Observations of the Vietnamese population in New
Brian McBrearty and Robert P. Cunningham
In order to get a comprehensive picture of
the Vietnamese community in New York City, we traveled two areas with a
concentrated Vietnamese population: Murray Hill in Manhattan and Sunset
Park in Brooklyn. Our findings revealed similarities, differences, and a
Bound on the west side by the
luminous stream of traffic of Lexington Avenue, and running to the waters
of the dark sluggish East River, spanning the space from 14th street to
59th street, Murray Hill is a neighborhood of more diversity than one
would first suppose from ambling down its cross streets; our observations
of the other pedestrians on our hike served to nearly validate the
information of the 2000 census concerning Community District 6: 103,884
Caucasian, 5,241 African American, 14,404 Asian American, 9,576 Hispanic.
Due to the nature of the neighborhood, from which the Empire State
Building and the Chrysler punctuate the landscape like a pair of chrome
giants, we restrained our expeditions to the evening hours, to avoid the
rush hour crowds that would misrepresent the population. We kept to the
heart of the neighborhood, mostly in the 20s and 30s, although we
circumscribed and explored within the entire area. Unfortunately, in our
travels, the only flyers in LOTEs that we encountered concerned the
victims of the World Trade Center attacks. The part of the neighborhood
in the 20s and 30s is composed of both elegant brownstones and massive
Sunset Park spans the approximate area
between 25th street and 50th street, and 3rd avenue and 9th avenue in
Brooklyn. The neighborhood is home to the largest Vietnamese population
in Brooklyn. After visiting the area, we soon discovered that the
Vietnamese in Sunset Park are only one facet of a multi-faceted
neighborhood, which is home to a significant Chinese, Korean, Puerto
Rican, and Polish population. According to the 2000 census, the
demographics of the neighborhood are as follows: 27,369 Caucasian, 4,203
African American, 20,874 Asian American, and 63,332 Hispanic. The main
concentration of Vietnamese residents in Sunset Park centers around 8th
avenue between 38th and 50th street. We were only able to find one
resident of the area who was Vietnamese, Tang was the name that he gave
us. He informed us that he spoke Vietnamese most of the time and always
in his home; in other situations, he said he usually spoke English.
Along 8th avenue in Brooklyn, there
are many businesses owned and operated by the residents of Sunset Park.
For the most part, the businesses are run by individuals originally from
China and Puerto Rico. We only encountered a two businesses owned by
persons originally from Vietnam - a deli/grocery and a dry cleaners.
The types of businesses located in Sunset
Park run the gambit: grocery stores, delis, Laundromats, real estate,
travel agencies, restaurants, etc. Most of these businesses cater to an
Asian clientele. For example, most of the restaurants in the area offer
Asian cuisine; many of the grocery stores carry products used in Asian
Outwardly, each of the businesses had signs
that were in English. Most of them printed information in Mandarin in
addition to English. A fair percentage businesses, we would approximate
35%, had signs in both Spanish and English. A few storefronts offered
information in Spanish, Mandarin, and English. Occasionally, Polish or
Korean appeared. Those persons who were working at some of the businesses
that I encountered gave varying answers as to what language was spoken
with customers. A main factor in determining what language would be
spoken was the type of business and whom the business catered to. In
businesses that cater mainly to an Asian clientele, mainly Mandarin is
used and sometimes Vietnamese or Korean. The same can be said for
Polish-centric and Spanish-centric businesses. Overall, it seems that
English is the language used when different ethnic groups come into
contact with one another.
In Sunset Park, newspapers are available at
many of the stores. The Sunset Park Paper is a free weekly publication
that is printed in English. Other major English papers are available,
such as The Daily News, The New York Times, and The New York Post. In
addition papers are available in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Polish
in some stores.
We spoke with Mary Fairfax from I.S.
104 located at 330 east 21st street in Murray Hill. ESL is taught to
about 5% of the students, and composes nearly every tongue: Arabic,
Romanian, Chinese, Japanese, German, and Vietnamese. Newsletters are also
published in LOTEs.
The use of LOTEs also create interesting
situations in the primary schools of Sunset Park. We spoke with Josephine
Santiago of PS 169 about the measures that are taken to accommodate
students and their families. Many of the students at PS 169 come from
homes in which an LOTE is spoken. Ms. Santiago said that about 7% of the
students were Vietnamese, and of all the students, about 12% were enrolled
in ESL. She also explained to us that sometimes the most difficult aspect
of a child's education can be attempting to communicate with a parent who
has little or no knowledge of English. Some of the teachers at PS 169 can
speak Spanish; none have ability in Vietnamese.
In Murray Hill, our primary
governmental destination was Community Board 6. Once there, we
interviewed Ms. Jane Predmore, a sort-of-secretary in the office. We told
her that the ethnic group of primary concern to us was the Vietnamese, and
unfortunately she did not respond as we had at all hoped: Oh no, we don't
have many Asians in Community 6. Most of the minorities are either
Hispanic or Black. None of the women in the office spoke an LOTE, nor was
any o the literature published in a LOTE. We also asked what nationality
or linguistic groups were active in the area, and she replied with a
negative. Of the 50 board members, 2 are Hispanic, 3 are Asian, and 3 are
Black. When asked what concessions are made for those who speak a LOTE
concerning governmental services, she replied that many departments, such
as the department of health, had a Spanish option on the telephone. We
did pick up a brochure for "Free English Classes for Speakers of Other
In Sunset Park accommodations are made for
LOTE speakers at most government offices. At the Sunset Park Post Office,
notices are posted in Spanish and Mandarin in addition to English. There
are also workers available at the Post Office with the ability to speak
Spanish and Mandarin. At the 72nd precinct, there are many officers who
can speak Spanish; only a handful was versed in Mandarin. Employees with
whom we spoke at both of these organizations said that every effort is
made to communicate with and help anyone seeking information.
In Murray Hill, at NYU Children's
Health Clinic, we interviewed Charles Nickels and Doris Armstrong. The
told us that the staff speaks a variety of languages: French, Spanish,
Hebrew, Portuguese, and Filipino, and it usual that the doctors are from
the ethnic group of the language that they speak. No literature is
published in a LOTE; no translators are hired, as the doctors are usually
able to surmount any barrier which may exist because of language.
Similar statements can be made regarding
hospitals in Sunset Park. Sunset Park Hospital has staff members
available who have the ability to speak a variety of LOTEs, Spanish and
Mandarin being the most pervasive. In addition, we came across two
private practices along 8th avenue in Sunset Park which had information
written in Mandarin and Vietnamese.
We spoke with a representative from
Calvary Church, an Episcopal Church on the north side of Gramercy Park.
She told us that one of the pastors speaks French, but has no cause to use
it; the predominant minority in the congregation is Black, hailing from
Haiti and the Caribbean; however, no regular services are spoken in a
LOTE. A Korean group does meet on Saturdays, which is conducted in Korean.
All literature is printed in English.
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