Leslie Lin enjoys learning English so much that she has never studied so hard in her life.
A retired music teacher from Taiwan, Lin is a permanent resident of the United States who decided to settle down in Flushing, Queens just a year ago. Before that, she had spent five years traveling between Taiwan and New York every six month in order to maintain her green card. Learning English is one of the main reasons she says she decided to settle down.
“I didn’t get a chance to study overseas when I was young,” Lin said. “Now I am enjoying it so much that I never miss a class”.
Lin, currently taking ESL course at the Flushing Public Library, is one of countless immigrants trying to learn English in their new adopted home in New York.
Now, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott announced that the city would spend $1.8 million for a new initiative called the Immigrant Family Literacy Program, which will fund English classes, as well as legal services for immigrants and workers.. The initiative won immediate applause from immigrants. But many said it is not enough.
“It’s great that the city is providing money to fund those classes,” said Lin, who attends five hours of classes at the Flushing Public Library. “But whenever there is a new class, the line is so long and they put a lot of people on the waiting list.” She was informed two months after the class began that she finally got a slot because someone dropped out.
But not many immigrants are as lucky as Lin, who has a pension. To many immigrants, being able to speak English means a better job, better opportunities for their children -- a better life.
“Some of my neighbors could not even tell the difference between the â€W’ and â€M’ on the parking sign and they end up getting tickets,” said Lin. “English is the primary language here. If many people can’t speak it, it will eventually bring down the overall competitiveness of the country.”
According to the Immigrant Family Literacy Alliance, an umbrella group of immigrant social service providers, components of immigrant family literacy may include ESL classes, basic adult education, GED preparation, parenting classes, activities for parents and children together and so on.
A recent Department of City Planning study showed that a record-high 2.9 million of New Yorkers are foreign-born, constituting 38 percent of the city’s population. Many social services organizations said the demand is far greater than what the funding could provide.
“We’ll take whatever we get, but we could always use more,” said Elyse Rudolph, executive director of the Literacy Assistance Center. “Immigration has always been one of the major forces behind this city’s vitality.” She added that there are more than a million children and adults in need of help in English but the mayor’s new funding, combining an additional $900,000 in private funding, could only provide for about 1,000 families.
Some immigrant support groups say the new initiative is long overdue and call for a substantial increase.
“As Mayor Bloomberg’s first and only immigrant funding initiative since he came into office, it dramatically falls short of what is needed both in terms of the dollars and in the scope of services it funds,” said Chung-Wha Hong, deputy director of New York Immigration Coalition. The coalition is urging the mayor and the City Council to provide $10 million in the city budget to meet the need.
Meanwhile, some community leaders call for more classes that would fit the working immigrants’ schedule so they can fully take advantage of them.
“At current funding levels, tens of thousands of immigrants are turned away from English classes because community groups do not have the resources to offer enough classes, especially the evening and weekend classes that working immigrants need,” said Ana Maria Archila, executive director of Latin American Integration Center in Woodside, Queens.
While many immigrants come here to pursue a better economic future, some are also looking to find a sense of belonging.
Regina Kim, a housewife originally from Korea who attended English class in Queens, said learning English also offers some comfort and connection to American society.
“We immigrants are not going anywhere,” said Kim, who arrived 15 years ago with little English skill. “Now I can read books and watch television. It makes me happy.”
A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Larry Tung is a frequent contributor to the Citizen. Â