MONTEREY PARK — A group opposed to an initiative that would declare English the official language of Monterey Park will ask the City Council on Tuesday night to put a rival measure on the same ballot for the city election in April.
The Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park has prepared a measure expressing its fear that making English the official language would lead to violations of constitutional rights.
Michael Eng, an attorney who is one of the leaders of the coalition, said that the rights of free speech and assembly could be restricted if the city fully implemented an English-language policy. He said the consequences might include discontinuance of the Chinese translation of the city newsletter, an end to the Police Department's use of translators and the imposition of rules prohibiting city employees from talking among themselves in any language but English.
Asians Largest Group
Supporters of the initiative deny that their proposal would infringe on constitutional rights or go so far as to stop police from using translators to elicit information. Instead, they say, their intention is to require more use of English so that the city's diverse population of Asian immigrants, Latinos and Anglos can communicate better with each other. The population is estimated at 40% Asian, with the remainder divided about equally between Latinos and Anglos.
Frank Arcuri, one of the initiative's proponents, said more than 3,000 registered voters have signed petitions for a city ordinance declaring English the city's official language. He said the petitions will be handed to the city clerk at Tuesday's council meeting. If the clerk verifies at least 2,266 valid signatures, the council must either adopt the measure as written or submit it to voters. Since most council members are opposed to the initiative, Arcuri said he expects the measure to go on the ballot with the council election in April.
The initiative says: "English is the language that we use in Monterey Park when we want everyone to understand our ideas. This is what unites us as Americans, even though some of our citizens speak other languages. Let us make English our official language as a symbol of this unity."
Drafted an Alternative
Ruth Willner, spokeswoman for the coalition against the English language initiative, said her group drafted an alternative measure to give voters a choice and to enable the coalition to campaign for something, instead of just assailing the English-language initiative.
The rival measure says: "We the people of Monterey Park believe the unifying force in our community is our democratic tradition of equality and appreciation of our multi-ethnic and multicultural heritage.
"Although we recognize that English is our common language in Monterey Park, we believe that making English the official language of our city would lead to violations of our constitutional rights.
"While we encourage all immigrants to learn English and we recognize such efforts, we uphold the American value of the respect for diverse traditions, cultures and languages."
An allegation that the English-language initiative would encourage racism and divide the community was made at a press conference Nov. 1 in front of City Hall by leaders of the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park. Among those denouncing the initiative were coalition leaders Fred Rivera, Planning Commission chairman; R. C. (Pete) Hollingsworth, library board president; Tony Miera, chief deputy controller for the city of Los Angeles; Luci Rios, an adult-school teacher, Eng and Willner.
Eng said he believes that the measure is aimed both at the city's Asian immigrants and at Latinos. He said it would have all sorts of ramifications in city government.
Rios said the measure would infringe on free speech by pressuring people to use English even though they have little or no knowledge of the language.
"It would deny people the right to speak because it would make them ashamed to speak," she said. "I do not want to see any nationality humiliated in this way."
She added: "It is not English that unifies people; it is the mutual respect for each other."
Should Become Tutors
Hollingsworth said those who want to encourage the use of English should sign up to tutor immigrants as he has done. "It's better to teach English than to mandate it," he said.
Barry Hatch, a teacher who started the English-language initiative with Arcuri, said the measure is not racist, but is designed to prevent the fragmentation of the community into groups that speak separate languages and are isolated from each other. Hatch said passage of the initiative, while not mandating specific action, could encourage the City Council to adopt regulations curtailing the use of foreign languages in business signs, could persuade schools to de-emphasize bilingual education, and could discourage the use of bilingual ballots and foreign language translations of driver's license tests.
Mayor Rudy Peralta, who has called the English-language initiative divisive, said he welcomes the formation of the Coalition for Harmony and its rival proposal. He said he favors putting the rival measure on the ballot with the English language initiative to give voters a choice.