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Is Alhambra not offering enough city services in Chinese?

Alhambra does not provide enough city services in Chinese, World Journal (世界日报) reports. While Alhambra offers some  multilingual access for its nearly 40 percent Chinese population, the city's official website is all in English, without any links to translation.

Alhambra Councilman Stephen Sham told World Journal it is unnecessary and unrealistic to hire a translator for city services with low demand, since it would be a waste of the city’s resources. Bilingual city staff members usually offer help for simple services such as paying for city fines, according to Sham. For complex services such as land entitlement and construction permit, the residents must hire a translator or a lawyer who can speak Chinese.

The Alhambra Police Department's telephone system also offers Chinese services, Sham told World Journal. If the caller says “Chinese”, they will be connected to a translator.

Other San Gabriel Valley cities with a high Chinese population, such as San Gabriel, Rosemead, Arcadia, Diamond Bar, and Walnut, provide little or no government services in Chinese. Walnut Mayor Mary Su said that many cities are cutting their budgets and do not have enough resources to offer bilingual services.

Monterey Park has the most comprehensive Chinese translation service among Chinese-concentrated cities in the San Gabriel Valley, according to World Journal. Most of the city's departments offer services in Chinese, Monterey Park Councilman Anthony Wong told World Journal. The city’s official website has Chinese pages listing all government services. Monterey Park City Manager Paul Talbot said that bilingual city staff in Monterey Park even enjoy a salary bonus.

Do you think Alhambra should offer more city services in Chinese?

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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19 thoughts on “Is Alhambra not offering enough city services in Chinese?”

  1. @ Brett Moorover,

    Some good points but the state has also taken a position on this more than a decade ago. You may want to read up on the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act.

    In addition, California Government Code Section 7290-7299.8 addresses some of the issues this Alhambra Source article brings up. In particular, I found two sections that were relevant to local agencies (such as the city of Alhambra); 7293 and 7295. I’ll reiterate them here, with the capitalized words mine. Some of the other sections refer to STATE agencies.

    “7293. Every local public agency, as defined in Section 54951,serving a substantial number of non-English-speaking people, shall employ a sufficient number of qualified bilingual persons in public contact positions or as interpreters to assist those in such positions, to ensure provision of information and services in the language of the non-English-speaking person. The DETERMINATION of what constitutes a substantial number of non-English-speaking people and a sufficient number of qualified bilingual persons SHALL BE MADE BY THE LOCAL AGENCY.”

    “7295. Any MATERIALS EXPLAINING SERVICES available to the public shall be translated into any non-English language spoken by a substantial number of the public served by the agency. Whenever notice of the availability of materials explaining services available is given, orally or in writing, it shall be given in English and in the non-English language into which any materials have been translated. The DETERMINATION of when these materials are NECESSARY when dealing with local agencies shall be left to the DISCRETION OF THE LOCAL AGENCY.”

    The importance here is the wording of these two sections. With limited city resources and expected demand, the determination of the city (as referenced to Councilman Stephen Sham’s statements) to limit translation services falls within purview of state law.

    I do understand every city is different, but in my opinion, English should be the main standard with translation services emphasized only in the public safety areas as you point out.

    It’s also odd and interesting when you say “Or are you just accepting cans and bottles from fluent English speakers?”. From my observations (like from the recycling station at the Super A Foods store, now closed), many of the recyclers I’ve seen have English as their second language.

  2. Bottom line……………..this is AMERICA! ENGLISH PLEASE!!

  3. Outside of certain educational programs like English language classes, public services such as police, fire, public works, and other civic-related services are designed *first and foremost* to protect public health and safety and provide *all* residents city services. These public services are NOT designed to promote cultural assimilation and English fluency.

    Got that? In other words, police, fire, anti-graffiti efforts, building and health code enforcement, recycling outreach, and most other city services do not exist to teach you English. They exist to protect, serve, and inform — REGARDLESS of a person’s English fluency or lack thereof.

    Just because some fellow Alhambrans don’t speak English well does NOT mean they shouldn’t have equal access to services. If a large portion of the public requires translation of signs, pamphlets, and whatnot in order to get that equal access, the city has an obligation to provide it. Limited English speakers have every right to equal access of city services, and the city has an obligation to meet the language needs of its resident base when providing services and conducting outreach campaigns. And by the way, these neighbors of ours who don’t speak perfect English pay taxes like everyone else — taxes that pay for the city services we’re talking about.

    Let’s don our thinking caps for a moment:

    If the police department wants more residents to be on the lookout for, say, a band of roving burglars breaking into homes (and burglary has struck a number of Alhambra homes in recent days), *of course* it makes sense for the police to send out this message in the various languages spoken widely by residents. After all, the more people (including limited English speakers!) who are informed and instructed to call the cops, the better the chances are that someone will see something, call the police, get those burglars behind bars, and keep this city safe. Everyone is safer.

    If the city wants residents to install carbon monoxide detectors in every dwelling, *by all means* it should provide translated outreach and pamphlets at events and make phone calls to the non-English newspapers that serve the area to get the word out. The whole point of such a campaign is to SAVE LIVES (including the lives of limited English speakers!), NOT teach English. The more people you inform in a language they understand, the more lives are saved. People shouldn’t have to wait till they pass some English fluency test to be informed about such important matters. Every life is worth saving.

    If the city is promoting recycling and composting classes, *of course* they should get the word out in the different languages spoken around town. Why wouldn’t you want everyone to get involved if the goal is to get more people to recycle and compost? (Or are you just accepting cans and bottles from fluent English speakers?) Every bottle counts.

    If the city offers a smart phone app that helps people easily report graffiti while they’re walking down their street, why wouldn’t we want the city to make that app available and advertise it in the various languages spoken widely in the area? The more people who know about it, the greater the chances are that graffiti will be spotted, reported, and quickly painted over. Streets remain graffiti-free.

    Learning English is a good thing, but it’s short-sighted, unfair, and xenophobic to exclude a large portion of the city’s residents from becoming informed about city programs, having equal access to city services, and taking part in civic life because they happen to speak less than perfect English. Equal access to city services and information through multi-lingual outreach empowers ALL Alhambrans — regardless of language ability — to become informed, get involved, and utilize the city services they’ve paid for with their tax dollars.

    Assimilation and English acquisition are NOT the issues here; improving public health and safety, providing equal access to city services, and promoting an informed and involved resident base are.

  4. Whether Alhambra needs to provide more city services in Chinese depends on the population’s size and its fluency level.

    If a significant portion of the population isn’t fluent in English but is fluent in another language, then the City should provide some city services in that other language. Otherwise it isn’t serving its residents. That need to provide additional services in that other language grows in proportion with the population who are only fluent in that language.

    At its most basic, translation services for public safety departments should have the lowest threshold for the City to provide such services. For example, I think we absolutely need Chinese translators/officers for our public safety departments. What happened when Blue Ocean Restaurant burned down is a good example.

    I don’t know what percentage of Alhambra residents fluently speak only Chinese but it may be enough to merit increasing the number of services in that language.

    The City can take some very low-cost measures to make material available in other languages. For example, I have a Google Translate add-on to my web site that translates the page into other languages. It isn’t perfect but it does a much better job than “take it, or leave it.” A properly translated disclaimer could tell people the translations aren’t perfect. The city could also combine resources with other cities in the San Gabriel Valley to make translations more cost-effective.

    In addition, providing some translation services may make Alhambra more friendly for business investment by Chinese-speakers or those who cater to them. Even though companies often have translation resources, they want themselves and their customers to feel more comfortable. In which case, providing certain services in Chinese would make those people feel more welcome to do business and invest in our community.

    I disagree with the people who say “we’re in America – learn English,” particularly since few provide additional constructive ideas or statements. Those same community members are also the same people who complain openly and loudly on the Alhambra Source and elsewhere that these foreigners don’t care or get involved in the community.

    People who immigrate here come at all ages, with varying skills and abilities to acquire new languages, and with different levels of English capabilities. Older adults generally have a more difficult time learning new languages and remain more comfortable speaking their native tongue. On the other hand, children will learn new languages fairly quickly. In addition, some people can pick up new languages quickly while others take years of study to gain elementary skills in that new language. Personally, I fall in the latter category and have a horribly difficult time learning new languages.

    Moreover, immigrants come to our community with varying levels of education level, literacy, and English skills. Each has a role in how quickly that person can pick up English. Not only that, but folks need time to take classes and study English to learn, which is more difficult for some immigrants than others. I’m not making excuses for people, I’m just saying that telling folks to “learn English” in the way they do is too simplistic and ignorant.

    Learning English has been a primary xenophobic complaint for more than a century when Germans and Eastern Europeans started coming to the US in large numbers. And like the Asians do today, those earlier groups moved to semi-isolated enclaves that allowed life to be conducted in the old language. And like those earlier groups, the next generations of Alhambra’s Asians will learn English and assimilate into our larger American culture.

    In the meantime, it is in our best interest as a community, for our local economy, and for public safety reasons to ensure that we provide our residents and businesses with non-English services as appropriate based on the proportionate number in our community.

    *Edited to add links.

  5. Last I checked, the article was about whether the city (Alhambra) was, or should be providing more services in Chinese. The one question that is not being answered is that if the city feels services in Chinese aren’t necessary, then do they also feel services in Spanish aren’t necessary?

    Making a claim without backup–actually refusing to provide backup–it really shows how people who claim “we’re in America, learn English” are the ones who really need lessons in English. Learning English isn’t just about grammar, it’s also about learning to carry out a constructive argument, which you learn in school. I know I did.

    BTW, some of us who don’t speak or read a word in Chinese have no problems going to stores/businesses. There’s a website called Yelp. Try it sometime.

    1. For clarity: I do not believe that services should be provided in any language other than English. I do not speak Spanish just as you do not speak Chinese. If I need help with my city’s governance, I should be able to seek that help in the English language and not in another language.

  6. Are you kidding me with your comment “It seems unreasonable to demand that other minority groups have to learn English and are expected to adjust perfectly without assistance.” Take a look around Alhambra and you will see that 99.8% of the store fronts are in chinese!! Enough already….this is AMERICA not china.

    1. @Val: Yes, this is America where a business can choose to do business in its preferred language and turn away potential paying customers.

      1. @Dan. Clearly, you’re not a resident of the City of Alhambra since you admit that you “don’t know what percentage of Alhambra residents fluently speak only Chinese.” In fact, if you were a resident of Alhambra, you would KNOW that any publications circulated by the City or in other languages, as well as English.

        Clearly, you’re can’t be advocating discrimination with your comment, “this is America where a business can choose to do business in its preferred language and turn away potential paying customers.” It is precisely this attitude that creates bridges between ethnic groups, no matter what the country of origin is. Anyone who immigrate to America, does so freely and surely are aware of the fact that by living in another country the necessity of “blending in” and acclimating is in their best interest and should take the necessary steps to accomplish this not only for themselves but for the future generations of their families in America.

      2. @Val

        You’ve taken the quote out of context and distorted it.

        The original quote is:

        Why is it always acceptable to have everything in Spanish, but not in any other languages. It seems unreasonable to demand that other minority groups have to learn English and are expected to adjust perfectly without assistance, which they have been doing so for so many years, but have counterparts of the Latino American population have all the resources available to them.

        Please also cite, whether from census or city/county sources, to back up your claim that “99.8% of the store fronts are in chinese”. Since you made the claim, the burden of proof is on you. Otherwise, your subsequent claim that Dan is clearly “not a resident of Alhambra” is moot, though it is irrelevant to begin with. Thanks.

      3. @Kim. I don’t have to cite anything. Take a drive down Valley/Garvey/Atlantic/Arcadia, Temple city/Monterey Park; San Gabriel/and on and on and one, and see for yourself.

        As to “resources,” there are so many resources available to any person migrating to America despite the country of origin or their ethnicity. Clearly, you’re not informed. Every person who makes the conscience to come to America for a “better life” (albeit often times at the expense of taxpayers) I would think would want to learn English and become familiar with the lifestyle in America (which lifestyle was a major factor in the conscience decision to migrate) in order to blend in and begin their new lives in America. America has so many “safety nets” and “resources” available to anyone.

      4. If you are living in the United States, using the services provided by the United States, you should be able to communicate in the language of the host country – English. If we were to go to China or another country to reside, would we be extended the same courtesy of having the services and signage printed out in English? If you drive down Valley Blvd. you will see a MULTITUDE of signage in various Asian languages – so much so that many non-Asians have no idea what kind of business is conducted in those shops. This is America; the language of the land is English; all signage, etc. should be in English first with subtitles in other languages as necessary.

      5. @Margaret. I 100% agree with your statements!!

      6. @Val: Do you have data to support your assertions? If you do, please share. Regardless, stop twisting what others say, lest you come off as malicious or willfully ignorant. Moreover, you should be constructive instead of making uninformed arguments or irrelevant personal attacks.

        The U.S. Census Bureau collects and disseminates data about what percentage of our population it estimates speaks English and other languages. It does not go into sufficient detail to know who speaks only minority languages such as Chinese. However, the Census Bureau does estimate the number who speak other languages in the home. Imputing the number who speak another language at home would likely inflate the percentage of the population who only speak a particular language. A quick search does not turn up a better data source for language fluency in Alhambra.

        According to census data, in Alhambra 76% of the population (over 3/4) speak languages other than English at home. Only 24% speak only English at home. Of the group who do not speak English, about a third (34%) speak Spanish or Creole and two-thirds (66%) speak other languages. While the Census Bureau doesn’t break down the ‘other’ languages data point further, it is safe to assume the majority of those speak a dialect of Chinese as well as some Vietnamese. These numbers speak present a very strong argument that the City probably needs to ensure it provides more services in Chinese than Spanish.

        I took the time to download the census data and distill it into a more usable table. In addition, I created pie charts to show the relative differences in the population.

        Chart: home language

        Chart: comparison between Spanish and ‘other’ languages

        Google Doc

        Source: U.S. Census Bureau

        I encourage you to re-read my previous comment.

  7. The Chinese will adapt. They are smart. And for the ones who are (every group has bad apples) interested in creating a Far East barrio, tough luck.

    1. @M. Payne: Not learning English is not the equivalent of creating a ghetto wasteland.

  8. As someone of “non-white” background, I’ve always felt that it is a great dis-service to immigrants to have signage or make provisions to conform to their native language.

    While I fully support and encourage immigrants from other countries to stay connected to their native culture—this is America. Not Asia, Mexico (anymore), France, Italy, etc. English SHOULD be learned in order to assimilate and prosper.

  9. Alhambra Resident

    Alhambra should definitely have more services in Chinese. Why is it always acceptable to have everything in Spanish, but not in any other languages. It seems unreasonable to demand that other minority groups have to learn English and are expected to adjust perfectly without assistance, which they have been doing so for so many years, but have counterparts of the Latino American population have all the resources available to them. Is this borderline discrimination? Or simply a city not servicing the needs of its communities?