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Community center teaches Mandarin and cultural identity to Chinese diaspora in Milwaukee

About 25 years ago, on a Saturday night in the basement of a home in Milwaukee, a group of Chinese-American parents gathered to begin teaching Mandarin to their young children.

The parents felt forgetting their native tongue was shameful, and they were afraid their children would lose their connections to a country 7,000 miles away. Led by their passion for Chinese cultural identity, this volunteer teaching group eventually formed the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center, a community-based nonprofit organization.

The center serves as a platform to showcase Chinese culture while embracing Milwaukee’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The center also sponsors a school, the Milwaukee Modern Chinese School, which uses Lalumiere Language Hall at Marquette University as its teaching space.

Volunteers educate anyone interested in learning about Chinese culture. They teach Mandarin and such things as writing brush calligraphy, playing the game of Go and playing Chinese classical instruments.

The center also sponsors the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival Races, held each year at Lakeshore State Park, just east of the Summerfest grounds. Half of the profits are donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities. This year’s event takes place August 10.

It also contributes to other charity events. In 2017, it raised $10,062 for Hurricane Harvey relief, donating the money to the American Red Cross. Jianguo Sun, the center’s president, said his organization focuses on helping the community.

“Community service helps improve the engagement of the Chinese community into mainstream society,” Sun said. “From Chinese community service, Americans get to know Chinese, accept them and like them. Kindness is a virtue we all welcome.”

Sun came to Milwaukee in 1992. At that time, the number of students from China was not as large as it is today. There were few connections and resources for Chinese to find material and psychological support. Sun hopes that through the efforts of the center, the new generation of Chinese newcomers faces fewer difficulties than those who came earlier.

“It’s our obligation to return to society. We’re not only Chinese, but also human, the same as everyone in this world,” Sun said.

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Milwaukee NNS

NNS covers stories that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.