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White or 'other?' With no census category for 2020, Arab-Americans debate which box to check

Businesses along Brookhurst Street in the heart of Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. The area has seen an influx of refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq in recent years. But with no accurate way to count Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, community activists say there's no accurate way to tell just how many live in the area.
Businesses along Brookhurst Street in the heart of Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. The area has seen an influx of refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq in recent years. But with no accurate way to count Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, community activists say there's no accurate way to tell just how many live in the area.
Leslie Berestein/KPCC
Businesses along Brookhurst Street in the heart of Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. The area has seen an influx of refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq in recent years. But with no accurate way to count Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, community activists say there's no accurate way to tell just how many live in the area.
Aurora (left), Rania (center) and Marwan (right) Sbaita in their kitchen in Lake Forest, Calif. The family identifies as Americans of Palestinian and Lebanese descent. But there's a generational difference as to how they identify racially.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Businesses along Brookhurst Street in the heart of Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. The area has seen an influx of refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq in recent years. But with no accurate way to count Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent, community activists say there's no accurate way to tell just how many live in the area.
Community activist Rashad Al-Dabbagh in Anaheim's Little Arabia neighborhood. He's been involved in efforts to get a more accurate census count of Americans of Middle Eastern and North African descent.
Leslie Berestein/KPCC


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Until about a year ago, plans were moving forward to include a category in the 2020 census referred to as MENA, for "Middle Eastern or North African." It would have allowed a more accurate count of Americans of Arabic, Persian and other Middle Eastern or North African descent, who are now counted only as "white." 

Last year, the Trump administration nixed that idea. Community advocates plan an outreach campaign to persuade people to self-identify as Middle Eastern and North African on census forms. But not everyone in that community agrees on which box they should check.