Our View: Multilingual signage points to future
El amor entra y sale por los ojos.
"Love enters and exits through the eyes."
It's an old adage, and one Edgar Mtanous, a development associate in the Mayo Clinic's department of development, uses to explain why Rochester ought to install multilingual pedestrian signage.
We couldn't agree more. We want people from throughout the world to fall in love with our community. We want our community to love them back.
Including languages other than English on pedestrian signage is a simple, effective way to show openness, respect and that our city is ahead of the curve.
Wayfinding, or helping pedestrians get around via signage, is already something Destination Medical Center planners will need to address.
"I thought, if you're going to actually already see this need, and we're being promoted as a basically global hub, then DMC should probably leverage that opportunity and capitalize on not just wayfinding but include that mutlilingual aspect to it," Mtanous said. "So you can say we're diverse, you can promote us as inclusive, you can say we're globally and internationally renowned as a city, as an institution, but where are we putting that proof?"
Other countries have things displayed in English, but, as Americans, we are almost never forced to think like that.
"It's not unheard of," said Rana Mikati, a professor of Arabic at Rochester Community and Technical College and Winona State University, referring to signs in Seattle aimed at welcoming visitors from across the Pacific Ocean.
Mtanous, partially inspired by Brisbane, Australia's yellow multilingual signs, is accruing like-minded individuals who share his vision as part of a prototyping team. He hopes his signage idea will be among the prototypes selected for installation in September's festival and wants to create at least two signs in the Discovery Square and Heart of the City districts.
In Rochester, the sliding doors inside University Square are adorned with multilingual greetings, but we would like to see things go further.
People often come here for second or third opinions on health matters.
"What they want is reassurance, comfort, and they don't get that until they probably see a provider and even at that point, you're not sure of what the diagnosis may be," Mtanous said.
With signage, Rochester can provide some comfort in a way that can be seen, touched.
"It would be ridiculously awesome, for someone coming from Rio, Paris, to say, my goodness, the people in Rochester, Minn., in the cornfields, they get it," Mtanous said.
He will determine which languages to use by analyzing usage of the districts.
Heart of the City caters more to patients, so its signs may feature Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. Closer to Central Station, signs may cater to more regional languages like Bosnian, Somali and Sudanese.
"Fearing exclusivity and not promoting inclusivity because you're afraid to actually push someone out just makes no sense," Mtanous said.
"Nothing in the world can include everybody. Nothing. Because the world is so diverse that you cannot contain it in a sign or in a book or on a TV program. No way," Mikati said.
"When we think about it from our children's perspective, it's good to expose them to different languages," she added. "We are the only country in the "first world" that does not have a strong program in schools for foreign languages. And this is why sometimes we feel that our students are very detached from the rest of the world."
Detachment works both ways. If any of us are to survive the unending storm of cruelty and selfishness that humanity seems predestined to bring upon itself, we need attachment to one another.
How do we build that attachment? We'll say it again:
El amor entra y sale por los ojos.