Sign Language: Colonialism and the Battle Over Text

Loyola L.A. Ent. Law Journal, Vol. 17, pp. 625, 1997

23 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2006

See all articles by Ruby P Andrew

Ruby P Andrew

Southern University Law Center


This article examines ordinances created during the 1990s to restrict the rapidly growing Korean immigration in several New Jersey towns. It examines three sets of zoning laws which, although phrased in neutral language, were in fact enforced to disadvantage only the Korean newcomers:

- Restrictions on 24-hour operations: these targeted Korean restaurants and karaoke clubs, whose hours accommodated immigrants working in service jobs. Backers of this ordinance discussed their fear of Korean immigrants being out and about at night. One town's ordinance specifically exempted the only 24-hour diner not owned by a Korean immigrant.

- Restrictions on church expansions: these targeted Korean Presbyterian churches, which were increasing their social services to the immigrant community. Selective enforcement of zoning laws shut down day care centers and children's summer camps based at the churches.

- Restrictions on Korean-language signs: these targeted immigrant-owned businesses. The ordinances banned signs in shop windows written in languages other than English, but the rule was enforced only against signs in Korean.

Employing a law and literature analysis, the article examines the ordinances in the context of other "immigration reform" and "official-English" statutes then under debate across the nation. It critiques the New Jersey ordinances as unconstitutional and details the community violence that resulted from their passage. The article concludes by presenting alternative policy choices which, if implemented, would combat cultural fears about colonialism and achieve legislators' stated purpose to peacefully integrate immigrant populations into the larger community.

Keywords: Immigration, linguistic colonialism, official English, Korean, violence, minority, race, discrimination, constitutional law, law and literature, legal theory, zoning, ordinance, language, translation, commercial speech, statutory interpretation, problem solving, drafting, policymaking, legislation

JEL Classification: D72, D78, D81, J15, J61, J71, J78, K20, K42, R52

Suggested Citation

Andrew, Ruby P, Sign Language: Colonialism and the Battle Over Text. Loyola L.A. Ent. Law Journal, Vol. 17, pp. 625, 1997, Available at SSRN:

Ruby P Andrew (Contact Author)

Southern University Law Center ( email )

P.O. Box 9294
56 Steptoe Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70813-9294
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics