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Language Gaps Hinder Medfly Spray Warning in Ethnic Areas


Autumn Jackson was worried when she learned that her San Gabriel neighborhood would be sprayed with malathion to combat Medflies. Her neighbors don't speak English, and Jackson thought they might not understand the need to take precautions.

Like many other Southern California streets, Euclid Avenue, where Jackson lives, is a miniature United Nations. Many residents understand little English or don't understand it at all. The flyers distributed door to door by officials had been printed in English and Spanish only.

So Jackson found a neighbor who speaks Chinese and English, and they hurried to alert others that spraying would begin in a few hours. The two spread the word to houses where the only language spoken was Chinese.

But at one house, Jackson found a Vietnamese woman who spoke neither English nor Chinese, and they couldn't communicate. "It isn't right that people weren't alerted," Jackson said of the spraying, which took place two weeks ago. "The smog here is bad enough without worrying about something else (in the air)."

Although others, including Monterey Park City Clerk David Barron, have voiced concerns about proper notification in Chinese, officials have continued to rely on press conferences and news releases to foreign-language media, including Chinese newspapers based in Monterey Park.

"We're not xenophobic," said Pat Minyard of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. "But it's just virtually impossible to translate in all the languages and then distribute them on such short notice."

Bill Edwards, county chief deputy agricultural commissioner, said native Chinese speakers have been made available for those calling numbers listed on flyers distributed before sprayings.

But he said multiple-language translations are being used primarily for brochures to educate non-English speaking residents who might unknowingly contribute to the Medfly problem.

"Where do you stop?" Edwards asked. "Chinese? Japanese? Korean? You know, it goes on and on. And it becomes impractical."

Monterey Park's Barron is concerned that until he wrote his letter and held a press conference of his own, specifically inviting the Chinese media, the word had not been spread sufficiently among the large Chinese community within the spraying boundaries in the western San Gabriel Valley.

In his letter, he urged Los Angeles County agriculture officials to "make immediate provisions for Chinese language flyers."

County officials responded that the state officials who printed the leaflets were "aware of the need for additional languages."

Despite the concerns, Jo Shen, city editor of the Chinese Daily News in Monterey Park, said the Chinese community wasn't too concerned about the Medfly itself or environmental worries related to malathion.

"Our readers were well-notified," she said, noting that her paper has run several stories on the sprayings. "So far, there has been no radical response. If the helicopters do not make too much noise, nobody will even recognize they are spraying."

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