US po­lice all a-twit­ter about Weibo

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are us­ing so­cial me­dia to en­gage with the lo­cal Chi­nese com­mu­nity, as Zhang Yuchen re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

When the po­lice depart­ment of Al­ham­bra, Cal­i­for­nia, an­nounced that it was open­ing an ac­count with Sina Weibo, China’s ver­sion of Twit­ter, on Dec 9, the aim was to reach out to the Chi­nese com­mu­nity and en­cour­age greater cross­cul­tural en­gage­ment.

Al­though a num­ber of for­eign of­fi­cial and cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions and celebri­ties have al­ready used Weibo to pro­mote cul­tural and civic ties, it’s the first time a for­eign po­lice depart­ment has set up an ac­count on China’s largest so­cial net­work, which has mil­lions of ac­tive users world­wide. The tar­get group is the tech-savvy younger gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese im­mi­grants, aged 24 to 36.

“Our first ini­tia­tive was to break down a few lan­guage bar­ri­ers,” said Al­ham­bra’s Chief of Po­lice Mark Yokoyama. “Weibo seemed a nat­u­ral way to com­mu­ni­cate with the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, who might be un­fa­mil­iar with, or dis­trust, the po­lice or lo­cal gov­ern­ment.”

Chi­nese res­i­dents of Al­ham­bra scored sig­nif­i­cantly lower on three cri­te­ria — neigh­bor­hood be­long­ing, col­lec­tive ef­fi­cacy and civic en­gage­ment — than whites or His­pan­ics, ac­cord­ing to Al­ham­bra Source, a news por­tal that uses jour­nal­ism to bridge the gap be­tween the city’s mul­ti­lin­gual pop­u­la­tion and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment and pro­mote civic en­gage­ment.

Ap­prox­i­mately 13 mil­lion Chi­nese live in the United States, Canada and Mex­ico. Al­ham­bra has a pop­u­la­tion of 85,000, and ap­prox­i­mately 53 per­cent are of Asian de­scent. Of those, 65 to 70 per­cent, or 30,000, are eth­ni­cally Chi­nese, a fig­ure larger than the pop­u­la­tions of many cities in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which is home to most US-based Asians.

The at­tempt to reach out started af­ter Yoko­hama read a news story that ex­am­ined ways of in­creas­ing the Chi­nese com­mu­nity’s en­gage­ment in civic life. How­ever, at present, most of the 6,000 peo­ple who fol­low the ac­count are not ac­tu­ally res­i­dent in the US; they mainly re­side in China and use the ac­count to gain in­for­ma­tion about places they’re con­sid­er­ing mov­ing to.

“The Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion stays quiet and doesn’t get in­volved in the com­mu­nity, but we would like to know what they are think­ing and do­ing,” said Wal­ter Yu, a court in­ter­preter, who moved to Al­ham­bra from Shang­hai 10 years ago and up­dates the po­lice’s Weibo ac­count. The plat­form mainly fo­cuses on es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion about daily life in the city, some of which has been trans­lated from the depart­ment’s Face­book page.

Warm feed­back

To some ex­tent, though, it has be­come a two-way street and fol­low­ers reg­u­larly of­fer in­for­ma­tion re­lated to lo­cal crimes high­lighted on the plat­form, ac­cord­ing to Yu.

The feed­back has been warm and Chi­nese res­i­dents said that be­fore the plat­form was es­tab­lished they knew lit­tle about crimes com­mit­ted in their neigh­bor­hoods, which left them — busi­ness own­ers es­pe­cially — at a dis­ad­van­tage, and they ap­pre­ci­ate the open com­mu­ni­ca­tion about this and other, healthier, as­pects of com­mu­nity life. The ac­count has also helped in other ways — for ex­am­ple, it has be­come a fo­rum where fol­low­ers can ask ques­tions they’ve pon­dered for a long time, but didn’t know where to look for an­swers.

Leo Xiao was born on the Chi­nese main­land in 1990 and stud­ied at Pasadena City Col­lege. Af­ter liv­ing in West Cov­ina in the greater Los An­ge­les area for six years, he re­turned to China in 2013. Shortly af­ter his re­turn, Xiao heard that the Al­ham­bra po­lice had opened a Weibo ac­count and be­gan to fol­low it.

“I found it very help­ful as a plat­form to learn how the po­lice depart­ment is run in the area, even though I was rarely in­volved in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties,” he said. “All I knew about the com­mu­nity came via the lo­cal Chi­nese me­dia.”

Xiao, who is plan­ning to re­turn the US at some point, said be­fore the ac­count opened, he knew lit­tle about the sub­jects posted on the plat­form. “It def­i­nitely makes me feel closer to the lo­cal po­lice depart­ment and the com­mu­nity.”

The Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion stays quiet and doesn’t get in­volved in the com­mu­nity, but we would like to know what they are think­ing and do­ing.” WAL­TER YU AL­HAM­BRA COURT IN­TER­PRETER “I found it very help­ful as a plat­form to learn how the po­lice depart­ment is run in the area, even though I was rarely in­volved in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties.” LEO XIAO FOR­MER CAL­I­FOR­NIA RES­I­DENT

Wang Xinyi, who is study­ing for a doc­tor­ate in pathol­ogy at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, lives two blocks from the Al­ham­bra po­lice depart­ment. Al­though she can speak and write English, she prefers to use Chi­nese in­for­ma­tion providers. “Lan­guages are the medium of cul­ture. I have no prob­lem com­mu­ni­cat­ing in English, but when I see mi­cro blog posts in Chi­nese, I feel more at home. It makes me feel closer to the com­mu­nity,” she said.

Daniel Hung, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas, but whose par­ents come from Tai­wan, said: “Chi­nese im­mi­grants usu­ally do not par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity be­cause of the cul­tural and lan­guage bar­ri­ers. Like Korean-Amer­i­cans, they usu­ally stay within in their own groups. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the only thing that brings dif­fer­ent races closer is a shared be­lief. Churches usu­ally or­ga­nize big­ger events that bring the com­mu­nity to­gether.”

So­cio-cul­tural bar­ri­ers

When Yokoyama ac­cepted the po­si­tion of chief of po­lice in June 2011, one of his stated pri­or­i­ties was an im­prove­ment in com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

Al­though that en­gage­ment ap­plies equally to all sec­tions of so­ci­ety, the marked lack of in­te­gra­tion by the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion was the driv­ing force be­hind Yokoyama’s de­ci­sion to launch the Weibo ac­count, es­pe­cially as the com­mu­nity is large and its busi­ness pres­ence is con­sid­er­able.

Chi­nese peo­ple in Al­ham­bra tend to be first- or sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants, which means they have lived in the com­mu­nity for a shorter pe­riod of time than their Latino and white neigh­bors, said Nien-Tsu Chen, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s school of jour­nal­ism.

Ac­cord­ing to Yu, in ad­di­tion to the com­mu­nity’s rel­a­tive new­ness, so­cio-cul­tural bar­ri­ers also have to be over­come. He pointed out that life in China re­volves around the fam­ily, so when Chi­nese peo­ple move to the US they have to adapt to a wider con­cept of com­mu­nity.

Al­though Asian peo­ple are of­ten re­garded as ed­u­ca­tion-ori­ented, many Chi­nese im­mi­grants have at­tracted at­ten­tion be­cause of their wealthy back­grounds, es­pe­cially the most-re­cent ar­rivals, called “para­chute kids” by non-Chi­nese lo­cals. They are the chil­dren of ul­tra­wealthy fam­i­lies, who have been sent to live with their rel­a­tives in the US Asian com­mu­nity, and have lit­tle parental su­per­vi­sion, but plenty of money.

Around seven years ago, Hung left Houston and moved to China for work. Be­fore his de­par­ture, though, he no­ticed an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple from the Chi­nese main­land ar­riv­ing in his com­mu­nity, which was pre­dom­i­nantly Latin in char­ac­ter.

Around 30 years ago, the first gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese that em­i­grated to Los An­ge­les had no choice but to work and sup­port their fam­i­lies. As a mi­nor­ity, they strug­gled to sur­vive, floated be­tween jobs, and many were forced to go back to col­lege to gain the sort of ed­u­ca­tion that would guar­an­tee a bet­ter job.

Fam­ily well-be­ing

But even within the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, clear so­cial distinctions are ap­par­ent. “We found that peo­ple from the main­land are the only group where no one votes in lo­cal elec­tions, which is a ma­jor civic ac­tiv­ity,” said Chen from USC.

In re­sponse, the main­lan­ders main­tain that be­ing po­lit­i­cally ac­tive is not part of Chi­nese cul­ture, and in­stead of be­ing ac­tive in civic af­fairs, they pre­fer to fo­cus their en­er­gies on en­sur­ing the well-be­ing of their fam­i­lies.

“We def­i­nitely vote be­cause the re­sults (of elec­tions) will greatly in­flu­ence our daily life in the near fu­ture, but in terms of other ac­tiv­i­ties, we par­tic­i­pate very lit­tle. Peo­ple are busy,” said Kenny Chang from Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes, Los An­ge­les, a 45-minute drive from San Gabriel Val­ley, a com­mu­nity with few Chi­nese res­i­dents.

As a “1.5” gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese Amer­i­can, who was born in Tai­wan and moved to the US with their fam­ily at an early age, Chang be­lieves a di­verse pop­u­la­tion brings en­ergy, but can also be a source of prob­lems. Re­main­ing in an iden­ti­fi­able so­cial and cul­tural back­ground is a com­mon fea­ture of peo­ple in diver­si­fied com­mu­ni­ties, al­though choices vary be­tween in­di­vid­u­als.

Chang, who now works and lives in Bei­jing, grew up sur­rounded by Chi­nese-Amer­i­can friends who shared a sim­i­lar cul­tural back­ground. Like him, they were mainly kids whose fam­i­lies had ar­rived from Tai­wan — very few had con­nec­tions with the Can­tonese cul­ture, and there were even fewer main­lan­ders.

“Re­li­gious places are good venues for mixed pop­u­la­tions to min­gle and get to know each other. But be­yond those venues, greater ef­forts have to be made to bridge the gap be­tween lan­guages and cul­tures. The po­lice Weibo ac­count is def­i­nitely a rare at­tempt to reach out.”

For Hung, to whom the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese im­mi­grants ap­pears more “ag­gres­sive” and out­go­ing — as he him­self was “shy” and “quiet” grow­ing up — mak­ing friends with a per­son from a Can­tonese back­ground is only pos­si­ble when the lin­gua franca is English. “My best friend right now is a white Amer­i­can,” he added.

Al­though both men were ex­cited by the Al­ham­bra po­lice ac­count, they ex­pressed a shared con­cern — how suc­cess­ful will the ini­tia­tive be?

Chief Yokoyama be­lieves the ac­count will flour­ish. In the com­ing months the po­lice depart­ment will con­tact lo­cal Chi­nese busi­nesses via Weibo and will also set up an in­for­ma­tion booth in a com­mu­nity center dur­ing the Chi­nese New Year fes­ti­val, which falls at the end of the month, to fur­ther pro­mote the Weibo ac­count and aid in­te­gra­tion. Con­tact the writer at zhangyuchen@chi­ Wayne Chou and Brian Liou con­trib­uted to this story.



Clock­wise from top: The po­lice depart­ment of Al­ham­bra, Cal­i­for­nia opened an ac­count with Sina Weibo, aim­ing to reach out to the Chi­nese com­mu­nity. A screen shot of the Al­ham­bra po­lice ac­count at Sina Weibo Mem­bers of staff of the Al­ham­bra Source news por­tal at work. The mul­ti­cul­tural com­mu­nity of Al­ham­bra in­cludes a large pop­u­la­tion of eth­nic Asians. The mayor of Al­ham­bra, Steve Sham, dis­plays the Weibo screen.



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