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L.A. to join program to boost number of American students studying in China

Mayor Villaraigosa joins hip-hop star will.i.am at the Mendez Learning Center in Boyle Heights — where 260 students are studying Mandarin — to announce the city's participation in the Obama administration's 100,000 Strong Initiative.

November 22, 2011|By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times
  • Hip-hop artist will.i.am talks to students at Mendez Learning Center in Boyle Heights on Monday.
Hip-hop artist will.i.am talks to students at Mendez Learning Center in… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened for hip-hop musician will.i.am at the Mendez Learning Center on Monday to announce Los Angeles will join in an Obama administration program to boost the number and diversity of American students studying in China.

"Who wants to go to China?" the mayor asked as he stepped to the podium, sparking a quiet reaction from about 100 students who are learning Mandarin. "Aw, man, I can't hear you. Boyle Heights in China, right?"

Los Angeles is the third city to participate in the 100,000 Strong Initiative, which was launched last year and is supported by donations. The program will start at Mendez in Boyle Heights, where 260 students are studying Mandarin. Next summer, between 10 and 15 will go to Beijing for six weeks.

The 2-year-old high school, which is 98% Latino, is run by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization started by Villaraigosa to boost academic performance.

Villaraigosa asked how many students spoke Spanish, and almost every hand went up. "Speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin is the absolute future when you look at where the world's going," he said.

Frontman for the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am is also a goodwill ambassador for the initiative and next month will headline a concert in Beijing to raise money for it. The Boyle Heights native told the students he had skipped partying with Jennifer Lopez after the American Music Awards to wake up early for the 8:15 a.m. event. He told them his dreams kept him out of prison and led to a successful career that took him to China. And he encouraged them to leap at an "amazing opportunity" to study abroad, concluding:

"Go out there, collaborate, dream, make a plan to execute, to come back home and tell your cousins, your nephews, your tias, your tios, your abuelitas, everybody, just what you're learning. They're going to be proud of you. 'Oh, mija, I'm so proud of you.' You need to do that. Let's not mess around. Let's go."

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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