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A City Is Divided by Its Languages : English-Only Plan for Signs Stirs Opposition

April 10, 1987|RAY PEREZ | Times Staff Writer

Garden Grove businessman John Perrot has lived in the city for 27 years, and has seen it grow from a sleepy farming settlement of citrus groves and strawberry fields into a prosperous enclave of businesses and small industry.

But now Perrot, 51, says he is "up in arms over Garden Grove being turned into a Koreatown" and is pushing for a proposal that would require English to be used on all business signs in the city.

Believes Signs Too Large

Perrot, who has operated a carpet and linoleum shop on Brookhurst Street near Garden Grove Boulevard for 22 years, says Koreans now dominate the businesses and the boulevard is being overrun with large foreign-language signs.

"Nobody can understand these signs but Koreans. The use of English is what has kept us together. These are selfish immigrants who want to stay separate," he said angrily at a recent community meeting attended by 250 residents to discuss city plans to revitalize a two-mile strip of Garden Grove Boulevard.

Perrot's critics, however, contend that his proposal to require mostly English on business signs is a thinly veiled effort to expound racist views and impose them on the community. Some fear it is symptomatic of a growing racist sentiment in a city that has seen a heavy influx of Asian immigrants in recent years.

Perrot denies the accusations.

But Mayor Jonathan H. Cannon, for one, said Perrot simply doesn't like the influx of immigrants. He said Perrot and others serving on a citizens' committee to study redevelopment plans for the city's commercial center are using the citizens' panel to promote their English-only ordinance.

"I can understand people's frustrations. But I think it has less to do with signs than with feelings of things happening that are different from what they are used to," Cannon said.

"John Perrot has taken it upon himself to use the committee and his position to do something different (than consider redevelopment plans)," the mayor added.

Chang Hyon, who manages K D Market in the 9600 block of Garden Grove Boulevard, said the Korean language cannot be eliminated from business signs for markets like his.

"Most Koreans don't understand English," he said. "How are we supposed to communicate if we can't put our language on the signs?"

Prejudice Called Prevalent

Hyon added that prejudice against Korean businessmen is prevalent in the area. He complained that some area residents have taunted him and his employees.

"Some people drive by and throw things at the store and cuss at us. They come by all the time and that's not good, either," Hyon said.

But Perrot argues: "What I see going on in this town is very disturbing. There is a new Koreatown that excludes other ethnic groups."

To help restore what he sees as the appropriate balance, Perrot has recruited Frank J. Arcuri, a fiery, outspoken leader of English-only crusades in Monterey Park, to help with a similar campaign in Garden Grove.

Arcuri, a self-employed photographer, told those attending last week's meeting that his town is "now fragmented" by the Chinese who make up 40% of the population in Monterey Park, a bedroom community east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. "They have separated us by race and by language, too," he said.

Arcuri, 46, is not new to these movements. Last year, he campaigned on behalf of the state proposal to make English the official state language. A self-appointed watchdog in Monterey Park, he led a petition drive two years ago to have English recognized as the official language of the city.

The Monterey Park City Council last year passed a resolution "supporting" English as the official language of the United States, but later rescinded the action in the face of mounting public criticism, especially from the large Chinese community.

Arcuri said he is not against immigrants moving to Southern California "legally," but he wants them to use the English language.

"The real racists are the foreigners who come over here and segregate us. A segregated city is something we gave up on a long time ago in this country," Arcuri said. "Put these signs in a language we can understand.

"We are going to fight for English only. It's what unites us as Americans."

If the City Council will not pass the English-on-business-signs proposal that Perrot began campaigning for two months ago, Perrot said he will try to take the issue before the voters.

A 10-Year Plan

To make his point about the immediacy of the problem, Perrot said he has been told that the Korean business community has a 10-year plan to redevelop the two-mile strip of Garden Grove Boulevard into "a replica" of a Korean city.

But Cannon said he and other city officials do not subscribe to Perrot's notion that the Koreans, who control about 80% of the Asian-owned businesses in Garden Grove, want to take over the city and keep other groups out.

"(They) are wanting to be part of the community. They are not trying to create islands or colonies of their own," Cannon said.

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