The US has always had a reputation as a diverse country, with a population hailing from a myriad of countries, cultural backgrounds and linguistic groups around the world.
If there was any doubt as to the United States’ “melting pot” label, the measures taken to encourage participation in the 2010 census effectively quenched them. The promotional campaign to encourage participation in the census was released in a staggering 28 languages.
A January 2010 New York Times article discusses the US Census Bureau’s efforts to reach a greater array of linguistic and cultural subgroups. The 2010 census targeted more linguistic groups than any prior US census. By comparison, the promotional material for the 2000 census was conducted in 17 languages — a number that is still impressive, but less astounding.
The New Census Languages
Among the slew of new census languages added in 2010 were Portuguese, Farsi, Urdu, Cantonese, Mandarin and Yiddish. These new census languages joined a long list of previously-used languages such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Korean. All of these languages — plus 16 others — appeared in advertisements and other promotional materials targeting US residents to encourage participation in the 2010 census.
In addition to appearing in traditional advertising outlets, such as brochures, the new census languages were also seen in new media. The Census Bureau used social media outlets such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube in hopes of reaching a wider audience than ever before.
Paying for a More Realistic Census
Such expansive changes cost money, of course. The 2000 census was the first to have an independent budget for paid ads, spending an estimated $100 to $150 million. Ten years later, that allotted budget jumped to an impressive $340 million.
The increase in funding used for the census may seem dramatic, but when it comes to creating a more realistic and all-encompassing census, it’s a necessary step. The United States is more culturally and linguistically diverse than ever before and it’s imperative that the census addresses this.
By expanding the variety of census languages and introducing new promotional measures, the US Census Bureau hoped to reach more of the US population than in years previous.
Targeting Cultural Groups
When promotional campaigns target diverse sociocultural groups, questions of stereotyping can arise. An ad aimed to target African-Americans, for example, prominently featured former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo. This may raise age-old complaints that the image of successful and inspirational African-Americas is too-commonly pigeonholed to the “sports star” category.
Although such culturally targeted advertisements may spur controversy, the promotional campaigns of the new census languages focused on a single goal: reaching every major cultural and linguistic group in the United States.