(Family Magazine May 2012 4th Issue)
Asian American families are considered as the “model minority” – well-educated, high household income, religious, holds a high valuation of family, shows strong work ethic, demonstrates positive behavior, low incarceration, low rates of many diseases and even higher than average life expectancy. However, this positive stereotype of Asian American families may lead us to overlook the problems and risks that they face. (Yee, Su, Kim and Yancura; 2009). How are we, at Presence, addressing these needs? In order to answer this question, we will point out several advantages and risk factors that shape the physical and mental health outcomes of Asian families and share what Presence has done, or will do, to help build stronger families in the Asian community.
First, intact and stable marriages and families are a protective factor that provides the social environment for Asian children and teens. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 80.3% of Asian families consist of married couples and 60% of the families have children under 18 years old. However, Asian families may hide dysfunction by defining cultural familial norms that emphasize family values as private and extremely confidential. When problems are not dealt with early, risk is increased throughout their family life span, from family developmental issues during socialization of children and adolescents, to family interactions with adult children, to caring for frail, elderly family members. . (Yee, Su, Kim and Yancura, 2009).
Presence has received an increasing number of phone calls from Chinese families asking for special assistance in parent-child relationships, especially with teens and adult children. As a non-profit organization, we aim to offer psychological education to build strong and healthy families and communities of Asian Americans. In addition to our ongoing parenting courses and one-day family conferences, we offer women or mothers an 8-10 weeks self-growth training classes. This year, in May 2012, we will conduct a cross-generational conference to address the concerns of parents with teens. We are also offering self-growth training for caretakers and peer counselors in September 2012.
Second, high socioeconomic status is another protective factor for Asian families. Forty-two percent of 25-year-old Asian American adults have at least a college degree compared to the general U.S. population of 24.4%; their median income was $64,308 compared to $49,445 of general U.S. population in 2010. However, Asian Americans may experience a glass ceiling or racial barriers in their career (Woo, 2000). According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, compared to the Caucasian men with the same educational and experience level, Asian-American born men are 7% to 11% less likely to hold managerial positions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median income for Caucasians with four years of college education is $36,130 a year, while for Asian-Americans it is $34,470 a year (Jung, 1993).
The difficulty Asian-Americans experience, in reaching leadership and upper management positions, is aggravated by the pressure to achieve and live up to the model image. They may be comparing themselves to their peers, leading to emotional pain and psychological damage. Many studies have shown that Asian Americans suffer from higher rates of stress, depression, mental illnesses, and suicides in comparison to other races (National Asian Women’s Health Organization, 2010). CNN on May 16, 2007 featured a headline “Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian American women.” (Cohen, 2007.)
In response, last year Presence conducted psycho-educational trainings on the topic of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, self-help for those suffering from mild depression and anxiety. We also held one-day seminars on “How to be a Good Man” to address issues that Asian men are facing. Both events received tremendous positive comments from our participants.
Third, data shows that for immigrants arriving in the U.S. between 1990-2000 (Harris & Jones, 2005), many have limited English skills and foreign-born statuses that pose underlying challenges for the Asian community. According to the 2000 U.S. Census (Reeves & Bennett, 2004), 69% of Asians are foreign-born and 44% spoke other languages at home with 40% speaking English less than “very well.” (Language proficiency may vary within Asian ethnic groups.) People who have language barriers are less likely to utilize social or community resources. In the San Gabriel valley, a majority of Chinese families either speak Mandarin or Cantonese at home. In order to serve these families, our trainings and seminars are mostly conducted in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Lastly, collective, relational orientation, familism and obligation are main common cultural themes shared by Asian American families. (Yee, DeBaryshe, Yuen, Kim, and McCubbin, 2006) These become the sources of conflict in the home as family members settling in the U.S. adapt to the acculturation experience differently. Each may have different emotional reactions and specific behavioral expressions (Yee, Su, Kim, Yancura, 2009). Traditional Asian families generally speak their language at home and hold values from their cultural heritage. They are highly collective, adhere to a hierarchy that is based on gender, age and birth orders (Wong, 2002). They place family needs ahead of their personal desires and ambitions, and show respect to elders. On the other end of the spectrum are the fully assimilated families who speak English at home and adopt individualist and egalitarian values. They have disengaged from their ethnic groups and mainly socialize with Anglo Americans. Somewhere in between is the bi-cultural Asian American who speaks both English and their native language at home. They shift their values and behaviors based upon the social and cultural contexts while family relationships are generally more egalitarian than in a traditional Asian family.
Presence serves the bicultural families, where the parents are immigrants and their American-born children are being raised in a traditional home. The main purpose of our bilingual magazine is to strengthen the family tie between these two generations. This year, we also publish the RE: NEW magazine for Asian American teens to shape their healthy identity.
Presence is here to support the Asian family going through all stages of life. We provide services in facilitating healthy dating and marital relationships, assisting young families, educating parents in today’s culture, helping families in transitions, and encouraging peer counselors and caretakers for older or ailing family members.
Everyone has a personal growth story and we would love to hear yours. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your feedback and suggestions as well. If our vision resonates with you, consider partnering with Presence financially. We depend on our monthly donors to continue this free publication and to allow us to provide high quality seminars or training for you and your family.