Hollywood actor Kal Penn records PSAs to help prevent under-count of South Asians in 2020 Census

Kal Penn on Twitter with brief video on “Ladies Bhai” (Photo: Kal Penn Twitter video/screen grab)

New York City officials are warning South Asians that the community will suffer from lack of adequate social services and political representation, if they do not fill out Census 2020 forms.

South Asian households in New York City, are lagging behind the rest of the City in filling out the 2020 Census form.

As a result, Hollywood actor and former Obama aide Kal Penn has recorded Public Service Announcements in three South Asian languages in a bid to increase South Asians’ awareness of the need to fill out the forms that determine the allocation of government funds for social and other services.

Penn recorded the PSAs for the NYC Census 2020 initiative, which released the messages July 9, in English, Gujarati, and Hindi, highlighting the importance of completing the census to all New Yorkers, especially to those of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean descent, a press release from the City said.

“If we don’t take the census, it’s like we don’t exist,” Kal Penn says in the PSA. “The census brings us billions for schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges, and a whole lot more – but only if we fill it out.”

According to the City, more than half of New York City households have completed the census (53.1% as of July 7). But “neighborhoods with significant South Asian populations in Queens, including Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, and South Ozone Park, are significantly behind the city’s overall self-response rate, with self-response rates in the 42-44 percent range,” the press release said.


“Despite being an indelible part of the city’s cultural fabric for decades, and now being among the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the city, South Asians and Indo-Caribbean communities have been under-funded and under-represented for decades as a result of being undercounted in the census,” said Amit S. Bagga, Deputy Director, NYC Census 2020. “The census is about money, power, and respect, and it is critical to New York City’s future that all of our communities are fully counted so that we can collectively achieve all that is rightfully ours.”

The undercount means that federal funding for critical services, such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, and more are at risk for these neighborhoods, “and New York stands to lose up to two congressional seats as a result of a potential undercount,” the press release said.

The census also determines local district lines. New York City currently has no South Asian or Indo-Caribbean elected officials, despite South Asians being the fastest-growing immigrant group overall in the city, with significant populations in Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn, the press release noted.

“From his Hollywood experience as a former City Councilmember in Sunnyside to his real-life experience as a civil servant in the White House, Kal Penn understands the importance of New York getting its fair share of political representation,” NYC Census Director Julie Menin and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel, NYC Law Department, said. “We thank Kal for doing his part to make sure that New Yorkers know their immigration status or their housing situation should not prevent them from filling out the census. Their census responses are completely confidential and secure.”

While Penn is the first high-profile celebrity from New York’s South Asian community to participate in this campaign, NYC Census 2020 has partnered with many South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community-based organizations to boost the census count among those New Yorkers as part of the Complete Count Fund, the press release said.

According to the estimates from NYC Census 2020 initiative, collectively, NYC’s South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities are among the largest, most diverse, and fastest-growing immigrant groups in New York City.



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