Translation of Foreign Stores

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New York City has long been a city of immigrants, the first stop for the “huddled masses” who got off the boat in Ellis Island. While modern-day Americans like to natter on about how those original huddled masses assimilated themselves immediately while today’s immigrants do not, the truth is that immigrants have long clustered together, creating neighbourhoods that reflect their cultures and remind them of home.

For example, the neighbourhood of Flushing in Queens is primarily Chinese and Korean, and it shows- especially in the Chinese- and Korean-language signs over the doors of shops and restaurants. As Peter Tu, the executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, told the Washington Post :

“People must respect that this is a special area and please respect the Asian culture. They have their own life in this area. When you walk in the street, you don’t feel like you are in America.”

For some New Yorkers, that’s precisely the problem. While many residents embrace the city’s multi-ethnic character, others are annoyed and alienated. In response, the Washington Post reports that two City Councilmen, Dan Halloran and Peter Koo, are drafting legislation that would require translation of foreign-language store signs.

First, effective immediately, stores would have to display their names in English. There is already a law on the books that requires that, but it was created to protect consumers from fly-by-night businesses using false names in the era after the Great Depression. It was never intended to block stores was putting up signs in another language, and it is not presently enforced. The new legislation, if it passes, would require the city to inspect stores for compliance. Then, after a four-year grace period, all businesses would have to have at least 60 percent of their signs in English.

According to Councilman Halloran, the law is “This is designed for public safety, consumer protection and to start increasing the foot traffic into the stores.” Now, it makes sense that you’d want emergency crews to be able to figure out where they’re going as easily as possible (though that really only requires having the store name and address be in English).

However, considering that the merchants themselves don’t seem to want the law (per the Washington Post) and their stores seem to be thriving without it, that bit about increasing foot traffic into the stores smacks of patronisation.  What do you think of this proposal?