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A Conversation Between Friends

October 13, 1988

My friend Charlie and I were arguing about all the Chinese signs in our city. I said, "Charlie, what are you and your gang up to now? Last year you pushed our City Council into passing an ordinance to require some English on all signs; now, you want to make it two-thirds English. You really want to eliminate all signs that are not in English, don't you?"

Charlie looked around and whispered, "How did you ever guess? But keep it quiet; if we do it gradually, maybe they won't notice."

"What is your real objection to the signs?" I asked him.

"The place looks too much like Chinatown."

"Oh! You think if all the signs are in English it won't look like Chinatown?"

"Well, not so much; but that's just the first step."

"What do you have in mind?"

"We're working on getting an architectural review commission that will outlaw red and gold paint, and especially those fancy roofs--nothing but nice American flat roofs--like on the Chamber of Commerce building. That's what we want--go back to the way it was in 1940."

"Charlie did you ever talk with people in the Chinese community to find out what they want?"

"Now why would I do a thing like that?"

"Well, they are in the majority here now, and most of them are citizens."

"Hah! But they don't vote, do they?"

"I see your point, Charlie. But when you have all the signs changed to English and the business buildings all in rows of beige or gray flat-roofed boxes, how will a stranger ever find a Chinese restaurant?"

"Well, we don't cotton to strangers much around here; but it would be OK to have a small window sign that says, 'Se habla Cantonese,' or something."

"Then, at last you would be happy?"

"Of course not; there would still be all those people who don't have our kind of noses nor round eyes, so it would still be Chinatown!

(My apologies to Art Buchwald.)

HARRY KEMMERER

Monterey Park

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