Monterey argues over store signs

Updated: 2013-08-07 10:50

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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 Monterey argues over store signs

The City Council of Monterey Park in Los Angeles has just approved a draft law which requires local businesses to display at least one Latin alphabet-worded sign, stirring a controversy in the local Chinese community. In many parts of the West Coast, such as San Francisco (shown here), businesses tend to use signs in the language of the people they hope to attract. Chen Jia / China Daily

A racial controversy has been sparked in the predominantly Chinese community of Monterey Park in Los Angeles over a draft law the City Council just approved that would require all businesses to put up at least one sign using the "modern Latin alphabet".

Some local residents think the council might have underestimated the public response to their unanimous vote and may change their mind. Resident Michele Liang said on Tuesday, "We are keeping a close eye on it, as the second reading of the draft will be [Aug 7]."

Liang said business owners know how to target their customers, so they should be free to choose what language to put their signs in.

Monterey Park is 48 percent Chinese, according to the 2010 United States Census.

According to the council agenda, the new rule aims to promote economic development and public safety as "clear and simple signs are significant to the response times of both the police and fire departments".

According to an online poll of 500 area residents, around 59 percent of respondents said they supported the rule and that a "business should be as accessible as possible", while about 34 percent said "the city should stay out of their business and let them use the signs they want to use". Six percent said they weren't sure.

"After speaking to the community and getting into it a little bit more, I've come to the realization that we really don't have any urgency (for this)," Monterey Park City Councilman Hans Liang told NBC in an earlier interview.

Arnab Chakraborty, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, told China Daily on Tuesday that "forcing businesses to put up bilingual signs could undermine the visual character of Monterey Park".

It is now widely accepted that places like Chinatown have unique identities and a "sense of place" is a highly desirable part of the urban fabric and should be preserved and promoted, especially in a city as diverse as Los Angeles metro, he said.

This is also true from an economic development perspective as such places attract niche shoppers and tourists, as well as from a social perspective as they provide a cultural identity and connection with its residents, he said.

"Having been to many Chinatowns around American cities, I have rarely been lost or disoriented," he said.

Lester Lee, a California Chinese community leader, told China Daily on Tuesday this whole controversy was actually "a courtesy issue in a local community, not a legal battle".

We should always have a street number and address for city services, but there's no reason to demand an English sign for the type of business, he said.

"On the other hand, since Chinese are now the majority in the city and hold important positions in city government, our leaders should promote harmony by encouraging Chinese businesses to post English signs just to be courteous and show we are not discriminatory," he added.

(China Daily USA 08/07/2013 page2)