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The 2010 Census: Don't Put Me In A Big White Box

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The 2010 Census: Don't Put Me In A Big White Box

Opinion

The 2010 Census: Don't Put Me In A Big White Box

The 2010 Census: Don't Put Me In A Big White Box

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125219716/125313322" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Comedian Maz Jobrani has joined forces with a national campaign encouraging Iranians and Iranian-Americans to take the reins on the race form in the 2010 census. Usually, Iranians check "white," but this year they are being encouraged to write in their ethnicity. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Comedian Maz Jobrani has joined forces with a national campaign encouraging Iranians and Iranian-Americans to take the reins on the race form in the 2010 census. Usually, Iranians check "white," but this year they are being encouraged to write in their ethnicity.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

I hate filling out forms that make me check my race.

I call myself a Puerto-Ranian — that's a Puerto Rican/Iranian — kind of like Sabzi mixed with Sofrito, and J-Lo mixed with Googoosh.

My mom is the Puerto Rican, my dad the Iranian. But there isn't a Puerto-Ranian category on the census. So I check Hispanic.

As far as the U.S. government is concerned, I'm just another white Puerto Rican. But this year, I was tempted to switch things up and give a nod to my Persian side — partly because of a hilarious public service announcement an Iranian friend sent to me. In it, a young census taker, who is fluent in Farsi, goes door to door educating various Iranian men on the importance of writing Iranian-American on the 2010 Census. The male characters are all played by comedian Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American comedian, best known as the Persian member of The Axis of Evil comedy tour.

In the PSA, Jobrani pokes fun at Iranian male stereotypes: the uppity doctor, the swarthy and overly flirtatious 20-something, the new immigrant more comfortable speaking Farsi than English. None of the characters seem to understand why you should write in your ethnicity when you can just check the box for white.

Curious, I called up my pops — Farrokh "Fred" Meraji — to see what he did.

"For race, I had to put white because people in the Middle East are considered Caucasian," he says. "Why do we have to categorize everybody? It doesn't make sense! We're all Americans."

Shereen Marisol Meraji Courtesy of Shereen Marisol Meraji hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Shereen Marisol Meraji

Shereen Marisol Meraji

Courtesy of Shereen Marisol Meraji

Yep, my dad hates checking the race box, too — but for different reasons. I'm mad that I have to choose one ethnicity over the other. He's annoyed that he has to choose, period.

I relayed my dad's reaction to Jobrani.

"I was waiting for your dad to say, 'The census makes no sense-us,' " he says.

Jobrani is passionate about this cause, and HE has lent his time and talent to get the word out about the Iranians Count 2010 Census Coalition campaign. Jobrani hopes that more Iranians counted in the census will one day translate to more recognition, more political power and more federal assistance.

But Jobrani — like me and my dad — has major issues checking that box.

"When I was applying for college, I actually looked for the box to mark Iranian," he muses, "and I went to my counselor and I said, 'There's no Iranian box.' And they go, 'Well, you're white.' I go, 'What do you mean I'm white?' I took all the insults growing up — camel jockey, towel head, all this other stuff — and all I had to say was, 'Dude, I'm white!' "

But I know, Jobrani knows, even my dad knows — it's not that easy. Checking white on the census and being treated like a white person are not the same thing. So this year, I'm going to write in Iranian-American, just so that people know we're here. We're fathers, comedians and public radio producers.

And maybe, one day, the census will have room for all of me: the Puerto Rican and the Iranian.

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