Filipino becomes third certified language in San Francisco

Language barriers can be more than just frustrating. In fact, they can bring about a harmful disconnect between a community and its access to basic services

Until now, more than 10,000 Filipino residents of San Francisco had to put up with this problem – suffering delays in hospital treatment or forced to find their own interpreters and translators when trying to assert their rights as workers, due to their limited English proficiency. Many also felt excluded from the civic life in a vibrant city like San Francisco because of language capacity.

On 2nd April however, Filipino community members and advocates celebrated San Francisco’s certification of Filipino as the third language required for city communications, after months of urging officials to make the change.

In 2009, the city of San Francisco passed a new Language Access Ordinance (LAO), which requires improved language access for city residents, with certain requirements for populations which exceed a threshold of 10,000 limited English proficient or “LEP” community members. Using the latest Federal American Community Survey data for the years 2009-2013, the city’s planning department was able to verify that Tagalog speakers with limited English proficiency surpassed this threshold.

Filipino is the 1st language to be certified after the 2009 passage of the LAO, and will meet the same requirements as Spanish and Chinese, which were certified in 2000, before the LAO existed.

Rachel Ebora, a Filipino immigrant, native Tagalog speaker, and executive director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center said of the certification:

“We are delighted at the certification of Pilipino as the third language that the City of San Francisco is required to translate for its communications. To the over 10,000 Filipinos who speak this national language, our hope is that this certification will provide additional access to services and other resources to live in San Francisco.”

The LAO ordinance is an important San Francisco policy that requires the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to identify “emerging” language populations and to ensure that residents are able to access translation services when needed in a timely manner. This will alleviate pressure on Filipinos who are staff at nonprofits, government employees, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and family members, including school-age children, all who speak some of the different Philippine languages, who have been translating for thousands of LEP Filipino residents without recognition of this additional service they are providing.

Without this new status, a type of language-based discrimination would continue to exist in the city.

Filipino’s have been present in San Francisco for nearly a century from the days of the Filipino farmworkers at the International Hotel until today. This is a long-overdue recognition of the continuing contributions of Filipinos in San Francisco,

Terrence Valen, FCC’s organizational director and president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, said:

“For our Filipino community members and their families, the whole world opens up to them when they are able to communicate in their mother language. To keep San Francisco a welcoming city for immigrants, officially removing this language barrier is definitely is an important step in the right direction.”

Sources include: The FilAm SF; GMA News Online


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