them of the importance and safety of the Census. Her proficiency in Spanish has helped to spread information to our Spanish-speaking clients more clearly and accurately, and Tomoyo feels that clients appreciate that.

However, working remotely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has revealed systemic inequalities regarding the struggles immigrants and low-income folks face compared to people of other backgrounds. “This pandemic explicitly shows who has and who doesn’t have a privilege to survive in this society,” Tomoyo says.

Nevertheless, these struggles have inspired Tomoyo to keep working on behalf of immigrants and not only get them counted every ten years, but to provide assistance to them and be a voice for their communities.

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