2030 census to include new category for Middle Eastern and North African people

Like so many Arab-Americans, Maya Berry has never really seen herself accurately reflected in national surveys, including the U.S. Census.

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Berry is the Executive Director for the Arab-American Institute.

“For me personally, I’ve never checked any box other than other,” said Berry. “Because we always check off other, one of my kids in my local school district was coded as Asian and the other one was coded as white.”

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That’s because there hasn’t been a category for people with roots from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

“We were looking at a situation where we were literally rendered invisible in the census data and in other government data,” said Berry.

In 2030, that changes. The Office of Management and Budget announced the next census will have a new MENA category.

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It will include six subcategories including Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi and Israeli.

There will also be a blank space for people to write-in how they identify if they don’t fit in with one of the subcategories.

This is critical because the census data determines everything from Congressional districts to federal funding.

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“The census is about money and power,” said Tom Wolf, Director of Democracy Initiatives for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “There’s going to be new data that has never existed before that will make whole communities, very large communities visible for the first time… The main way to get a share of political power is to have your community be counted.”

Berry said she’s encouraged by the census change and said it’s a positive step in the right direction. Advocates have been pushing for the MENA category since the mid 1990s.

“We were looking at chronic and massive under counts of our community for decades,” said Berry. “So, this is a very exciting development.”

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