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Mandarin Spoken Here
[whitespace] Cheerleaders Sporty Spice: Monta Vista High School cheerleaders Monique Ngo, Monique Brown, Sarah Clapper, and Michelle King. Forty-four different languages are spoken on campus.

Skye Dunlap


Administrators finesse race problems in Asian-dominated schools

By Maggie Benson, Steve Enders and Michelle Ku

The prevailing attitude about race relations at Cupertino schools seems to be this: There isn't a problem, but ...

Barry Chang of the Cupertino Union School District says, "There's no racial tension in Cupertino schools," but concedes that "a small portion of [adults] feel threatened by the presence of the Asians." Cupertino High School principal Barbara Nunes says there "really isn't much of a diversity problem" at her school, even though racist graffiti appeared on a bathroom wall.

Over the last decade, the Asian population has nearly quadrupled in the city--dramatically altering the face of local schools. In 1985, 20 percent of Cupertino Union School District's students were Asian; today that figure is 42 percent. At Cupertino's main high school, Monta Vista, Asian students make up 55 percent of the population. Ten years ago, that figure was 27 percent. Such numbers have given rise to conflict--and solutions--in the area's schools.

When the school district suggested initiating a Mandarin-immersion kindergarten class six months ago, the issue exploded. At a series of board meetings on the topic, a group of residents spoke against the idea vehemently, saying they believed Mandarin was already way too prevalent around town.

The program's originator, Lynette Eng, says she received threatening phone calls at her home. Board member Chang, who backed the proposal, also reported receiving hate mail and threats. Kate Apgar, another program supporter, was also afraid.

"It was the only time in my life when I've been afraid of white people--going into those board meetings and knowing we were going to hear the nastiest things," says Apgar, who is white.

The language issue has also sparked heated debate in the high schools. At a forum on "Building Unity" at Monta Vista High, one Caucasian man claimed his son received a poor grade on a science lab after being paired with a girl with limited English skills. He said he believed that by using Chinese, the students were, in effect, segregating themselves, not assimilating with the rest of the students.

An Asian student said that the students needed to explain complex concepts to each other in Chinese to keep up with the teacher. "They're using [Chinese] because English is not their main language," the student said. At a meeting of the Asian American Parents Association, psychologist Derald Wing Sue said that speaking the same language and clustering with people of the same background serves a greater purpose than just communicating.

"It is very important that people are allowed to practice and rehearse their culture," Sue said. "This is not something to be feared, it is something to be valued."

But that ethnic bonding comes at a price. Monta Vista senior John Hsu says segregation is one reason there is limited tension on campus. "We don't have tension because there's no interaction."

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From the October 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro.

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