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Mandarin class graduates

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Over the past few years, City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) has been pushing for the community at large in Flushing to have a greater understanding of the growing Chinese culture in Queens. On Feb. 7, at the graduation of the first class of students to take his free Chinese language courses, he got that and then some. Liu was greeted with a resounding "ni hao," or hello in Mandarin, when he entered the room at the Bland Houses Community Center. Fresh from completing a free 10-week course sponsored by Liu's office, the 18 students in attendance showed off their newly learned linguistic skills by singing songs, counting and reciting basic Mandarin phrases for the councilman. In December, Liu was angered when "The View" television show co-host Rosie O'Donnell used the words "ching chong" to depict the Chinese language during the show. Liu said classes like the ones he began at the Bland Houses help to break down stereotypes and racism present within the community. One student, Desi Robinson, said even though she can only speak basic phrases and count to 10, the experience had opened her eyes to a culture she did not know about before. "This has really been a good public service," she said. "I feel like I at least have more insight into what the language is all about." "This is why we started the classes," Liu responded with a smile. Liu said he was impressed with the group, which contained local residents from a variety of cultural backgrounds. He added while he believes it is of utmost importance that Asian immigrants who come to the United States learn English, it is encouraging to see that residents from other cultures were willing to learn about the Chinese language. "It turns out some people want to learn Chinese, and why not?" he said. Donald Henton, who has spearheaded the program since it began nearly three months ago, said a new class will be starting up March 21. Those interested in attending can call Liu's office at 718-888-8747 to sign up or for more information. Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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