Preschools succeed in the New Chinatown

People are getting worried about businesses in Chinatown Closing down. But certain types of businesses are exploding. One of these is the Mandarin Immersion Day care. I interviewed Cindy Liao, who opened up Little Panda. Although I worked with her for a while now, I really didn't know her back story at all.

"I went to a Teaching University in Elementary education and then taught elementary school in Harbin, China. Harbin is close to Beijing so the Mandarin is very standard Mandarin. In China you have to take a (government) test in Mandarin to be a teacher. China is so big that not everyone speaks Mandarin that well."

"The system in China is totally different than in the U.S. For Instance, the system in China... you have to take a test first. Then if you get a high score on that test you will get into a Teaching University. If you graduate, you will get a job."

"Guaranteed?" I asked.

"Yes. Actually when you go to that University you will get some scholarship money, no tuition and the government will support you because you have chosen to become a teacher. You will be teaching the next generation. But for instance, if you get into MIT and you get into a Teaching University, you will have to choose You cannot go to MIT and then become a teacher. You have to choose which type of teacher you will be. Some Universities are only for Early Education some for Elementary, some for High school."

How did you come to the States?

"My husband is from Hong Kong and actually he was already here in the states. My Cousin was working with him and then introduced us. So I came here because my husband was here."

So what did you do in Harbin?

"I taught Summer School After school, Summer camp. And I made really good money. Don't put down too many details." she laughed, "I don't want people to think that teachers in China only care about money. But the money was quiet good."

"I feel that the quality of teachers in the U.S. is actually quite weak."

Because of the system?

"Yes. It's easy to get a teacher certificate. But then you are not guaranteed a job. But if you have professional teachers you will have high quality. When I came to the States I needed to adjust to the American culture. I started to teach Sunday School, After school and Summer Camp. I needed to compare the Chinese and American Culture. I wanted to find the strong and weak parts of both ways to find a good way for special Childcare service."

"And then I opened Little Panda. I am so proud of myself because Chinese are getting stronger and stronger. Many European or Japanese are interested in Chinese Culture and language now. 80% of Little Panda students are non-Chinese. All want to learn Chinese."

"A lot of the teachers are new immigrants, but they are hard workers. They still need to take college courses after work or weekend. Little Panda provides jobs for new immigrants who have limited English. They feel confidence that they are working. They feel confident talking to the parents they will say, 'I find my Value.' I have a lot of teachers talking to me crying saying that when they first came here they could find their way and they couldn't see their future."

When did You come to the States?


Had you already learned English in China?

"Even from Elementary school I learned English, reading and writing was much better than speaking." She laughed, "Actually it was completely different because we learned British English and all the tests were just reading and writing. No conversation!" She shook her head, " So I could not communicate when I first arrived in the States. The culture and habits were different. So I had to study at Urban College and take some ESL courses."

How do you feel about Chinatown? 

"Chinatown is very close to the Center in Boston. There are school's hospitals, businesses, it is a very busy location. Most Chinese are not interested in the Mandarin Immersion program. They want their children to learn English. They come here and they can't speak English so everything is harder. Maybe they cannot even help their children with their homework or talk to the teacher. They feel that they can just teach their children Chinese at home. But mostly they want to make sure their children are fluent in English."

Cindy also mentioned that the Chinese that do come to little Panda tend to have parents that speak English as their first language and maybe do not even speak Chinese anymore. So that they want their kids to learn about Chinese culture and language through school.

So Do you consider yourself Part of Chinatown? I mean do you even need it?

(The thing is Little Panda is technically right outside Chinatown, depending on how you look at the borders. And this day care could easily exist in the suburbs as well. It is more the proximity to Downtown and Government Center, where the parents work, than proximity to Chinatown, that makes it's location important.)

" I still feel we are part of Chinatown because of our employees. They are Chinese and they need that support, so any meetings at BCNC (#Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center) I will attend too.

But she also mentioned that sometimes, culturally, she felt like an outsider in Chinatown as well.

I mentioned what I had heard from Fred (not real name) That in the 60's and 70's, if you came to Chinatown and did not speak Taishanese...

"You couldn't get a job!" Cindy finished my sentence.

So there are still aspects of that that are left over. However, for well Educated Chinese coming here, who can finish up the conversation part of their English, they can sort of enter directly into the American mainstream. In fact, it would seem that if China did a better job at teaching conversation skills instead of just reading and writing, the  transition to American life would be closer to say, how the Europeans come over here now and can (more or less) fit right in.