English Only, Por Favor
[New York Times,
9 October 2005
By RICHARD MORGAN
A letter instructing porters at a Lower East Side co-op that only English could be spoken on the job has erupted into a bitter squabble in a neighborhood where a babble of languages wafts through apartment buildings.
What started as an internal dispute became public three weeks ago when it spilled onto the pages of The New York Post, under the headline ''Tongue Lashing.'' The newspaper reported that the Rudd Realty Management Corporation, which manages the Seward Park Housing Corporation, had issued a letter to a worker saying that English was the only language to be spoken by the co-op's 48 porters while on the job. The newspaper also reported that the porters said they had been told they would risk being fired specifically if they spoke Spanish. Some of the porters speak Spanish; others speak Russian or Haitian Creole.
The article triggered a firestorm on the neighborhood's online message board, which serves Seward Park and three nearby co-ops. Residents fired off angry missives whose message was that the policy sounded downright absurd in a multilingual city like New York.
''This is a disgrace,'' posted one Seward tenant who goes by the name jkramnick. ''Rudd is disgusting. The irony is bitter: our co-ops were built by trade unions. We have murals in our lobbies celebrating racial diversity. I am shocked and horrified. A very sad day in Seward Park.''
Rudd declined to comment on the situation, but Stanley Friedland, president of the Seward Park Housing Corporation, issued a statement that described the situation as a ''misunderstanding which a few employees and the media are unfairly portraying.'' He added that the housing corporation ''will not discriminate against any employee based upon their race, religion, ethnicity, or otherwise'' and that all of Seward's policies were created ''for public safety purposes and to improve communications.''
A chief complaint of Robert Echevarria, a 55-year-old porter who speaks Spanish and English and who has worked at Seward for 10 years, is that the policy seemed to come out of the blue. ''I don't know nothing at all about why they'd do this now, after all these years of good times,'' he said. ''That's what really busts me up.''
The episode has made some Seward tenants cringe.
''Does anyone think the halls are any cleaner now that they don't speak Spanish?'' asked Israel Keller, an accountant who has lived in the building for 33 years and served on the co-op board for 12 years, three of them as president. ''We got a good bunch of people here, family people. Everything the neighborhood and community and television is saying about us is embarrassing, just an embarrassment. Hell, my grandparents didn't speak English.''
back to home page