By Steven Tavares.
To the ears of San Leandro’s Chinese-speaking residents, the phonetic translation of the city’s name doesn’t quite make sense and its first-ever Chinese American council member wants to fix it.
San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee says the current translation of the city’s name–San Li An Cho--is embarrassing to residents and a bad look for potential Chinese investors eyeing business opportunities in San Leandro.
Whereas, the rough translation of San Li An, describes the city as a peaceful, holy place, Lee said in an interview, cho oddly describes San Leandro as a place for stoves, or a place to cook.
One of Lee’s appointed city commissioners, first pointed out the inaccurate moniker and urged him to ask the city to create a more favorable translation. “He came to me and said, ‘Why should we have a stupid name?'”
Lee compares the current translation to the ill-conceived marketing in the 1970s of the Chevrolet Nova to consumers in Central and South America. In Spanish, nova can be construed to mean “doesn’t go,” a decidedly poor message for selling automobiles.
Talk of a creating a new Chinese translation has been discussed at the city council’s committee level and Lee referenced the item at Monday’s city council meeting. He is offering to change the translation of cho to ju, which means “a great place to live,” said Lee.
San Leandro’s Asian American demographic is its second largest at nearly 30 percent, according to the last U.S. Census. And Lee’s first term on the council has featured a keen focus on empowering the demographic often overlooking by previous city councils despite their growing numbers.
While Lee often advocates for the city to attracting foreign investment in the city from Asia, his proposal in 2013 to celebrate the Chinese national day by raising the People’s Republic of China banner over San Leandro City Hall attracted great attention and some push back from residents. At the time, Lee explain the impetus for the gesture was not political, but instead, to celebrate Chinese culture in the city.