Some Flushing residents — still enraged about the lack of bilingual signage on businesses in the downtown area — had one universal message: “English comes first.”
“When store owners put up signs in only their language, they’re saying they don’t want us in the store. And if they don’t want me in their stores in my country, then I don’t want them in my country,” said resident Eugene Sadowsky.
The issue has been an ongoing one for over two years, said resident James Trikas, who is part of a small group of locals fighting to see signage in the area changed to 60 percent English and 40 percent in a second language.
“They’re sending the message that they cater to their own, and that’s offensive and wrong,” Trikas said. “They are changing the community to show that this is a Chinese or Korean only community. A business shouldn’t do that. We’re all for fairness, but we’re trying to unite people and not allow people to segregate us.”
Currently, state law does require bilingual signage. However, it is not enforced due to miscommunication as to which agency is responsible, according to elected officials. The law also does not apply to leased businesses.
While legislation has been introduced in the State Assembly, as well as the City Council, Trikas said local electeds have showed little to no leadership in getting the matter resolved due to the sensitive nature of the issue.
“They know it’s a huge problem in the community, and they’re not doing anything about it. They’re ignoring it by shifting the burden into enforcement. This is a game they’re playing to delay the issue,” said Trikas.
Assemblymember Grace Meng said the bill she introduced has been submitted to the state, but she said there is no time frame on when it would be voted on or passed. Her bill would require signs to have bilingual language, make the law apply to leased properties and name the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) as the rightful enforcer. Under the bill, the city agency would also determine the ratio of English and other languages on the signs.
“It’s hard to determine the timeline of a bill. Some bills take months and some take years,” Meng said. “I know it’s not the easiest thing to do. We’re trying to do it without overly burdening businesses.”
Co-sponsored city legislation introduced about a year ago by Councilmember Dan Halloran and Peter Koo would require signs to be 60 percent in English. It would also make the DCA responsible for enforcement.
However, according to Steven Stites, a spokesperson for Halloran, the councilmembers were told jurisdiction lies in the state, not the city.
“This is America. This is our country. I’m starting to be rude, and I really am starting not to care,” Sadowsky said. “I’m not racist. I’m not against anybody coming here. But when it comes to the signage, I’m dead against it. They have to change the signs now — not next year, not next month, not next week.”