The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Foreign National Lunches at Census

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “Census”? Well, in one deep recess of my mind, I think of fava beans and a nice Chianti. Luckily, that pop culture trivia part of my brain has now been supplanted by a far more pleasant Census memory. Courtesy of an insider – Khop Khun Mak Krab, you know who you are :-) I have now been to the real Census Bureau and to boot, we actually had lunch there.

Situated in rather infamous Suitland, Maryland - like my current host town of Laurel, in the equally notorious Prince George’s County, just outside of Washington D.C - Census is a gigantic bureaucracy of some 12,000 employees. But as an immigration buff, I can assure you that this is one part of government that does not merit being accused of wasting tax payers’ money.

Census Taker without risk.
(c) U.S. Census Bureau

OK, maybe a little, but it simply collects vital information that can be used by lovers of small and big government alike. And similarly, the kind of data Census (ongoing surveys as well as the decennial Census - next one is in 2010) collects on minorities and related language usage, income, education etc. is used by all sides of any immigration debate and by any serious scholar. Simply indispensable. OK, some demographers do seem to disagree with the latest estimates....Census retorts here.

Indispensable, you say? Well, in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson himself oversaw the first Census (population count) in 1790, a year after the adoption of the Constitution – Article 1, Section 2 explicitly mandates that a census be taken every ten years. This was necessary in order to divvy up the seats in Congress.

But the 1790 Census (photo copyright U.S. Census Bureau) carried out by U.S, Marshals on horseback, is a testament to much more than the fact that there were some 3.9 inhabitants in the young country. As the eminent historian Joseph J. Ellis recounts in his brilliant “Founding Brothers”, it also enumerated the shame of slavery and the subjugation of women. Only heads of household, i.e. men, were officially interviewed and slaves were listed as a third category after “Free White” and “Other Than White Free Persons”.

Ellis brings up the Census to show the absurdity of the slavery (non) debate during the Constitutional Convention. The numbers showed that the black population was growing, adding urgency to an issue that only a few brave souls – mainly Quakers – dared touch. And while the Southern States had the most slaves, the Census shows very high numbers for the states of New York and New Jersey as well.

OK, back to 2006. Off I went on the Metro, arriving right on time at the first obstacle. I was supposed to produce some ID and then mosey on over to the shuttle bus, which would take me to my host. But there was a problem: my ID is a foreign passport. So, I could not take the shuttle….from that particular location. As the nice security guard told me how to walk around the perimeter – of a supposedly dangerous area, though it was daylight – he said “You sure don’t sound like a foreigner, don’t you have a DC driver’s license or something?”

Alas I do not, so I had to walk around a construction site and 5 minutes later I was at another gate. Here, folks were just as friendly and I had to sign in and wait inside a make-shift booth. Finally, I was rescued by my host. But as we tried to walk the last few yards to freedom, we were foiled once more. “Foreign nationals have to take the shuttle and cannot walk in through the gate!”

So onboard we hopped, went for a little spin through the parking lot and came to a halt in front of one of the many buildings. I was now taken on a grand tour, saw the famed Population Clock and met some of the nicest government employees to date.

I mentioned construction and as it happens, Census is about to move into a flash, new headquarters in Suitland. The project is a Maryland,U.S.A.-Sweden enterprise as it is being built by Skanska, USA. This company is also known for building the “love bridge” between Denmark and Sweden. Here’s an article explaining the sad reasons behind that moniker.

The old buildings are indeed a bit worn and decrepit with very cavernous hallways. At the bottom is a cafeteria of some size. We both opted for some tasty soul food (not unlike the photo) with fruit for dessert: beats fava beans any day! And after thanking my host, I walked down a long corridor and into the light of day. Leaving was a piece of cake, I exited the way I could not enter.

Signing off from a region of significant demographic growth.


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