By Katta Hules
Council Member Sho Tay is setting out to help new residents, especially Chinese immigrants, feel comfortable in Arcadia.
“What I would like to do is bridge the gap between Caucasians and Chinese,” says Tay.
Tay says there are three distinct batches of immigrants from China. The first batch came from Taiwan in the 1980s and went to college here. The second came from Hong Kong after Tiananmen Square, according to Bloomberg, a news and information company.
The third, most recent, batch comes from the Chinese mainland. “They have a hard time learning the language because they come with wealth … they buy house[s] and their culture is ‘I want the biggest house I can afford.’ Even though they don’t have that many people.” This leads to misunderstandings, Tay says, where other residents think these newcomers are running boarding houses or rentals. “So we have to educate those [new immigrants]: if you don’t need it, don’t have it.”
Cultural misunderstanding is something Tay has dealt with in the past. He talks about how, when Chinese parents started the Arcadia Chinese Parent’s Booster Club (ACPBC), there was backlash from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). “They wonder[ed] ‘[why] do you have that when we already have one?’ … They didn’t understand, then they got upset.” Meanwhile the Chinese parents “want[ed] to volunteer but because of language, they didn’t know how.” To put the language barrier in perspective, “imagine you, yourself, were dropped off in China today, how are you going to volunteer? … you [wouldn’t] know what to do.”
To remedy this, ACPBC sent delegates to PTA meetings to relay information back in Chinese at the next club meeting. One year, when Tay’s children were in high school, the PTA was trying to raise money for new light bulbs. Unable to get the funds on their own, they turned to the ACPBC. The club ended up raising “enough money to buy [some] for the [entire] school district.”
Arcadia has currently no programs to help new immigrants and longtime residents learn about each other. Tay is working to remedy that. His ideas on the subject are food-based. “How many Caucasians do you see in those Chinese restaurants on Baldwin? Very few, right?” He wants to take people, such as seniors from the community center, on field trips to Chinese restaurants. He plans to volunteer as an interpreter and explain the menu so it will not seem intimidating.
Likewise, non-Chinese restaurants in Arcadia are suffering because they are not getting customers from the Chinese community. “If you go to a place and you don’t know what to do, [and] you don’t know what to order you would think, ‘wow this place is scary.’” So he would like to take Chinese people who might not feel comfortable in non-Chinese establishments and demystify it for them. To this end, he often holds meetings at Coco’s Restaurant, “that way people know it’s not scary.”
What Tay wants to avoid is Arcadia becoming like San Francisco, with a separate Chinatown. “They cannot assimilate so they go ‘well I guess no one wants to make us comfortable then why not just become a clique?’” He gives an example of a friend, a third-generation Chinese American pregnant woman, who was assumed to be part of a birthing house when she moved to Arcadia.
A birthing house is where Chinese nationals pay large fees in order to stay in rentals converted to maternity wards so their children can be born on US soil. Though not technically illegal to have a baby while traveling in the US, these women are told to wear loose clothing and lie about their reasons for visiting, which is visa fraud, according to a KTLA report. His friend, a doctor who doesn’t speak a word of Chinese, was quite offended.
Tay says new immigrants are often “timid. When they see Caucasians they don’t want to say hi,” because of the language barrier. He urges them to say hi and smile anyway. “It’s not scary. Everybody’s very friendly. But they don’t know that, they think if they say hi ‘now people will say something and I don’t know how to respond [and] that will be bad.’” He suggests going to the library’s English as a second language classes. Learn more at: www.arcadiaca.gov/government/city-departments/library/adult-services.
“The more you understand each other, the better … we all care about this city. They love this city too, that’s why they all immigrate here.” For more information, contact Tay at ShoTayforArcadia@gmail.com.