By Abraham Joven
One of the pillars of communities across America are houses of worship. As a Filipino immigrant in South Los Angeles, one the places I could be assured of seeing and interacting with other Filipinos was my local Catholic parish: St. Joseph’s in Hawthorne. Hawthorne was a majority-minority community, and though small, there was a vibrant Filipino-American community there.
In that way, parishes, mosques, and temples provide a service that’s been necessary for immigrant communities in America throughout its history: a safe space to connect with their culture and to share resources. Like Irish or Italian immigrants in the middle of the 19th Century, houses of worship today often provide gap services and access to resources, such as operating a food pantry or running a parochial school, for underserved communities.
Immigrant communities across the state of California and, in particular, within the pastoral region of the Diocese of San Bernardino - where I work as the Director of the Office of Advocacy - are often underserved. Inland Southern California, which comprises both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, is among the most diverse in California.
The numbers in the region are modest but significant: Asian Pacific-Islander (API) people make up approximately 8% of the population in each county. As for foreign born people, that number stands at 21% of the population in each county. Within the region, it’s important to note that disaggregated data from the UC Riverside Center for Social Innovation indicates that of the immigrant population, API people account for approximately 1/5th of all foreign-born people. As a Filipino-born immigrant, finding that the same study places Filipinos as the largest immigrant group behind people from Mexico is significant.
What this means is that API people in the Inland Empire, specifically, and immigrants more broadly are a vital part of the community make-up in our region. And for a region that is starved for funding and resources as well as for legislative representation to ensure that our values are met, the Census provides us with a unique opportunity to get involved.
At the Diocese, we have partnered with a few organizations, one of them being the Inland Empire branch of the National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns (NEFFCON-IE) to do outreach and encourage our people to be counted. A fun side note: one of the ways I got connected to NEFFCON-IE is that their leadership includes lay Catholic people who are incredibly active in ministry work within the Diocese. A little throwback to the way in which religious communities, again, can operate as a hub for positive social action.
With the deadline for the Census fast approaching, it is imperative for our people to be counted. We know that the resources needed to ensure API’s can see through moments of crisis like this one hinge on an accurate count. And given that Filipinos make up approximately 20% of healthcare workers, the pandemic presents a unique example of the broad understanding that immigrants are overrepresented in work deemed essential. Tying that to the lack of resources for these communities, then, feels like a contradiction to one of America’s most deeply held ideals: that contributions to the community will be rewarded justly.
A way for API people in this moment to ensure more resources and legislative representation for their communities is to participate in the Census. Stand up, be counted, and play a part in building a more just and equitable America.
Abraham “AJ” Joven is the Director of the Diocesan Office of Advocacy.