That was our response upon receiving our census form in the mail. After all, the country of origin question goes a long way in determining what kind of language services an area needs to provide for local residents.
Well, it’s sort of on the census.
You see, under Question 9 about race, there are boxes for “white, black, American Indian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Other Asian, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian/Chamorro, Samoan, Other Pacific Islander, or “Some Other Race.”
So one can glean some information about national origin and languages spoken from this version of the census, but there are some notable categories missing here. Arab-Americans are often divided about how to fill out this item—most choose “white,” but feel oddly doing so. In the same way, this form doesn’t accurately count Russian-Americans or Americans of Polish heritage, since those groups also self-identify as “white.”
Here’s the answer to the “missing ethnicity question,” straight from the Census Bureau:
“The 2010 Census isn’t designed to capture data on a person’s ancestry. We capture that information on the American Community Survey (ACS), which is part of the official census but conducted throughout the decade on a rolling sample of about 2.5 percent of the population every year. In Census 2000 and earlier decades what is now the ACS was commonly called “the long form” of the census; the 2010 Census is the first to use a short form only.”
Time will only tell whether the ACS provides us with an accurate accounting of the many ethnic and linguistic groups within America, and whether this experiment with a “short form” proves costly in the long run for historically underrepresented groups.