The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
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.
A lot of people are stressed out right now and understandably so. Our federal government is deadlocked over the debt ceiling issue, the economy is still stagnant, people are mourning the recent murders in Norway, and just yesterday, a Muslim American soldier was arrested for an alleged murder plotting at Fort Hood.
What can we do to deal with all this stress? One thing that people can try is meditating. People throughout Asia have been doing so for thousands of years and little by little, others around the world have found this technique and have enjoyed its benefits.
Here in the U.S., meditation has been around for a while but as this news segment from ABC’s NightLine shows, it is increasingly becoming part of mainstream U.S. society:
As this story notes and as research increasingly documents, this example of east-west convergence is not just the latest pop culture trend — it can actually improve your quality of life.
As part of this blog’s ongoing mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience, and for readers who like to keep on top of the latest academic research, I highlight new research and studies in academic journals about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. An article’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean an endorsement of its contents.
The widely-respected Asian American Pacific Islander Nexis journal has just released a special issue that focuses on various dimensions of mental health among Asian Americans:
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center announces the publication of Asian American Pacific Islander Nexus Journal: Policy, Practice and Community, Special Issue on Mental Health. This issue features select papers presented at the first “State of AAPI Mental Health” conference held in 2010, which was a transdisciplinary gathering on mental health research, treatment, and practice among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). The release of the Special Issue on Mental Health is in conjunction with the second conference on Friday, April 22, 2011.
The goals of the two conferences and this special issue are to increase the understanding about mental health and service needs of AAPIs. Research has shown that AAPIs have unique economic, linguistic, and cultural characteristics that require specific mental health services that can adequately address their needs. This issue on Mental Health highlights some of the emerging research for AAPIs with topics ranging from current policies, new research paradigms, to personal and cultural
roadblocks in relation to mental health.
Contextualizing the challenges of addressing AAPI mental health, guest editors, Gilbert C. Gee (UCLA), Phillip D. Akutsu (CSU Sacramento), and Margaret Shih (UCLA), in their introduction illustrate how cultural, historical, and community diversity have led to underutilization of services and a lack of data. They call for new research that seriously considers the theories related to differences among diverse AAPI populations.
Marguerite Ro and Wendy Ho then provide an overview of the current California and Federal policies and legislation related to mental health in “Aligning Policy to the Mental Health Needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” The authors propose recommendations on how to better address issues of data and research, culturally competent services, and accountability of existing policies.
Frederick T.L. Leong and Zornitsa Kalibatseva, in “Comparative Effectiveness Research on Asian American Mental Health: Review and Recommendations,” provide an overview of the latest research paradigm called comparative effectiveness research (CER), which evaluates the efficacy of one or more interventions for a specific group. The authors urge researchers to use CER methods in order to stimulate more funding and foster a research environment that is responsive to the various issues in AAPI communities.
In the third manuscript, Phillip Akutsu and his colleagues discuss the issue of clients not showing up to their initial appointment to see a mental health provider in “Pre-Intake Attrition or Non-Attendance of Intake Appointments at an Ethnic-Specific Mental Health Program for Asian American Children and Adolescents.” Their findings show that key factors in motivating attendance involve matching the client’s language and ethnicity with the provider as well as fostering a personal connection between the provider and the client.
Van M. Ta et al. provide an ethnographic study in “Cultural Identity and Conceptualization of Depression among Native Hawaiian Women.” The authors seek to understand the correlation between cultural identity and depression among Native Hawaiian women. Their study across various age groups suggests that stressors resulting from U.S. occupation of Hawai’i such as acculturation, oppression, marginalization, and financial difficulties are important factors related to depression.
The issue closes with a non-theme article by Paul Ong and Albert Lee entitled, “Asian Americans and Redistricting: Empowering through Electoral Boundaries.” The authors contextualize the difficulties of building “communities of common interest” which ultimately helps preserve Asian American neighborhoods. They advocate for the need to bridge gaps and form coalitions to foster political empowerment for the AAPI community.
AAPI Nexus copies are $13.00 plus $4.00 for shipping and handling and 8.25% sales tax for California residents.
Below is an announcement about a research project and online survey in need of Asian American respondents.
Seeking Volunteers for Online Survey Study
My name is Nellie Tran, and I am a psychology doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am conducting a study to understand experiences of discrimination, racial consciousness, and their effects on their mental health for Asian Americans. Your voice and experiences could contribute greatly to an understanding the experiences of different racial/ethnic groups and those of different generational statuses. If you are interested in completing the survey, please access the survey at the following link.
Participation in this survey is voluntary and open to all individuals. The survey will take about 20-25 minutes to complete. You will be asked for an email address at the end of the survey in order to be entered into a random drawing for one $50 Amazon.com Gift Card. This research has been reviewed and approved by the University of Illinois at Chicago Institutional Review Board. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the information below. Thank you so much!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Nellie Tran, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate, Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago
2005: Model Minority Expectations and Suicide The intense pressure from families and society of living up to standards of high achievement can be overwhelming and has led many young Asian Americans to take their own lives.
2004: Inter-Asian Sentiments Examples from popular culture in both Japan and South Korea illustrate the contradictory nature of inter-ethnic relations between Asians of different ethnic groups.
As I and many other scholars have written, Asian Americans are frequently portrayed as the “model minority” — a group of Americans who have worked to overcome difficulties in our way in order to achieve socioeconomic success, who have quietly persevered to get ahead in American society rather than resorting to political confrontation, and therefore, stand as examples for other racial minority groups to follow and emulate. As I’ve also summarized in my linked article above, there are numerous problems with this characterization, such as the blanket assumption that all Asian Americans are successful and no longer experience any form of racial discrimination.
But what about the assertion within this model minority image that Asian Americans have worked extremely hard to achieve success? Isn’t that true?
One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder. The Chinese-Americans were only half as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, and by high school they were doing much better than European-Americans with the same I.Q. . . .
A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship . . . the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive.
Having said that, we also need to recognize that the dynamics of political, economic, and cultural success are more complicated than just hard work. First, Asian Americans benefit in many ways from our“honorary White” status. This refers to how Asian Americans are situated below Whites in the U.S.’s racial hierarchy and that based on our levels of socioeconomic success — and to put it bluntly, our relatively light-colored skin — are slightly more socially accepted from the White majority than other (darker skinned) racial minorities such as Blacks and many Latinos. This idea is similar to the “middleman minority” theory that Asian Americans serve as a buffer zone that insulates the White majority from Blacks and Latinos.
The take-home message is that, by all means we should celebrate and encourage the hard work within the Asian American community that has resulted in many forms of success and accomplishment. We as Asian Americans should rightfully feel proud and inspired by all the historical and contemporary examples in which we’ve used our individual and collective resources and determination to overcome the barriers in our way on the road to achieving our goals.
At the same time, we also need to understand that not all racial/ethnic groups have the same circumstances and that these historical and contemporary characteristics lead to different challenges that each group faces. Secondly, the push for hard work can and has gone too far at times and when it does, can lead to disastrous consequences.
In the end, I hope that just as many of our cultural traditions teach us, Asian Americans should strive to achieve balance with these different elements of determination and reflexivity in our lives.
As we prepare to start another academic year, it’s important to remember that for many Asian American students at all levels, the flip side of being thought of as the “model minority” or “super-students” is the pressure of living up to those lofty expectations. If and when those unrealistic expectations are not met, many encounter various forms of depression, mental illness, thoughts of suicide, and — in the case of Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman — psychopathic violence.
College can be a tough time for any student, regardless of ethnicity. But many Asians face particular stresses as they are caught between two cultures, according to Dr. Nolan Zane, director of the UC-Davis center. Asians are expected by mainstream society to do well. And if they’re from an immigrant family, the expectations are even higher. Students may feel pressured into “safe” career paths like medicine or law.
When problems such as social anxiety and depression arise, cultural barriers prevent many from seeking help. Talking about problems to outsiders is considered taboo and shameful. Getting help from family often isn’t an option either. Many Asians attach a strong stigma to mental health problems or simply deny their existence.
Zane recalls that the parents of a Chinese American student couldn’t understand why he recommended that their son get counseling. The parents thought their distraught son, whose grades were slipping, just needed to study harder. . . .
White students may wrestle with the same problems, but tend to get help or be helped sooner, says Dr. Wai-Kwong Wong, a counselor at Cornell’s Gannett Health Services. . . . Cornell officials were jolted into action after a university-sponsored report in 2004 detailed the sense of isolation and dissatisfaction among Asian American and international Asian students. . . .
At Cornell, the efforts that started four years ago are starting to yield results. From the time he was a freshman until he graduated in May, Timothy Chow witnessed a dramatic change in awareness about mental health issues among his fellow Asian classmates.
In response to the university report on Asian students, Chow and several friends organized a group to advocate for changes. At the initial meetings, fewer than 10 students expressed interest. Chow says that many students likely shied away because they didn’t want to be associated with mental health issues.
But this past school year, two events on stress relief sponsored by the Asian/Asian-American Forum attracted more than 100 people each. The fairs featured massage therapists, yoga sessions and presentations from a nutritionist and counselors.
The article goes on to mention that one potential drawback of such intensified efforts to address mental health issues among Asian American students is that it may lead to the perception that being an Asian American students means that you are automatically at risk for mental health issues.
That’s a fair and very insightful observation and one that I had not thought of. Nonetheless, I think that is still less of a danger than the other way around — ignoring Asian American students who may be suffering in silence and isolation.
The statistics from studies such as that from Cornell tell a very compelling picture — Asian American students face unique pressures and challenges that other students do not. Yes, there is a danger of using data like this to “essentialize” Asian American students in the same way of thinking that we’re all good at math.
But in today’s globalized and multicultural racial/ethnic landscape, I think most Americans are sophisticated enough to know that the Asian American community is more complex than that. Besides, I’d rather take that risk than one that sets the stage for another Seung-Hui Cho to emerge.