Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

In Arab Detroit, Youth Speak Up About Census

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Image credit: David Leins / WDET

As Michigan prepares for the 2020 Census, some Arab Americans in metro Detroit are stepping up to make sure their community doesn’t go uncounted.

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Hanan Yahya at the District 6 office in Southwest Detroit.David Leins / WDET
David Leins / WDET

Hanan Yahya at the District 6 office in Southwest Detroit.

In the upcoming U.S. Census, Detroit is expected to have among the lowest response rate among major U.S. cities, with 86 percent of its residents living in hard-to-count tracts.

That includes this neighborhood in Southwest Detroit where Hanan Yahya, community and policy coordinator for Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López, knocks doors to answer questions about the U.S. Census. 

People are always asking their city council, state representatives, Congress people to make sure that they have allocated resources,” Yahya says. The Census “is what you’re looking for.”

She’s Yemeni American, and is part of a generation of young Arab Americans reaching out to their communities to get counted for the U.S. Census. 

Click on the player above to hear how young Arab Americans are leaders on the census.


Language Barriers

Hanan Khalil holds up a Census pledge card in Dearborn, Mich.David Leins / WDET
David Leins / WDET

Hanan Khalil holds up a Census pledge card in Dearborn, Mich.

In 2010, the last time the census was taken, Yahya was 15 years old and assisted her immigrant parents with filling it out. 

Some kids probably will be filling out the census for their parents, not knowing what they’re filling out more than likely.” — Hanan Khalil

That’s kind of how it is in a lot of Arab American households,” says Hanah Khalil, another young Arab American who interns at a Dearborn non-profit, where she makes phone calls to local residents about filling out the Census. “It’s a common thing because English is our first language, and it’s not our parents’ first language.” 

That experience is a common one among Arabic speaking household in metro Detroit – one that Khalil expects to continue this time around. 

A Trusted Source

One reason immigrant communities may be reluctant to fill out the census is out of fear of what the data may be used for. 

Both Khalil and Yahya say their roles includes answering questions about the privacy of their results, in part, due to the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ and the Trump administration’s push for a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.  

I think the scariest thing for people is their information getting out,” Khalil says. “Especially in the Arab American community. But that’s why we’re here.”

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David Leins, Program Coordinator, Detroit Storymakers

David Leins is Program Coordinator at 101.9 WDET, overseeing the Detroit StoryMakers program for independent media makers in Detroit. He once hiked the entirety of Isle Royale National Park and never saw a moose.


This post is a part of DET Counts.

The 2020 U.S. Census is upon us, and Michigan is gearing up to make sure every resident is counted. 

But it's more than just population — the Census determines representation and federal funding too. 

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