The 2010 Census: Don't Put Me In A Big White Box NPR producer Shereen Marisol Meraji never liked checking the "race box" on her census forms. As the child of a Puerto Rican mother and an Iranian father, there has never been a box that adequately describes her. This year, a new campaign called Iranians Count encourages Iranian Americans to fill in their ethnicity rather than rely on a box.
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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

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

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ADAMS, host:

Arabs aren't the only ones who will be breaking out of the race box in this year's census. The Iranians Count 2010 Census Coalition is encouraging Iranians living in the U.S. to do the same. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Shereen Marisol Meraji is half Iranian, and she has strong feelings on the issue.

SHEREEN MERAJI: I hate filling out forms where I have to check a box for race. I call myself a Puerto-Ranian - that's a Puerto Rican, Iranian -Sabzi and Sofrito, and J-Lo and Googoosh. My mom is the Puerto Rican, 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 Hispanic. But this year, I was tempted to switch things up and give a nod to my Persian side, partly because of this public service announcement an Iranian friend sent me.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

(Soundbite of music)

MERAJI: A young census taker, fluent in Farsi, goes door to door, educating various Iranian men, played by comedian Maz Jobrani, on the importance of writing Iranian-American on the census.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: So I am going to talk you through the questions, and when I get to the question about race, I suggest you tell me to write Iranian-American or Iranian.

Mr. MAZ JOBRANI (Comedian, Actor): (as character) Is there a box for Iranian-American?

Unidentified Woman: No, no, there's no box, but I will check other and then write in Iranian-American.

Mr. JOBRANI: (as character) Well, we are white. Just put white. There is a box for white.

MERAJI: And that box for white is the one many Iranians check. That's why there are only 338,000 of us counted in the last census. Curious, I called up my pops - Farrokh Fred Meraji - to see what he did.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Mr. FARROKH FRED MERAJI: Hello?

MERAJI: Hi, Dad.

Mr. MERAJI: Hi, (unintelligible).

MERAJI: So Dad, I just called you to ask you a couple of questions about the census.

Mr. MERAJI: Oh, the census, yeah. I sent mine in, yes.

MERAJI: In the race category, what did you mark?

Mr. MERAJI: For race, I had to put white because even from Middle East considered Caucasian.

MERAJI: Well, do you consider yourself white, Dad?

Mr. MERAJI: I just want to be just like anybody else. Why do we have to categorize everybody? It doesn't make sense. We're all Americans.

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.

Mr. JOBRANI: I was waiting for your dad to say, the census makes no sense-us.

MERAJI: Maz Jobrani is the Iranian-American comedian who helped make that PSA. He also has issues checking the box.

Mr. JOBRANI: When I was applying for college, I actually looked for the box to mark Iranian, 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 said, I was, like I took all the insults growing up - you know, camel jockey, towel head, all this other stuff - and all I had to say was: Dude, I'm white.

MERAJI: Ha. But I know, Maz Jobrani knows, my dad knows, that checking white and being treated like a white American are not the same thing. So this year, I'm going to write in Iranian-American, just so that people know we exist. We're fathers, comedians, public radio producers. And maybe, one day, the U.S. census will have room for all of me: the Puerto Rican and the Iranian.

ADAMS: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Shereen Marisol Meraji. If you have a comment about Shereen's piece, you can weigh in at npr.org.

ADAMS: This is NPR.

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