According to Suely Ngouy, executive director of area nonprofit Khmer Girls in Action, young Cambodian women often assume guiding and informative roles in families who have immigrated to the United States.
And it is because elders look toward their youth for information on American customs and procedures that Khmer Girls in Action launched a campaign to encourage Cambodians to participate in the 2010 Census.
“Girls and young women in the family have been the navigators and interpreters for parents, as well as their caretakers,” Ngouy said. “They are the ones the parents go to for information and navigation of the system.”
The 2000 Census states that 461,522 people reside in Long Beach. Of that number, Ngouy said 15,000 to 20,000 people were reported to be Cambodians. However, Ngouy contends that that figure does not represent the current Cambodian population living in Long Beach.
“Long Beach has the highest Cambodian population in the United States at the moment,” Ngouy said. “We don’t know for sure, as far as the number, but it’s been severely undercounted.”
In an effort to obtain a more accurate snapshot of the local population in the 2010 Census, Khmer Girls in Action set out on March 1 to canvass the areas of Long Beach with a high density of Cambodian residents — areas like the Anaheim Quarter, which stretches along Anaheim Street from Atlantic to Temple avenues. From March 1 through April 25, 50 youth volunteers, ranging in age from 14 to 19 years old, will attempt to knock on 9,000 doors. Their goal is to help at least 2,500 people fill out the census.
“Young people are often overlooked as leaders and organizers in this process,” Ngouy said. “…I hope this campaign will demonstrate the power and ability of young people as organizers in their community, particularly in immigrant and refugee communities.”
Khmer Girls in Action, which teamed up with Centro Shalom to conduct the census drive, created a public service announcement as part of their campaign. They also use social networking tools like Facebook and MySpace to reach out to their peers to let them know of the census’s importance.
Ngouy said by obtaining a more accurate count, federal resources and funding would be more accurately distributed. However, the girls face a challenge; many undocumented immigrants are reluctant to fill out the census for fear that they may be deported. Youth volunteers have been trained to address these concerns, answer any questions immigrants may have and share the information they have learned about the census.
“Our girls can speak English and they had training on what the census is, why it’s important and what rights are protected,” Ngouy said. “(By) having that knowledge and being able to speak other languages, they are acting as a bridge to link them (the Cambodian community) to the system and census.”
Founded in 1997, Khmer Girls in Action is a Long Beach-based nonprofit that strives to develop the leadership skills of young Southeast Asian women so they become agents of change in their communities, seeking to improve the health and wellbeing of its members.
To find our more about Khmer Girls in Action, visit www.kgalb.org.