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PS 20 students bring English to Flushing signs

An issue that has befuddled and divided Flushing’s grown-ups for years may have simply required a little bit of child-like creativity.

Ever since a large percentage of downtown businesses were bought by Chinese and Korean immigrants, tension has existed over the issue of whether — or how — to enforce rules requiring businesses to display English signage.

On Friday, students from the Chinese American Planning Council School Aged Day Care Center at PS 20 met with City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing), state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) to kick off a project to create the signs and distribute them to businesses in Flushing that display only Korean, Chinese or other non-English language signs.

The students made posters, which they will spend much of July and August pitching to local store owners in the hopes of getting them to display the bilingual billboards in their shops.

“I am so proud of the 200 posters that were made by our young students,” Meng said. “Their leadership and concern will help unite our diverse community and improve business for our local businesses.”

Students will also take photographs of signs currently on display in local stores and create bilingual replacements free of charge.

The issue of English signage in Flushing has been a hot one for years, eliciting strong opinions when former Councilman John Liu attempted to look at the issue.

But many proponents of enforcing a rule to require English signage at all stores said the complaint is not based in racial tensions. They said the main issue is safety, as not having information displayed in English can be dangerous in that it can hinder firefighting or policing efforts by making it hard to find a location or to read important information once inside.

“Flushing, Queens, is an ethnically diverse community and we hope this project will remove language barriers and help you serve more English-speaking patrons,” read a letter, distributed to business owners to explain the program, by Lois Lee, the Queens director of the Chinese American Planning Council. “If you would like our help, please let us know! We will take pictures of products and current signage, and then create and deliver new English signs to you within a week. This service will be provided at no cost to you or your business.”

An English sign advisory board, which has 20 volunteer members so far, will begin later this summer to examine the issue with input from all concerned communities.

Meng brought up the issue in her annual State of the District address last week, saying she believes it is an important concern to address and praising the efforts made thus far. She speaks Chinese but has trouble reading it and does not read Korean, and as such has trouble reading signs at many stores in Flushing.

The project is part of New York City’s Summer of Service, a five-week, youth-led service program led by NYC Service, a city initiative.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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