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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

May 25, 2006

Written by C.N.

Rash of Family Violence Among Asians

In recent months, there have been several highly-publicized incidents in which Asian men have murdered or attempted to murder family members due to depression and mental anguish set on by financial and other personal difficulties. This has led many Asians and non-Asians to look at what cultural factors may push some Asian men to become so desperate:

Seven deaths within one week in spasms of family violence have plunged this city’s Koreatown into questioning its immigrant culture of stoically bearing the stresses of adjusting to American life. Three Korean-born men allegedly killed spouses or children, and in two cases killed themselves, police reports say.

The killings April 2-9 echo murder-suicides in recent years among immigrant Chinese and Filipinos in California and among Laotian Hmong refugees in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Mental health professionals are searching for explanations. Many say that traditional Asian values of patriarchy and reticence may make these immigrant families more vulnerable to murder and suicide when they encounter setbacks than groups from other countries.

Among fathers emigrating from Asia, “there’s a mentality of, ‘If I’m a failure, I make my whole family look bad, and we’re all in this together, for better or for worse,’ ” says Helen Hsu, a psychologist with Asian Community Mental Health Services in Oakland. “And there’s a huge social stigma in a man seeking help, telling people he’s having family problems or he’s depressed.”

I’ve written before about the incessant drive that many Asians and Asian Americans tend to have for material success, status, and prestige, and how this near-obsession has led many to pay Americans to adopt their children and a few high-profile cases of scientific fraud. Unfortunately, it’s these kinds of high-pressure individual and cultural expectations that are likely behind these incidents of family violence.

As the article points out, these problems are compounded when Asian community leaders deny or minimize the problem, thinking that it will bring more shame onto their community to acknowledge these risks. In fact, the article points to Korean church leaders and ministers in particular as guilt of this kind of denial.

For the sake of all of our communities, let’s hope that more of us will wake up and see that there are limits to this drive for material success and that it will hurt our community more in the short and long run if we turn a blind eye to the problem and deny that it even exists.

If there is one aspect of American society that we as Asian Americans need to adopt immediately is the ability to acknowledge the potentially devastating effects of stress and that mental health is just as important as material status or prestige. In other words, life is not all about money — the health of our family is just one example.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Rash of Family Violence Among Asians" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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