Bilingual Street Signs Aren’t Going Anywhere

Posted on: May 10th, 2022 at 5:08 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

Bilingual street signs in Chinatown aren’t going anywhere.

Many fearful “netizens” have worked themselves into a frenzy over the New York Times article from March 11 stating that the specialty signs – the custom dates to the 1960s – were “disappearing” in favor of English only. And that the sign swapping is an intentional move by the city to shrink Chinatown borders. However, the sprawling history piece did not say that this replacement was Department of Transportation policy.

Yes, it’s true that gentrification, coupled with rising rents in Chinatown, have become a deterrence to immigrant settlers, opting instead for the outer boroughs. Yet, that doesn’t mean Manhattan Chinatown is dying.

The missing bilingual signs in question were due to scaffolding or were otherwise damaged, requiring removal. The DOT, in response to an inquiry, stated they were aware of the situation and working to correct the problem. The agency cited human error, as well, when replacement signs were ordered, and that there was no policy to replace all signs with English only.

The bilingual street signs first appeared on Chinatown street corners in 1969 as a means of wayfinding for Chinese immigrants flooding into the area. They’ve since become a tourist attraction and are even included in overseas tour books.

It’s interesting how an article pointing out missing signs resulted in panic with some, even spurring Councilmember Chris Marte to introduce legislation to save them.

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