Koreans left out of translation services

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Oct. 6 to provide language assistance to people with limited English-speaking abilities, but the order didn’t include Korean. This provoked controversy.

The order instructs over 26 state agencies to offer free translation services on forms and to provide instructions in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, French and French Creole.

The state government says that the selection of the six target languages is based on census data and the annual American Community Survey data, taking into consideration population, language used at home, English proficiency, etc.

However, according to Korea Daily‘s analysis of the 2010 American Community Survey data, among the Korean Americans who speak Korean at home, 62,143 can’t speak English, which is more than twice the number of French speakers who do not speak English very well, 30,086. [According to the American Community Survey data on language use for 2006-2008, the numbers are 65,342 and 39,164, respectively.]

Korean community leaders have made complaints about the order, criticizing it for being bureaucratic and for failing to fully understand the reality of immigrant society.

“The number of non-English-speaking people is more important than the total population itself, but that wasn’t taken into consideration,” pointed out Jaeseop Song, community organizer at the MinKwon Center for Community Action, who attended the press conference.

“If the total number of Korean Americans in New York State is not large enough, translation services should still be provided to areas densely populated with Korean Americans, such as New York City,” said Kwangseok Kim, president of Korean Community Services.

In response to those complaints, the governor’s office stressed that the interpretation service is still available for Korean. “Only the translation service is limited to the six languages. Interpretation services over the phone are available for 12 languages, including Korean,” said Rich Bamberger, a spokesman for the governor. “You can still ask for interpretation services in public offices.”

Each government agency has to submit its own specific regulations regarding the implementation of the order. MinKwon Center plans to ask major government departments, such as the departments of Health and of Labor, which Koreans frequently visit, for Korean translation services.