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Observing Census Enumeration of Arabic Speaking Households in 2010 Census

*Kristine J Ajrouch, Eastern Michgian University 

Keywords: Arab Americans, Arabic-speaking, Immigrants, Ethnicity, Race, Gender

Immigrant populations who do not speak English fluently remain a significant segment of hard-to-reach populations in the United States. As part of the 2010 Census Program for Evaluations and Experiments, an observational study of Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) interviews was carried out with linguistically isolated Arabic-speaking households. The overarching objective was to assess the extent to which the NRFU interview process obtained valid and satisfactory responses from respondents who were primarily or solely Arabic-speakers, and to assess social, cultural and linguistic factors that created barriers or otherwise mediated that goal. We accompanied enumerators for a total of 16 days, for a total of 162 observations. In observing social dynamics that affect census enumeration, our analysis focused on two broad areas: socio-cultural and linguistic factors. Analysis included multiple readings of debriefing reports and transcriptions in an attempt to identify factors influencing data collection. Results suggest the following themes as key to establishing as sense of trust rapport: gender, national origin and ethnicity Moreover, challenges associated with the conceptual equivalencies of both ethnicity and race emerged. These categories of understanding pose unique challenges for both the enumerator and the respondent. Legally classified as white, Arab Americans straddle a world of privilege on the one hand, and discrimination on the other (generally through media portrayals, and directly especially when identifiable as having Arab origin). This study provides important insights about data collection, including challenges to measuring shifting concepts such as race and ethnicity, among hard-to-reach populations in the United States.

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