Flushing board wants bilingual store signs now

An advisory board wants local legislators to take action to require signs be written predominately in English, effectively outlawing some of the signs visible at the intersection of Main Street and Kissena Boulevard in downtown Flushing. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Connor Adams Sheets

The long-debated issue of how to encourage the use of English on businesses’ signs in downtown Flushing has heated up in recent days.

Members of an advisory board formed last year to examine ways to address the lack of English on many signs stepped up their rhetoric last week on the topic, collecting petition signatures and sending an open letter to area politicians imploring them to take steps to force store owners to install signs written predominately in English.

Mary Ann Boroz, a Flushing resident who has been active on the issue, signed the letter addressed to state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing).

“For several months we have had meetings regarding the use of English in the stores and on their signs. We have gotten nowhere. All we hear are what seems to be one excuse after another. ENOUGH,” Boroz wrote in the letter. “It seems that the stores will not voluntarily install the English signs inside or outside the stores. Why won’t you either strengthen the already existing law or rewrite a new law either in the City Council or the State Legislature, and do this in our lifetime[?]”

Members of the advisory board, which has met several times in the past year, have also collected more than 100 petition signatures urging the politicians to act on the English signage issue, which has come to a head with the rapid development of the once-suburban neighborhood and the influx of Asian immigrants in recent decades.

Meng responded to the letter by saying that she is committed to working with the board — which she was instrumental in creating — but that it will take time to come up with a solution to this years-old problem.

“I found it odd because at the last meeting we said we were going to go over ideas and the legislation and figure out a way to pass it,” Meng said. “We’re working on the budget right now [in Albany], and most legislation doesn’t pass in two months, so I think they were just being a little impatient.”

She said she also wants to find a way to lessen the financial burden on business owners of having to purchase new signage.

James Trikas, a community leader and member of the advisory board, said the board has tried to be patient since 2001, when former Flushing Councilman John Liu first said he would tackle the issue.

“Our petition is to get English as the predominant language on all stores’ signs — out front and inside,” Trikas said. “When you have a sign that’s only in Chinese or Korean, that’s very offensive. It says, ‘You shouldn’t come here.’ … You can have another language smaller than the English, but you can’t have these big Asian signs only.”

For years many commercial signs in areas of Flushing with high Asian immigrant concentrations have been written only in Chinese or Korean or with limited English translations.

Many community members say it is imperative that all signs be written predominately in English, as it is a safety hazard as well as an inconvenience for shoppers and residents to have only other languages on important signs.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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