Damaris De Luna Sanchez, right, and a schoolmate study Chinese at Pedro Garcia Rojas elementary in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Students take five hours a week of Mandarin, four hours a week of English. (Aguascalientes / June 6, 2010)
Learning Chinese in Mexico: Children prepare for the future
As China swiftly expands its reach across Latin America, a pilot program in Aguascalientes aims to introduce students to the Mandarin language and make them more competitive in the job market.
Reporting from Aguascalientes, Mexico — Wo jiao Alberto.
Wo jiao Maribel. Ni ji sui?
Alberto and Maribel, sixth-graders at the Pedro Garcia Rojas elementary school here in central Mexico, introduce themselves to each other in Mandarin Chinese.
Their class also recites numbers, clothing items and weather conditions in a language that, to them, is about as foreign as it gets.
Some, like Damaris De Luna Sanchez, 11, move their hands the way a conductor directs an orchestra, slicing through the air to help them reach the proper intonations, the staccato flats and singsong vowelish sounds.
Their enthusiastic teacher, Gerardo Saucedo, is not Chinese nor has he ever traveled to China, but he has long been fascinated by its language and use of stylized characters as an alphabet.
"Zai dong tian ni chuan shen me?" he asks his uniformed students, dancing down the aisle among girls in plaid skirts and knee socks, and boys in blue sweaters. "What do you wear in winter?"
The sight of youngsters speaking Chinese in the Mexican heartland is unusual, to say the least. Parents told that pupils as young as 9 would be taught Mandarin had been skeptical. Wouldn't French or Italian (Romance languages closer to Spanish) make more sense? some wondered.
Savvy Mexican politicians have other ideas. State authorities launched the pilot language program in Aguascalientes, a working-class city, in hopes of jumping on the Chinese bandwagon. As China swiftly expands its reach across Latin America, Mexico is experiencing a flurry of new Chinese investments in traditional targets like nickel mines and in newer areas like car-part factories and electronics.
For many years, Mexico had lagged behind other big Latin economies, like Brazil and Chile, which saw China displace the United States as their principal trading partner. China spent an estimated $100 billion in Latin America in 2008, but Mexico had only a small piece of it.
Attitudes of xenophobia dating to the early 20th century, when Chinese workers came to the country to build the railroads, continue to inform Mexico's restrictive immigration policies for Asians, said Sergio Martinez of the Mexican-Chinese Studies Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. On top of that, Mexico's notorious bureaucracy and the reluctance of many Mexican companies to compete with cheap Chinese products have slowed the expansion of trade relations.
Complete LA Times article