The year was 1990.
Tatjana Bozhinovski and her father and mother, Brazo and Patsy, were new to the U.S, having moved from Macedonia in 1988.
Her parents spoke no English.
So when the U.S. Census form appeared in the family mailbox, the envelope went straight to the trash can. And when a census employee later visited their home, Bozhinovski’s mother just said, "No English," and slammed the door.
Thirty years later, many new Americans still have a lack of understanding about the census, Bozhinovski said.
As an example, she said, when she asked a few individuals from central Ohio’s Macedonian community if she could leave census literature at a local church, “they had this blank look.”
“It is very, very, very common,” Bozhinovski said.
Bozhinovski works as a site coordinator for the adult learning center run by Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, a social-services organization in Columbus that helps immigrants and refugees gain self-sufficiency.
ETSS and other organizations like it in central Ohio are working to make sure new Americans understand the importance of participating in the census. Although the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has made in-person education difficult, organizations are providing educational resources online and reaching out by telephone.
March 12 was the day residents should have started receiving invitations to participate in the 2020 census, according to Carol Hector-Harris, media specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office.
The invitations were expected to arrive between March 12 and Friday, March 20, according to the bureau.
For the first time, residents have the option to fill out the census form online, in addition to the options of responding via phone and mail, Hector-Harris said.
Responding to the census is vital from a funding perspective, Bozhinovski said.
Every year, $675 billion in federal dollars is distributed to states based on their populations, Hector-Harris said. People who are not represented in census counts represent dollars not received by states, she said.
“Money is needed everywhere, and if the government doesn’t know that we are here, the government isn’t going to give us money,” Bozhinovski said.
And immigrants indeed are here.
According to the American Immigration Council’s website, immigrants make up about 4% of Ohio residents. A similar figure of residents are native-born U.S. citizens who have at least one immigrant parent, the website said.
In 2015, 503,911 immigrants accounted for 4.3% of the state’s population, according to the website, americanimmigrationcouncil.org.
ETSS’ adult learning center at 588 McNaughten Road in Columbus is strategically placed to be accessible to clients in parts of Columbus and the cities of Pickerington, Reynoldsburg and Whitehall, Bozhinovski said. It also serves clients from Blacklick, Canal Winchester and Pataskala, she said.
Clients from close to 40 countries use the learning center, Bozhinovski said.
New Americans are settling in a variety of places in central Ohio.
Although the Somali community mostly is near the state Route 161 corridor near Morse Road, a pocket of Somali immigrants also live in Blacklick and Reynoldsburg, Bozhinovski said.
Reynoldsburg and Whitehall are home to a large number of Ethiopians immigrants, and Reynoldsburg also has native Macedonians and people from western and eastern African countries, she said.
Nepalese immigrants are settling in Blacklick and Reynoldsburg, and new arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are going to Canal Winchester and Pataskala, she said.
Jennifer Clemens, special-events and media coordinator for the city of Reynoldsburg, said members of a community group formed to promote the census in the city decided to make videos using a script provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, with such languages as Amharic, Macedonian and Nepali. The videos will be on the city of Reynoldsburg’s YouTube and Facebook pages, she said.
A similar video initiative is being carried out by Columbus and Franklin County’s 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, which recorded educational videos in such languages as Arabic and Swahili, said Nadia Kasvin, cofounder and director of nonprofit organization US Together Inc.
With offices in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo, US Together provides services to refugees and immigrants, Kasvin said.
Kasvin said preparation for census outreach began months ago. She is chairwoman of the New American Advisory Council, established by the Franklin County board of commissioners.
Several months ago, the council made the census one of its priorities and has worked in collaboration with the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, she said.
And US Together months ago began starting a communication campaign on its Facebook and Twitter accounts to let immigrants know the importance of standing up to be counted.
“We were very consistent with the message,” she said.
Part of that message includes the assurance that filling out the census form is safe.
Kasvin said many people needed reassurance after a federal decision to exclude a citizenship question on the census form.
In a census workshop Bozhinovski held during the summer, she said, she learned that many immigrants worried about security. Some were worried about the safety of undocumented immigrants who respond to the census. Others asked if participating in the census could compromise the process of receiving documentation.
Fear also might be associated with previous traumatic experiences, Bozhinovski said.
Immigrants from Nepal, for example, participated in their country’s census before being driven out, Bozhinovski said.
ETSS received a Columbus Counts: 2020 Census Grant for $3,639.87 to conduct educational outreach to immigrant and refugee populations, Bozhinovski said. The organization works to train staff members to reach those populations.
ETSS had planned to communicate census information via parent meetings with after-school-program families and health fairs, Bozhinovski said. But those meetings were canceled because of the coronavirus, so organizers plan to communicate information via phone calls, and staff meetings have shifted to conference calls and email, she said.
Similar organizations also have had to rethink their communications strategies.
Karen Jiobu, interim executive director with Asian American Community Services, said the nonprofit organization initially had planned to educate clients about the census via its newsletter and its various classes.
But because most of the programming has been postponed due to the coronavirus, staff members are in the process of planning how to deliver alternative communication via social-media accounts and the organization’s website, Jiobu said.