Eloise Ward was standing in line helping her son register for his sophomore classes at Arcadia High School last September when a group of Chinese mothers nearby began talking in Mandarin.
The scene struck a raw nerve in Ward, who regarded the community's growing Chinese population with apprehension. But before she could register her displeasure, she said, "one of the mothers turned to me and said in the most beautiful English: 'Good morning. How are you today?' "
" 'I'm just fine, thank you,' I responded. 'How are you?' "
For the next hour, as the two mothers waited patiently in line, they talked warmly about their children, schools and respective cultures.
For Ward, the meeting was a turning point, a moment of discovery that challenged the fear and suspicion she had been feeling since large numbers of Asians began moving to Arcadia five years ago.
"The reality is that we're all here and we have to get along. I'm not saying I'm 100% over my fears and prejudices. But I'm working on them. There's a lot of us who are trying."
In recent months, Ward has joined the school district's intercultural committee and has become close friends with several of its Chinese members. Now the 10-year resident of Arcadia, who operates three area pizza restaurants with her husband, Bob, wants to share her own awakening with the city's business community.
Ward, who is also chairman of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce's intercultural committee, planned a series of public forums designed to dispel certain myths about immigrants and foster understanding between the newcomers and established business owners.
30 People Attend
The first forum, held last week, brought together speakers from the fields of law, real estate and international business. Although only 30 people showed up, Ward was encouraged.
"We're starting small. I know how hard it is to get people out, especially during graduation time and a night when the City Council was meeting," she said. "It was poor planning on our part."
Gordon Maddock, a real estate agent with offices in Arcadia and four other San Gabriel Valley communities, told the gathering that a lot of misunderstanding between prospective Asian home buyers and Anglo real estate agents grows out of different business practices. Maddock said many Asian buyers continue to negotiate a price long after an offer has been accepted and escrow has opened.
A Chinese member of the audience said that bargaining is also a time-honored practice in American culture. She said Chinese newcomers become confused over what items are open to dickering in their new land.
"You negotiate prices on stereos and cars," she said. "We negotiate prices on others."
Maddock said Asians who apply for home loans also are reluctant to disclose their finances. Superstitions, such as those involving address numbers and the placement of trees, can halt a deal in midstream.
"They're no more preposterous than our superstitions," Ward interjected. "They're just different."
Other speakers discussed how differences between Mexican and U.S. law complicate relations between immigrant workers and their bosses and how the practice of paying some wages in cash complicates workers' compensation claims.
The next forum, to be held in the fall, will discuss culture shock that newcomers encounter on their arrival in America.