Controversy has recently raged as to whether bilingual operators should be introduced to the 911 emergency system in Monterey Park.
Of the 57% of Monterey Park residents ethnically classified as Asian-Pacific, the majority are what some people prefer to call "Chinese-Americans."
The issue takes on added complexity when we consider that a substantial number (at least 50%) of these "Chinese-Americans" prefer to be designated as "Taiwanese-Americans" instead. In fact, many went to considerable pains to ensure that this classification won official recognition in the 1990 Census.
The Taiwanese-American Citizens League represents several thousand members who, both nationally and within our 10 regional chapters throughout the United States, choose to identify themselves as Taiwanese-Americans, not as Chinese-Americans. The TACL agenda stresses the social, political and cultural values of our Taiwanese--as opposed to Chinese--heritage, within the context of our new American identity.
Asked to take a stand on the 911 issue, one Taiwanese-American might say that, since most, if not all, Taiwanese-American residents of Monterey Park understand either Mandarin Chinese or English, a 911 operator proficient in both languages would be able to meet the emergency needs of all Chinese- and Taiwanese-Americans.
On the other hand, another might say that, since Mandarin is one Chinese dialect and Taiwanese another, why accord official status to one and not to the other?
While TACL has not polled its membership on the issue, we believe we speak for the majority when we advocate a system using both English and Chinese.
Taiwanese is not understood by some Chinese, but Chinese is understood by the overwhelming majority of first-generation Taiwanese. Let us not forget the purpose of 911--to save lives. Questions of identity should take a back seat to the practical necessity of offering real help in urgent situations.
National President Taiwanese American Citizens League
President, TACL-Los Angeles