MONTEREY PARK — In its first month, a new service center established to help Asian immigrants find jobs, fill out forms in English and, in general, cope with life in their new country has drawn far more requests for help than expected.
David Chen, who runs a public relations and advertising business, said he volunteered to run the Diho Service Center in his spare time, but "if I could have foreseen this, I would have hesitated."
The center was opened May 1 at the Diho Market's offices on Monterey Pass Road with ads in Chinese newspapers offering free services to immigrants. Chen said 357 service requests were received the first month.
There were 120 people seeking jobs and 60 requests for help with forms. One elderly woman who cannot read English brought in a sack of mail and asked for help in sorting out the bills and important letters from the junk. A couple of callers sought help for mental problems. One man asked for assistance in dealing with an abusive wife.
Not Easy to Adjust
Chen said the volume of assistance requests demonstrates that Asian immigrants are having more difficulty adjusting to American life than many people suppose.
Chen, 48, is himself an immigrant, having come to Monterey Park from Taiwan six years ago. Jin Shen Wu, who opened his first Diho Market in Monterey Park seven years ago and built a supermarket chain with $30 million in annual sales, also emigrated from Taiwan, and started the service center to help other recent arrivals.
Wu, speaking in Chinese translated into English by Chen, said that many people mistakenly believe that many Chinese immigrants are wealthy and beyond need of assistance. Some immigrants had amassed wealth before their arrival, but the more typical immigrant is a member of the middle class. That was his own position, Wu said, when he came to the United States in 1975.
Wu, 48, said he came to this country so that his daughters, then 7 and 9, would have a better education than they could get in Taiwan. Wu said he had always been a salaried employee in Taiwan, working in the stock exchange, and had no business experience. He came to Monterey Park and bought property on Atlantic Boulevard with the idea of developing and selling it.
Wu said he thought the area would support a store offering Oriental food in a modern supermarket atmosphere, but he couldn't interest anyone in the idea. So he opened the market himself in 1978. The store grossed $100,000 monthly in the first year and grew rapidly.
Opened Six Others
With partners, Wu opened six other markets, including outlets in Houston and Chicago, acquired a meat-packing plant in downtown Los Angeles and established a farm in Chino to supply his markets with Chinese vegetables.
Wu has built his business empire without acquiring enough fluency in English to feel comfortable talking to strangers. As the Asian community has grown, Wu said, it has become increasingly easy to get by without learning English. Wu said he sometimes wishes that he were forced to speak English because that would sharpen his language skills.
Wu said he opened the service center because immigrants who cannot speak English have special problems in every area from getting jobs to taking advantage of social services.
Chen said the center functions mainly as a referral agency. Employers call with jobs and the center tries to match applicants to suitable positions, but does not test job-seekers or try to verify their skills. People who have legal problems are referred to lawyers who have donated their services for initial consultations.
The center also has a list of social agencies to which it can refer people with special problems.
Chen said the needs of immigrants vary. There are Asians who have come to this country to retire, don't speak English and get along well without the language. But younger Asians who must find jobs will be severely handicapped in the job market unless they learn to speak English.
The sons of immigrants present special problems because they become Americanized so rapidly. Chen said the point is driven home to him every time he offers to take his family to dinner and the children insist on getting hamburgers at McDonald's. And last year, Chen said he truly understood the gulf when he took his sons to a volleyball match during the Olympic Games and found himself applauding for China while his sons rooted for the U.S. team.
Children adapt easily, Chen said, but he hopes the Diho Service Center can be a bridge for those Asian immigrants who are still more at home in the old country than the new and need help to understand and overcome language and cultural differences.