As seen by the census

The census bureau is making its big push for residents to be counted.  So it created a number of language- or target-specific advertising posters.  Shall we take a look?

A somewhat generic poster for the new portrait of America.  Available in German, Italian and Yiddish.  A few hints as to professions or status:  A firefighter, a healthcare worker, construction worker, two educators (shown in front of blackboards), a guy in a cap and gown.  One of the educators and the guy in the cap and gown appear to be black.  The other educator is a brownish sort.  But other than that, the people in professional wear appear to be white.  The only guy wearing a suit and tie is white.

APIs appear to be overrepresented.  Because we’re taking over.  That’s why you see such a fascination with us on the census:

What is Person 1’s race?

White
Black, African Am., or Negro
American Indian or Alaska Native – Print name of enrolled or principal tribe.
Asian Indian
Chinese
Filipino
Other Asian – Print race, for example, Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on.
Japanese
Korean
Vietnamese
Native Hawaiian
Guamanian or Chamorro
Samoan
Other Pacific Islander – Print race, for example, Fijian, Tongan, and so on.
Some other race – Print race.

(Yeah, we could go on and on about race and ethnicity.  But this is about the posters.)

Some other posters.  First, native peoples:

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.  Different boats.  Different backgrounds.  But the text is the same:  “THE HONOR OF THE INDIVIDUAL RESTS WITHIN THE TRACKS OF THEIR ANCESTORS.”  We had to shout to be heard over those tradewinds.

“Ancestors” is a recurring theme.  Here are more posters.

If you can’t read the text, it says “Today, it’s my opportunity that my ancestors may not have had.”

The single proud individual with the long romanticized history.  Got it.  And only one person.  Undoubtedly because the history of genocide killed everybody else off.

Oh, at least now they’re getting to the attractive females.

Although the black and white folks in this poster look more like parents and grandparents than “ancestors.”  But whatever.

Latinos fare a little bit better.  They’re portrayed as modern individuals.  Apparently they have no ancestors.  Because with the exception of native peoples, we’re a nation of immigrants!

Take a look at the backgrounds.  Looks like we’ve got a trucker, a librarian, a construction worker, a florist, a pharmacist and … a pregnant woman?

Still individuals, though.  Apparently no romantic past.  Just the modern world, baby!

Portuguese speakers are modern individuals too.  But they all wear casual clothing:

Maybe they’re all professionals at a company picnic.  Although I’d personally never let my co-workers stand so close to me.

Here’s the poster targeted at Puerto Ricans.  They’re a mixed group, too–of hands.  No surgical gloves, though.

A work glove, a neoprene glove, a household chores glove, and a … boxing glove?  You would think that would be the poster for Filipinos.  Manny Pacquiao!  Yeah!

Kreyol speakers are portrayed as part of a Kreyol-language environment and community.  Kind of an odd perspective, just a bunch of tiny specks, like ants on an anthill.  And they’re cartoons:

Black people have families.  But they’re cartoons too:

No doctors here, although one of the buildings in the lower right has “MD” painted on the top.  Some of the words in the background include the following:  Progress, change, believe, together, community, sign, education, healthcare, transportation, transform.  You figure it out.  The last two letters in “believe” are so faint that at first I thought it read “belie.”  I like the big stylized head on the upper right and the old-fashioned bus on the lower left.  Symbolism, baby!

A few other groups have families.  Here they are:

Arabic speakers.  Notice the doctor in the background.  Although no small children in this family.

Farsi speakers.  Note the happy kid getting on the school bus.  Valuing education, no doubt.  There’s a healthcare worker in the background of this one, too, although he’s wearing a mask.  (!)

Ukrainians have a school bus too.  And a stethoscope.  A train and a road.  Okay.  They have the most kids of any of the groups.  Four!

Russian families and Polish families are apparently interchangeable.  We have the stethoscope here too.  No doctor, though.  A train, and a younger woman pushing an older woman in a wheelchair.  They have a multi-generational family.  Probably they value family.  Unlike everybody else.

Here are a couple of other language-targeted posters.  First, towards Armenians:

Apparently Armenians are only attractive single women.  Where are their families?

And here’s a lone Filipino guy.  You note that his setting is in an office park.  Or maybe it’s a medical center.  Dude is all alone too.  So sad.  He doesn’t even have any ancestors to keep him company.

Here’s the last single person.  The poster is in Japanese:

Ah, Japanese people!  So clever with your hands!  Makers of origami!  Be counted!

And Hmong, Lao and Thai people, you make such good food!

And don’t forget about that tie that binds among all those vaguely Asian folks!

Posters in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu.

Khmer, Korean and Vietnamese.  Note that Korean people apparently use paper towels as part of their tea ceremony.

I thought Japanese and Chinese people drank tea too.  But maybe there’s a one-poster-per-ethnicity limit.  And origami is more central to the Japanese identity than tea, apparently.  What about the Chinese?

Ah, the traditional license plate!

Well, that concludes our analysis of the census’ targeted action posters.  There’s a lot of stuff we’d like to write about the census (like Stephen Colbert making a hipster racism joke), but frankly there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Thanks for reading along.

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Also, for those of you who can read other languages, we’d love to know what the main message is for each of the posters.

10 thoughts on “As seen by the census

  1. I can provide the translation to the “traditional chinese license plate”.

    The language is traditional Chinese and I’m 99% sure of my translation.

    The top text says “using only 10 minutes, to answer 10 questions, and you can help change your neighborhood for the better”

    The actual license plate is a pun for “perfection”.

    I can’t read the text at the bottom because the font is too small.

    I don’t trust my rusty japanese skills enough to say I can provide an even remotely competent translation. But I THINK it is vaguely along the lines of “in the time it takes to wish upon one crane, we can improve our community”

  2. Huh. Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, but not the PRC. And Oct. 10 is the anniversary of the founding of the ROC.

    Makes me wonder if that license plate is really specifically targeting Chinese-Americans from Taiwan (vs. mainland China).

    I know there’s a campaign to get more people from Taiwan to fill out the census and identify themselves as Taiwanese (vs. Chinese).

  3. Where did you find these ads? I’m browsing the census website and can’t find them… And are there more?

  4. Find the page by googling “census posters for partners.” There are more. The comments above are on one single set. I was planning to comment on the rest, lots of exoticization. But there’s not much time in a day.

  5. From Spanish (to clunky English, sorry):


    Respond to your future’s calling … answer today.

    Fill and return the 2010 Census questionary as soon as it arrives at your home. Your participation helps in getting advances and benefits for you, your loved ones and your community. It’s easy, important and the information is confidential!

    I can’t read the small text in the right hand box.

  6. Hi, I found your your site through my friend’s facebook. Quite frankly the only question that needs to be answered is No.1. The rest is too much information. What difference does it make that one is black, hispanic, white or other? One is a person.

  7. Ces, it doesn’t matter what YOU are. What matters is if the place where you live is, say, 30% black, but the political representation is only 10%. Or the workforce, or the prision population, or any other of any number of measures one could take In order to know if there is a discrepancy in those, we need to have the basic baselines.

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