Striking Mandarin-Language Teachers Held A Rumor Control Rally In Chinatown

Ying Yang, a Mandarin-language teacher at Castelar Elementary School in Chinatown, makes her case for why the LAUSD strike is necessary. (Photo by Josie Huang/LAist)

With each passing day of the LAUSD strike, Helen Han has gotten increasingly worried that some of the school district's Chinese-speaking families don't fully understand why she and other teachers are striking.

That fear was realized when one student's father yelled at her in Cantonese.

"He got really upset and said, 'You guys should go back to work!'" said Han, who teaches Mandarin at Castelar Elementary School in Chinatown. "He was saying, 'I send kids to get educated, not to be babysitted.'"

Han said some immigrant parents incorrectly think that teachers are getting paid during the strike while their children miss out on schooling. To clear up any misperceptions, Han and several other Mandarin-language teachers on Friday morning led a rally outside Castelar, as parents dropped off students.

Mixing Mandarin, Cantonese and English, members of United Teachers Los Angeles, surrounded by dozens of supportive parents and students, explained that the strike was not just about higher pay.

Ying Yang, a Mandarin-language teacher, said one of UTLA's demands — restricting class size — is critical for a school like Castelar, where many students come from households that primarily speak Spanish or Asians languages such as Vietnamese and Khmer. She wants to give students more individual help in the classroom since they may not get much educational support at home.

"Most parents are from low-income families," Yang said. "They work from day to night. They don't know English. They can't help their kids academically and they don't have money to help their kids."

Edwin Fang, an architect whose daughter attends Castelar, said class sizes can approach 50 students in his native Taiwan. He wanted to remind other immigrant parents of why many wanted to come to the U.S. in the first place: a better education for their children.

"As an immigrant, we can all understand we want the best for our kids, the next generation," Fang said. "Being in the public system, you actually have the opportunity to voice your opinion and make changes for your kids."

Edwin Fang and his daughter show up in support of striking LAUSD teachers outside Castelar Elementary School in Chinatown. (Photo by Josie Huang/LAist)

Organizers hoped the rally, attended by at least one reporter from a Chinese-language news site, would counter the rumors on Chinese-language social media, like the one about the union paying teachers during the strike.

Castelar parent Martin Wong showed up in support of the teachers, whom he credits with building a vibrant school community.

Wong said he's noticed a divide between how Castelar's immigrant parents and American-born Asian parents are viewing the strike.

"In Asian culture, we're raised to be rule-followers," Wong said. "But I think, as a third-generation Chinese-American, we're raised differently, and try to fix things. We'll break a rule to make something better."

While Wong can't speak Chinese, his 10-year-old daughter Eloise is a fifth-grader enrolled at Castelar's dual-language Mandarin program. She showed off her language skills as she spoke out in support of her teachers.

It's unclear whether the marchers' pro-UTLA message is reaching the broader Chinatown community. Across the street from the teachers' demonstration at Castelar, Pei Li did stretching exercises outside the Alpine Recreation Center with a friend.

The home health aide said she had heard of the strike from Chinese-language radio and her social circle. Asked why the teachers were striking, she answered in Cantonese, "They want to raise their salary?"

Any other reasons? Li shook her head.