US: Korean speakers likely to see official documents in their own language soon

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Feb 4 13:43:47 UTC 2009

Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 2/4/2009 7:40:22 AM CST
 Korean speakers likely to see official documents in their own
language soon<>

 [image: KOREA I]

 Migration Policy Institute

 The number of Korean immigrants in the United States grew 27-fold between
1970 and 2007, from 38,711 to more than one million, making them the seventh
largest immigrant group in the United States, says a new study by the
Migration Policy Institute.

Korean speakers likely to see official documents in their own language soon
*by *Nirvana Bhatia<>
*Feb 03, 2009*

Korean is expected to become a federally mandated language for voter
documents in the Chicago area with the publication of the 2010 U.S Census,
according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. "We fully believe
that the Korean population will reach its threshold with the publication of
the next census," said Jim Allen, the board's communications director. "This
will affect everything." All mailings, signage, literature and
ballots—including the audio ballot—will be available in Korean for local
precincts with a significant Korean population. "The key thing is to be able
to help voters with basic information," Allen said.

Under the Language Minority Provisions of the U.S Voting Rights Act, all
citizens are guaranteed the right to vote without facing any discrimination
resulting from language barriers. Using census data, selected jurisdictions
with high numbers of non-English speakers are required to supply materials
in popular languages. Chinese, Spanish and, of course, English are the three
languages currently mandated by the federal government for voters in the
Cook County area. The act only considers American Indians, Asian Americans,
Alaskan Natives and Spanish-heritage citizens as language minorities because
these are the groups Congress has found to have faced barriers in the
political process. This excludes much of Chicago's largely European
immigrant community.

The addition of Korean language materials should be effective by the 2010
senatorial election. While the Korean demographic may be expanding
considerably nationwide, Korean does not even appear in the list of
Chicago's top 10 languages. Kwang Sun Ahn, who emigrated from Korea several
decades ago and operates a stationery store in Albany Park, and his
American-born son, Eujin Ahn, 31, were surprised by the growth in their
Korean community.

"I'm shocked," Eujin Ahn said. "It feels like more Koreans are leaving the
area than are coming in. Here my parents are learning Spanish to keep up
with their clientele."

There are approximately 50,000 Korean-speakers in Chicago and about 250,000
in the metropolitan area in total, according to the Korean American Chamber
of Commerce.

Over 57 percent of Koreans in the United States have limited English
proficiency, says a study released by the Migration Policy Institute in
January. During the 2008 presidential election, 17 judges in the Chicago
area were fluent in Korean, ensuring language assistance for this

Korean is already required on voting documents in the Los Angeles and
Queens, N.Y. counties, and Chicago is quickly making provisions to meet the
same standards.

"We tend to go beyond the requirements anyway," Allen said. "But this will
mean adding a translator and doing some additional programming and more
graphic work. The cost won't be astronomical, but you're looking at
somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000."

Although the legal change only applies to voting documents, other agencies
often use the federal mandate as a guideline for providing multilingual
information. In 2000, households that received the U.S. Census form in the
mail had the option of requesting the questionnaire itself in Korean, as
well as in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Similarly, leasing
agreements, tax forms and business registration forms may become more
commonly available in Korean.

Not everyone will adjust to accommodate another language though. The Niles
School District, which has a large Korean population in its student body,
previously experimented with handing out school forms in Korean.

"It didn't work though," Administrator Sue Neyrinck said. "The problem is
they reply in their own language, and then we can't read them. So we no
longer cater to other languages."



 Residents of Chicago's Koreatown, located in the Albany Park neighborhood,
may soon find more government resources available to them in the Korean
language. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners fully expects Korean
to become a federally mandated language by 2010.



 Eujin Ahn, 31, and his father Kwang Sun Ahn, who runs a stationery store in
Koreatown are surprised to learn that their native language of Korean will
become a federally mandated language in Cook County following the release of
the next census.

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