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Alhambra residents call for wider availability of translation services at City Council meeting

Photo by David Muñoz.


Alhambra , CA United States

A relatively rare occurrence took place at Monday’s City Council meeting, when several speakers at public comment addressed the Council in a language other than English.

Speaking mainly in Cantonese, five residents expressed their concerns about issues ranging from high rents and a lack of affordable housing in Alhambra to the presence of crime and homelessness in the city. They also complimented the city on providing essential services like the Senior Ride public transportation program. Their overall goal was to ask the city to make translation services more widely available so that immigrants like them who weren’t proficient in English could more readily participate in public discussions.

“Even though we speak different languages and have different cultures, but our lives are the same, [such as the need] for making housing affordable for people,” said Thanh Vuong, a Vietnamese immigrant who has lived in Alhambra for 21 years and who was able to address the Council in English. “And we want to [advocate] for everybody.”

The women were accompanied by Li’i Furimoto, youth and parent leadership project director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, who teaches English as a Second Language to many of the speakers. She told the Council about discussing civic engagement issues with the immigrant parents who come to her classes, and how regular translation services would bolster their participation.

“The parents in our program want to continue to engage with the City Council members and elected officials on these issues,” she said. “However, although the parents work very hard to learn English, they would need increased support in terms of language accessibility to fully engage the democratic process in the city of Alhambra.”

Furimoto suggested not only providing interpretation of any public comment made in languages other than English, but providing oral and written translations of meeting proceedings upon request. She also suggested that the translation be of professional quality so that residents who are not proficient in English could grasp various complex legal terms and other similar concepts.

Providing these types of services is especially important in a city like Alhambra, where a little more than 50 percent of the population are Asian and almost 40 percent are Latino, according to the 2017 American Community Survey. Around one-third of the city’s population reported speaking English less than “very well.”

Eric Sunada, the president of local non-profit Grassroots Alhambra, also attend the City Council meeting in support of the speakers. “This is something that GRA fully supports: the civic engagement of our immigrant community and clearing roadblocks that have for far too long resulted in disenfranchisement,” he said via email.

The City enlisted two city employees to work as translators for Monday night’s meeting. Mable Yu, who works as a revenue manager for Alhambra, provided Cantonese translation, while Shannen Sisavath, who works as a library services manager, provided Vietnamese translation. The city tries to accommodate all requests for translation if they are received with sufficient notice, said City Clerk Lauren Myles via email.

Alhambra resident Lola Armendariz spoke in opposition to providing regular translation services, saying that such an undertaking would be expensive, given the many different languages spoken in the city, and that perhaps Alhambra would incur liability for any misinterpretation that comes from providing translation services. She suggested that people who want translation provide their own interpreter or find an English as a Second Language class, and that her relatives sought out similar resources when they immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1920s.

“The opportunities that are out there now for people to learn English and other languages, just to get in to the American culture, at that time were nil, and now there’s so much out there,” she said, adding that the city could perhaps fund more English-language learning classes.

Jeff Maloney was the first City Council member to express his receptiveness to increasing translation services during this meeting. “I think that a language barrier shouldn’t be a barrier to participation, and we as a city should be looking at all best practices to make sure we are effectively communicating with our residents,” he said.

Maloney added that the time was right to set translation as a priority at the City Council’s upcoming strategic planning meeting on April 18, where they set yearly goals to improve city services.

Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler echoed Maloney’s sentiments and recognized the residents and translators who participated in the meeting. “We know that communication is key for all of us understanding each other better,” she said. “There are multiple languages we want to promote.”

There was already a bridging of cultures occurring at Monday’s night meeting, with Councilmember David Mejia informing one resident, Sophia Mei, about the presence of neighborhood watch groups, as well as translation services at the Alhambra Police Department, if she wanted to report a crime. Mei said that although she had recently moved to Arcadia, she would let her friends know about these services.

The City Council also unanimously approved the creation of an underground utility district on Chapel Avenue from south of Mission Road to north of Los Higos Street and from south Linda Vista Avenue to San Marino Avenue, as well as on Commonwealth Avenue from Olive Avenue to Palm Avenue, locations that the city chose with the Southern California Edison Utility. Alhambra’s Department of Public Works would work with Southern California Edison to move overhead wires underground and remove utility polls from the public right-of-way, and that doing so would enhance safety and system reliability and could increase property values. Public Works Director Mary Chavez said that Southern California Edison had set aside $6.5 million for this project and that the new underground utility district would affect 272 households.

Two residents questioned the necessity of the project, expressing concern over how long it would take, whether underground utility facilities would be constructed citywide and whether construction would disrupt neighborhood quality-of-life, especially overnight street parking. Chavez said that Public Works would do everything possible to make sure disruption is minimal to nearby residents.

The city also presented Chavez, who is retiring after 35 years, with a certificate of service. “You have made our city cleaner, neater, safer, more well lit, better decorated, a whole assortment of things,” said Alhambra Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Gibbs, who presented the certificate. Former City Councilmember Barbara Messina and the current City Council also spoke in Chavez’s honor.

*Full disclosure: Eric Sunada is a member of the Alhambra Source advisory board. Advisory board members have no editorial control or access to stories before publication.

Chinese translation by Michelle Pan and Leah Chang.




“尽管我们都说不同的语言并且有不同的文化,但我们的生活都是一样的,(例如我们的生活所需)让人们负担得起住房,”在阿罕布拉居住了21年的越南移民Thanh Vuong用英语跟理事会说道。 “我们想为每个人发声。”

这些居民全为女性。她们是由Li’i Furimoto的陪同下参与会议的,Li’i Furimoto 是亚美促进中心的中老少年领导项目主任,她为在场的许多为发言者们教授英语来作为他们的第二语言。她告诉委员会,在教程中她多次与来上课的移民家长讨论公民参与问题,以及定期翻译服务能如何加强他们的参与。

“我们中心的家长们希望能继续与市议会成员以及民选官员们讨论相关话题。” 她说。 “然而,虽然这些家长们都非常努力的学习英语,可他们还是需要在语言方面获得更多的帮助才能充分参与阿罕布拉市的民主程序。”

Furimoto 建议不仅要用英语以外的其他语言作出任何公开评论的翻译,并且需要提供会议程序的口头及书面上的翻译。她还建议翻译需要具有专业性质,以便不精通英语的居民可以掌握各种复杂的法律术语和其他类似的概念。


当地非营利性Grassroots Alhambra (草根基层) 的总裁Eric Sunada也参加了本次的市议会会议,以支持发言者们。 “这是GRA(草根基层)完全支持的事情。我们移民社区的居民应该参与,并且消除长时间以来导致公民权利被剥夺的障碍。”他通过电子邮件说到。

在周一晚上的会议上,该市招募了两名为市内工作的员工担任翻译员。Alhambra收益经理Mable Yu提供了粤语翻译,图书馆服务经理的Shannen Sisavath提供越南语翻译。市政府书记 Lauren Myles 通过电子邮件表示,如果能充足的提早通知,该市将尽力满足所有翻译请求。

不过也有人持不同意见。Alhambra居民Lola Armendariz反对城市提供定期翻译服务,并表示,鉴于该市内有太多不同的语言了,该承诺的花费将会是十分昂贵的,并且Alhambra可能会因提供翻译服务中产生的任何误解而承担责任。她建议那些想要或需要翻译的人自己去寻找翻译员,或者可以找一个基础的英语课程来学习。当初她那些在20世纪20年代从墨西哥移民到美国的亲戚就寻找了类似的资源。

“现在人们有许多可以学习英语和其他语言的机会,为了能够融入美国文化,” 她说。并补充说,也许本市可以资助开办更多的英语学习班。

Jeff Maloney是第一位在本次会议期间表达了他对增加翻译服务的接受度的市议会成员。 “我认为语言不应成为「公民」参与的障碍,我们作为一个城市应该考虑所有最佳做法,以确保我们与居民有效沟通。”他说。

Maloney 补充说,在4月18日市议会即将举行一个战略规划会议,届时可以把翻译作为优先事项来讨论。到时候他们将在那里设定一些改善城市服务的年度目标。

Adele Andrade市长回应了Maloney的观点,并认可了参加会议的居民和翻译。 “我们知道沟通是让我们所有人更好地相互理解的关键,”她说, “我们想要推广多种语言。”

在周一晚上的会议上已经出现了跨文化的桥接,议员David Mejia告诉一位居民Sophia Mei,如果她想举报犯罪,Alhambra警察局以及守望相助小​​组已经有了翻译服务。 Mei说,虽然她最近已搬到阿卡迪亚,但她会让她的朋友了解这些服务。

市议会还一致批准在教堂大道上设置一个地下公用设施区,从Mission Road以南到Los Higos Street以北,从Linda Vista Avenue南部到San Marino Avenue,以及从Olive Avenue到Palm Avenue的Commonwealth Avenue,该市选择南加州爱迪生公用事业公司的地点。 Alhambra的公共工程部门将与南加州爱迪生公司合作,将露天电线移到地下,并移除电线杆从而避免了公共先行权导致的问题,如此一来可以提高安全性和系统可靠性,并可以提高房产价值。公共工程总监Mary Chavez说,南加州爱迪生公司为该项目预留了650万美元,新的地下公用设施区将影响272户家庭。

两名居民质疑该项目的必要性,表示关注需要多长时间,是否在全市范围内建造地下公用设施以及建筑是否会破坏邻里的生活质量,特别是隔夜街道停车。查韦斯说,Public Works将尽一切可能确保对附近居民的干扰最小化。

在颁发服务证书给服务了35年后并即将退休的Chavez的时候,阿罕布拉商会首席执行官Sharon Gibbs说道, “你使我们的城市更干净,更整洁,更安全,更明亮,装饰更好,以及各种各样的好处。”前市议员Barbara Messina和现任市议会也表示赞同。

*完全披露:Eric Sunada是Alhambra Source顾问委员会的成员。咨询委员会成员在出版前没有编辑控制或访问故事。

翻译:Michelle Pan , Leah Chang.

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1 thought on “Alhambra residents call for wider availability of translation services at City Council meeting”

  1. Good on these residents! As to priorities, what is more important: $200,000 a year to the Chamber of Commerce or spending money on translators so Alhambra residents can civically engage? It is a no-brainer. Shame on people who think translating services in a majority-minority city is not a priority or worthy expense. Outreach efforts will do little good if a third of Alhambra’s population cannot engage with city hall because of language barriers. The city should both budget for translators and designate CDBG funds to support ESL and adult education classes. The money is there, it’s just about re-budgeting and re-assessing priorities. City management is well-paid. I am sure they can figure it out. https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2016/alhambra/