Chinese School helps bridge cultures
Arizona Republic
Apr. 18, 2007

Michelle Ashworth

Ding dong! As a loud bell rings through the halls of the Hope Chinese School, students hustle into their classrooms.

This sound means it's time for the next class to start.

HCS was founded in 1995 by Chinese-Americans who felt a need to get their families together and share their common language and history. These second-generation Chinese Americans felt homesick for Chinese culture, so creating HCS was an effort not to lose their Chinese values. "The Chinese culture is so wonderful, so full of many good things, and we wanted a place for everyone to meet," said Sue Gao, consultant of teaching affairs.

Wei Kinnie, vice principal and teacher, shares Gao's sentiment for the Chinese culture. Every Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m., Wei's two children, Patrick and Betty Wei, meet their friends and spend a weekend afternoon learning Chinese at Mesa Community College.

"It's a chance (for Chinese-American children) to be with other kids of the same background, who speak the same language and look just like them," Gao said.

Gao's 10-year-old daughter, Betty Yu, is enrolled in an intermediate Chinese language class. Betty told her mother that she is learning the Chinese language to go back to China and work as a translator or open her own restaurant.

"We hope our students grow up with multicultural backgrounds, including Chinese and American," Wei Kinnie said. "(This knowledge should) help them face opportunities and challenges in life . . . and to grow and serve the community."

HCS is a non-profit, non-political organization that offers instruction in simplified Chinese. There are seven Chinese-language schools in the Valley, yet only two of them practice the simplified version over the more-difficult traditional Chinese characters.

Their mission is to spread Chinese culture and history, and provide to students the opportunity to express their knowledge of Chinese culture through their native language.

Betty Yu's teacher, Shen Meijing, said she finds teaching Chinese to children much easier than coaching English-speaking adults.

"With little children, they absorb the Chinese language and accept the characters much faster," Shen said.

The biggest challenge for HCS has been building awareness within their community.

"We want to keep Chinese culture going, but I don't know how long it will last," Principal Mary Shuai said.

Insufficient funding has also prohibited HCS from advancing its goals and expanding as an organization.

Unable to pay for what Shen said would be "higher education," HCS is forced every semester to scramble to keep their volunteer teachers as part of the faculty. The school provides numerous classes in Chinese language, literature and awareness of Chinese culture and history.

At present, there are 400 students enrolled representing more than 300 families from the greater Phoenix area. Classes range from conversational Chinese, to SAT Chinese prep, AP Chinese prep, math, creative writing, wushu, hip-hop, jazz, calligraphy, chess and tai chi.

The curriculum now includes a bilingual class, which Wei said was an attempt to reach out to more students, possibly those from a non-Chinese background as well as second- and third-generation Chinese Americans.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian population in Maricopa County grew by nearly 50 percent from 2000 through 2005. Mesa had an estimated
98,159 Asian residents in 2005.

Shuai said she felt that the legacy of the Chinese culture should be inherited and spread from her generation to the next.

"We are aware of the impact with enhancing and enriching our children's lives," Shuai said. "We would like to have more American people know more about Chinese culture and history, so that our young generations support each other, hold onto each other and make a great contribution to our beautiful country."