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will.i.am, Villaraigosa call for more students to study in China

November 21, 2011 |  1:40 pm

Black Eyed Peas musician will.i.am talks to students at Mendez Learning Center on Monday morning along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA) as they announced a partnership between the city of Los Angeles and the State Departments' 100,000 Strong Initiative to promote study abroad in China. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened for will.i.am on stage at the Mendez Learning Center on Monday to announce that Los Angeles will join in a federal initiative to increase the number of American students studying in China, starting this summer with 10 to 15 students from the high school.

While the mayor, in a dark suit and peach tie, was his usual buoyant self, the black-clad frontman for the Black Eyed Peas warmed up slowly, but returned to the microphone a second time to conclude with a rousing charge to about 100 mostly Latino students who are learning Mandarin.

“Go out there, collaborate, dream,” said the singer, who grew up in Boyle Heights. “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.”

The Obama administration’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, a public-private partnership, was launched last year. “Virtually every global challenge will require the United States and China to sit down and solve it,” said Carola McGiffert, who runs the program at the State Department and attended the news conference. She said corporate donors have pledged $11 million so far for the four-year initiative.

Los Angeles is the third city to participate. The program will start at Mendez, where 260 students are studying Mandarin. 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. 


“Who wants to go to China?” the mayor asked as he stepped to the podium, sparking a quiet reaction from the students. “Aw, man, I can’t hear you. Boyle Heights in China, right?”

Villaraigosa asked them how many spoke Spanish and almost every hand went up. “Great. Yeah, baby,” he said. “If you’re looking to the future, speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin is the absolute future when you look at where the world’s going.”

He noted that his son went to China when he was in 10th grade and said: “It will open up a world to you that will open up many other worlds. So this is about training our future leaders to compete in an interconnected global economy.”

Then he said: “That’s it for me. Let me bring up the man of the hour.”

will.i.am told the students that he had skipped partying with Jennifer Lopez after the American Music Awards to wake up early for the 8:15 a.m. event. The singer noted that his successful career has given him the opportunity to travel all over the world, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

“It’s a beautiful place, China, and you guys should be excited to have the opportunity to go there and learn. Learning Chinese is important, but collaborating with China is even more important,” he said, suggesting it could change not only them, but their families. “It’s an amazing opportunity. Look at my life. I should have been in like, you know, I should be in jail like my friends I grew up with, but I’m not because I had a dream and good friends.”

will.i.am, who is a goodwill ambassador for the initiative, will headline a concert in Beijing on Dec. 17 to raise money to support the program. McGiffert said it will cost between $5,000 and $6,000 to send the students from Mendez to Beijing for six weeks.

The singer said China’s middle class is expected to grow tenfold to 700 million in a decade. “Do you know how much 700 million people is? Are there 700 million people in America?” will.i.am asked. “No. Think about it. Our middle class is real fragile. In 2020, their middle class will be more than Americans.”

Then he came back again to expand on his thoughts, more lyrically.

“Right now, as we speak, the world is moving, with or without us,” he said. “Right now, as we speak, kids in China are learning the skills, with or without your participation. Right now, as we speak, Brazil’s economy is rising, with or without us. So this opportunity is important not just for L.A. and California and America, but your kids’ families. You guys going to China is important for the transforming of Boyle Heights, it’s important for the transforming of the United States."

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-- John Hoeffel at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Black Eyed Peas musician will.i.am talks to students at Mendez Learning Center on Monday morning along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA) as they announced a partnership between the city of Los Angeles and the State Departments' 100,000 Strong Initiative to promote study abroad in China. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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