A Family Under the Radar

By    Published May 17, 2011

QUEENS – Xiao Qiong Qu, 34, made her American dream come true in fewer than 10 years. Shortly after moving to Queens in 2001, she married a fellow Chinese immigrant, started two small businesses in Woodside with her husband, gave birth to two healthy sons and bought a brick home in Richmond Hill.

None of Xiao’s story is reflected in the 2010 census. Not one member of her 11-person household participated in the survey. With the population in Queens showing little to no growth in the most recent census and the occupancy rates suspiciously low, there are questions about the participation rate among Queens’ immigrants.

Data Doubts

Woodside realtor Buck Butler, 58, believes the census data is dead wrong.

“I’d be hard pressed to find you anything vacant prior to 2010,” said Butler, who for 36 years has owned Wagner & Kelly Inc., one of the largest real estate agencies in the neighborhood. “I would always have waiting lists for co-ops and apartments.”

Looking through his own records, Butler was unable to find a home that spent more than 30 days on the market.

“I don’t know where they get their numbers from, but it’s not what I see here,” he said.

Across the street from Wagner & Kelly, Xiao Qiong Qu and her husband work hard at the two businesses that quickly became fixtures in the bustling neighborhood. The businesses have grown along with their children. His computer repair shop and her Carvel ice cream parlor are separated by three storefronts on Roosevelt Avenue. A few years ago, the Xiaos were able to use profits to bring both sets of parents over from China, and most recently Xiao’s sister-in-law immigrated along with her husband and new baby.

“They get their place soon. Too crowded now,” said Xiao.

From behind the counter of her Carvel ice cream parlor, Xiao Qiong Qu tried to explain her objections to participating in the census.

“Because my English is not too well,” said Xiao. She went on to describe how there was no point to the survey, how it didn’t mean anything to her and how she would have had to ask for help in order to participate.

“I never asked. My husband better English, but very busy,” said Xiao.

Communication Breakdown

Xiao said she only smiled and shook her head “no” when the census representative came into her store. She said her husband threw out the census forms several times.

Xiao conceded that the language barrier was not the only issue. “I read. It was Chinese,” said Xiao. “‘Not for us,’ my husband say. ‘Not for us.’”

When Xiao was first interviewed for this article she required a translator and said she had no idea why anyone would participate in the census. By the third interview, she was able to understand most questions and responded in her own words. She had no idea that census figures are used for electoral redistricting or in determining Federal aid to local municipalities. After hearing about the benefits of an accurate census, there was a change in perspective.

“I answer next one myself,” she said.

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