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.
In my ongoing series of interviews with Asian American academics that highlight new books and research that illuminate different aspects and details of the Asian American experience, I am very happy to present an interview with my friend and colleague, Professor Angie Y. Chung, faculty in Sociology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, regarding her new book Saving Face: The Emotional Costs of the Asian Immigrant Family Myth. Her book explores the complex interpersonal and societal dynamics and conflicts that play themselves out between second generation Asian Americans (as children and adults) and their immigrant parents. The book’s description:
Tiger Mom. Asian patriarchy. Model minority children. Generation gap. The many images used to describe the prototypical Asian family have given rise to two versions of the Asian immigrant family myth. The first celebrates Asian families for upholding the traditional heteronormative ideal of the “normal (white) American family” based on a hard-working male breadwinner and a devoted wife and mother who raises obedient children. The other demonizes Asian families around these very same cultural values by highlighting the dangers of excessive parenting, oppressive hierarchies, and emotionless pragmatism in Asian cultures.
Saving Face cuts through these myths, offering a more nuanced portrait of Asian immigrant families in a changing world as recalled by the people who lived them first-hand: the grown children of Chinese and Korean immigrants. Drawing on extensive interviews, sociologist Angie Y. Chung examines how these second-generation children negotiate the complex and conflicted feelings they have toward their family responsibilities and upbringing. Although they know little about their parents’ lives, she reveals how Korean and Chinese Americans assemble fragments of their childhood memories, kinship narratives, and racial myths to make sense of their family experiences. However, Chung also finds that these adaptive strategies come at a considerable social and psychological cost and do less to reconcile the social stresses that minority immigrant families endure today.
Saving Face not only gives readers a new appreciation for the often painful generation gap between immigrants and their children, it also reveals the love, empathy, and communication strategies families use to help bridge those rifts.
How much did you personally struggle with balancing a close relationship with your parents and assimilating into mainstream U.S. society when you were growing up?
To put it simply, my experience as the oldest daughter of Korean immigrants is the main reason why I even decided to become a professor. I would say that I had a relatively happy childhood but like many of the folks I interviewed, I struggled with intergenerational conflict, unequal parental expectations, and dual identity struggles all throughout my high school and college years. In high school, I tried to cultivate a sense of belonging by relating to my African American peers but around that time is when the conflicts between Korean storeowners and Black patrons first broke out in the media. I remember this one time when I was sitting in an African American history course and we started talking about the Brooklyn boycotts against a Korean merchant. The worst part wasn’t that people were speculating on the racism of Korean businessowners but that I didn’t know what to say because I knew so little about Korean immigrants and their experiences, despite being the child of Korean immigrants myself. That was really a turning point for me because it started me on a journey to learn more about my parents and the larger ethnic community, as well as others like myself caught between two worlds.
Many Americans who are not of Asian descent still see Asian Americans as the model minority and as almost universally successful. How would you respond to their reaction that Asian Americans have nothing to complain about?
The experiences of Korean and Chinese Americans are quite diverse — not just in terms of our class situations, family structures, neighborhood experiences, and parents’ migration histories but also, the emotional resources each of us can draw on from our family networks to cope with these day-to-day problems. If you read some of the narratives of Korean and Chinese Americans in this book, it is quite clear that many of them had to confront very traumatic and difficult situations as children and were forced to take on adult responsibilities at an early age because their parents were so busy trying to escape incredible hardships, survive in a new country, and deal with the humiliation of being treated as foreigners. I listened to stories about emotional and physical abuse, substance abuse, gambling addictions, molestation, and mental illness that afflicted different family members including themselves. Some were raised in single-parent homes and transnationally-split families, while others were fortunate to be raised in stable, emotionally supportive homes. But one thing I learned was that money did not always guarantee happiness, because even financially-secure family members could be struggling with so much emotionally as part of the immigrant minority experience.
The question readers may ask is then why do people think Korean and Chinese Americans are so “successful?” First of all, I’d like to problematize the way we narrowly define “success” as equated with money. Second, all of us are forced to come up with emotional strategies that allow us to preserve the dignity and dreams of our immigrant parents who sacrificed everything to come to this country while we try to assert our own identities, find our support systems, and follow independent paths for happiness. What that means is that we can’t just disagree or disrespect our parents and insult their friends in front of others without it reverberating throughout our entire family histories. It means that even if we experience racism, homophobia, peer rejection, sexual assault, or some other personal trauma, we cannot simply talk about it with our parents because not only do they not understand American coping strategies but it could also end up doing nothing but hurting them very deeply. It means that there is much more emotionally at stake when we choose a personally satisfying romantic relationship or career as opposed to the ones that our parents worked hard to build for us. It means that as we get older, it is so much easier to act the part of the “good girl” or “good son” in front of some, while being something else in front of others. It means that there is so much more guilt, uncertainty, and obligation that is wrapped up into something simple as not coming home for dinner.
Can you elaborate more on your concept of “saving face” and how it relates to how second generation Asian Americans navigating between their Asian and American identities?
A deeply-engrained part of Korean, Chinese and other East Asian cultures is the importance of managing one’s personal and collective dignity and reputation and protecting them from humiliating or embarrassing situations by whatever means necessary. This means not only molding one’s behavior in front of others but also reigning in feelings of angers, shame and disappointment that they fear may undermine their self-integrity.
It is interestingly this same strategy that second generation Korean and Chinese Americans have adopted to manage the many tensions, contradictions and conflicts that emerge between the pressures of family values and gendered expectations, between class privilege and racial marginalization, and between immigrant parents’ American Dream and their individual life goals. It is thus not a surprise that the image they project to the outside world does not always align with how they think, feel and behave inside. To me, saving face clearly demonstrates the amazing emotional resilience of Asian Americans to face their struggles as they come of age, but I also find that it has some substantial social costs, which I discuss throughout the book.
As your book highlights, there seems to be a very thin line between the model minority image and the “yellow peril” image of Asian Americans. How much did your respondents feel this tension in their everyday lives and interactions with other Americans?
The funny part was that if I started asking them if they ever felt any discrimination, most of them initially said no. But then you really start getting deeper into their personal life experiences and you start hearing about being treated as a foreigner, being blocked from work promotions, or being fetishized as geishas or demasculinized as sexless males in their dating relationships. The difficulty of articulating racism for Asian Americans is that the vocabulary we have been given in the post-Civil Rights era has been organized around Black-White race relations and that our experiences straddle the boundaries of “positive” and “negative” stereotypes — both of which have equally harmful effects but make it tricky to explain our grievances. So sure, some of us can use the model minority stereotypes to our advantage on occasion, but in the bigger picture of things, that thin line has created an even bigger barrier for us in terms of understanding our own racial experiences, finding allies among those who are oppressed by the same system, and voicing our political views to the outside world.
What are some pieces of advice that you can give young Asian Americans as they try to find the balance between retaining their ethnic identity and solidarity to their family and community, while also integrating themselves into mainstream U.S. society as much as possible?
The readership I would love to reach out to the most are young Asian Americans who I feel face the most pressures to negotiate these two worlds in their quest to fit in and find their identities but lack the emotional stability and support they need to deal with it head-on. My advice to them is to recognize that it is possible to achieve happiness in both worlds and to keep exploring new support systems to take them through this journey — whether it be through extended relatives, supportive friends, ethnic communities, or institutions. Despite the immense diversity of their families and experiences, the one common strand I found among almost all the participants is that they found ways to make sense of their struggles and come to terms with their relationship with their parents as they entered adulthood.
The other advice I would like to share is the need to create a proper emotional and racial vocabulary for Asian Americans by continuing to voice our political views, creating new ways to articulate our experiences whether it be through language, the arts, or the media, and cultivating ethnic political solidarity and non-Asian political allies including foreign-born Asians and other racial minorities. Recently, NBC got into hot water because they had plans to release a comedy sitcom about a white man who orders a Filipino mail order bride. Social media spread the news like wildfire and eventually NBC decided to cancel the sitcom. This would not have happened ten years ago and it is showing that we are also beginning to find our way, although we still have a long way to go.
As the political, economic, and cultural interconnections between the U.S. and Asia become more important (and presumably the rivalries along the same lines), how do you think Asian Americans will be seen by the rest of U.S. society going forward?
It is clear that the rise of the Asian immigrant family myth coincides not only with the stereotype of the dysfunctional Black family but more recently, with rising economic competition from China and the perception that Asians are outcompeting their White counterparts educationally and economically. The perpetuation of the Asian immigrant family myth including the evil patriarch, the Tiger Mom, and the robotic model minority child helps to reassert the global supremacy of white Americans by dehumanizing their perceived racial competitors and highlighting their own sense of moral superiority. Of course there are more dimensions to this story that we must consider to get at the different racial, gender and class dimensions of parenting and families in America, which may also explain the mixed reactions to Asian immigrant families, but if you ask me if this global context is relevant in any way, the simple answer is yes.
Below is a solicitation for respondents for an online survey about parenting practices among Asian American fathers. As always, the announcement is provided for informational purposes and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research study being conducted.
My name is Zuzanna Molenda-Kostanski and I am a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program in the Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy at Seton Hall University. I am interested in gaining a better understanding of the experiences of Asian American men as fathers by exploring how certain factors, including acculturation, gender-role conflict and parenting self-efficacy may impact father’s involvement with children. I would like to invite you to participate in my study.
The study consists of a survey that is quick and easy to fill out. You can complete it online at your own convenience, and it may take approximately 15 minutes to complete.
Participation in this study is completely voluntary and anonymous. The survey will not ask you for any identifying information about you and you are free to withdraw at any time. Additionally, any information gathered from the study will be kept on a USB memory key and stored in a locked secure office that will only be accessible to myself and my research advisor, Dr. Laura Palmer.
If you are at least 18 years old and are willing to participate in this study please click on the following link: https://shucehs.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_5uJYdeSa6QVoVrn
Your consent to participate in the study is indicated by clicking on the link and completing the survey. The survey will be running between August 2015 and January 2016.
If you have any questions about the study please feel free to contact me or my research adviser using the contact information provided below. This study has been approved by the Seton Hall University Institutional Review Board.
Thank you for your time and consideration of your participation in my study.
Zuzanna Molenda-Kostanski, M.A.
Counseling Psychology PhD Program
Seton Hall University
Laura Palmer, Ph.D.
Counseling Psychology PhD Program Seton Hall University
Mary F. Ruzicka, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Review Board
Seton Hall University
Below is an announcement about a research project and online survey in need of Asian American respondents. As always, this announcement is provided for informational purposes only and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research project.
I am a Sri Lankan American mom and a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at Adelphi University, doing a short online research survey on South Asian moms in the US. My research has been approved by the IRB at Adelphi.
Hello fellow South Asian moms:
This is Yas Alahendra, Sri Lankan mom and clinical psychology graduate student at Adelphi University, asking you to please take a little time to participate in my survey about how immigration, race, individualism, and group affiliation affect married moms’ feeling equal and happy in their marriages.
If you complete the survey, you will have contributed to psychological knowledge about motherhood. Also, you will have my many thanks for helping me finish my long Ph.D. journey as well as a chance to win one of several Barnes and Noble gift cards. To participate, you must be: married, have at least one child under 18 living at home with you, and be either:
a US- residing, US-born Caucasian woman OR
a US-residing South Asian woman who was US-born or an immigrant.
For the purposes of this study, I am defining South Asian as having Bangladeshi, Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani or Sri Lankan heritage. The study takes about 15 minutes to complete and can be reached by clicking this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/momsurvey1
Thank you very much,
Yas Alahendra, M.A.
The topic of international and transracial adoptions seems to be on many people’s minds these days. Last week, PBS began showing a series of documentaries about such adoptions and their trailer for the series is below. My fellow Asian American blogger Jeff Yang has also written an article summarizing these documentaries in his regular column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
The blogosphere has also been buzzing about National Public Radio host Scott Simon’s recent on-air interview and discussion and book Baby We Were Meant for Each Other about his family’s adoption of two girls from China. Some readers found Simon’s narrative inspiring while others criticized him for some ethnocentric assumptions. For example, Malinda at ChinaAdoptionTalk offers a very well-reasoned response to some of Simon’s comments about the adoption process.
To add more substance to this emerging discussion on international and transracial adoption, the following is a post (reprinted by permission) originally titled “NPR’s Scott Simon Discusses Adoption on Fresh Air” by my former student and now colleague Gang Shik at his blog The Transracial Korean Adoptee Nexus. In his post, Gang asks the question, Why is it that whenever the media talks about transracial adoption that the last person they seek to for their input are the adoptees themselves?
It came as no surprise to me that the person talking about adoption, was an adoptive parent. As always, it appears as though adoptive parents are the only “authorities” on adoption. I come back to this same problem every time I hear a program on adoption. Why aren’t adoptees being called on to discuss their experiences? There are professors, researchers, artists, musicians, and poets who all have incredibly interesting stories to tell and who are professionals with opinions on adoption that go beyond the merely personal.
There are three topics I’d like to address with this post. First, I will look at adoption, assimilation rhetoric, and the “magic” of the familial integration. Second, I want to discuss a few things related to how Mr. Simon and his wife have decided to parent their children. And third, I will discuss the politics of racial identity.
As with most of my posts, I want to first start by saying that this is not meant to be slander, nor is it meant to be malicious by any means. The point of posts such as these, and the point of all my posts on my blog, are to discuss representations of adoption in the media, and the often overlooked discussions of race and identity for transracial adoptees. Whether you are an adoptee, adoptive parent, member of the triad, or any other concerned individual, this post is meant to inspire dialogue.
For as long as I can remember, adoptive parents have talked about their child(ren)’s first moments with them as being instantaneous and almost magical. “That first moment was magical. We knew, that s(he) was ours.” In so many ways, adoptive parents want their child(ren) to feel as though they were meant for each other. I do believe that these sort of narratives can gloss over some of the more important details that are occurring to an adoptee that are invisible to adoptive parents.
Some parents recount their experiences saying how the transition was seamless, or minimal at most. The effects of adoption on the adoptee are often dismissed as children are perceived to be “fitting in” to their new environments. There is no discussion of trauma, since many who adopt children believe this to be the least traumatic experience for a child. I’m no expert on child psychology, so I can’t speak to this last point much. But I can say that, adoption can be very traumatic.
I’ve met many adoptees who were adopted later in their lives – some are four, five or even six years old when they are adopted. So many of them have completely lost all memories of their homelands. Most are completely devoid of any bilingual language capabilities that they once had. Think of it this way. What sort of moment in your life could be so traumatic that you push all memories of it out of your mind permanently? Adoption is no easy thing for an adoptee, regardless of age, I have to believe that even young children can sense these things in one way or another.
At one point Mr. Simon said “she immediately became our child.” No doubt, she became your daughter at that very moment. However, I would urge Mr. Simon to not forget that she will forever be not just your daughter, but her birth mother’s daughter too. Continue to celebrate her life in China as much as you do in the U.S. Too often, I hear about adoptive parents who celebrate the day they arrived in the U.S. with out any concept of the life they lived or lost before they were adopted.
I do want to point something out which I found encouraging in Mr. Simon’s interview. He stated that he and his wife wish to provide their daughters with as much of their heritage as possible so that they can make their own decisions for themselves later in life. These things may not necessarily be relevant to them now, but it is important to present these aspects of themselves as important parts of them that should be available to them early on.
Simon is referring to a Chinese school that both his daughter are enrolled in over the summer that teaches Mandarin, Chinese cooking and cultural celebrations. Now, I can’t speak to the quality of these things but I do think it is encouraging to hear that they have considered the importance of making these things available to their children at an early age. He and his wife even went as far as attempting to only hire Chinese babysitters for their daughters.
Finally, I wanted to comment on a particular comment I found confusing towards the end of the interview. Mr. Simon said that he does not believe it is healthy for one to confuse identity with ethnicity. I think that the word ‘ethnicity’ has become a code word for race more recently. Some folks balk at using the word ‘race’ when referring to their adoptee children, especially when they are Asian. However, I think it is incredibly important to acknowledge this.
He says that his daughters are aware of the fact that they are Chinese. They will be made VERY aware of what it means to be Chinese American and Asian American and how this collides with their identities as young women soon enough. And I believe that this can not and should not be left out of the conversation. Race, whether we like it or not, is part of the American subconsciousness. Children are exposed to this at a very young age through television, the media, the other children they are surrounded by as they grow up.
These conversations need to happen. I’m partially encouraged by some of the things Mr. Simon had to say. However, there is so much left to change. I would encourage Mr. Simon to consider helping change the all too common adoption narrative to one that encourages and embraces the opinions and perspectives of adult adoptees. For the most part, adoptive parents are the ones given the microphone to talk about their experiences and frame how adoption is talked about in the media.
Adult adoptees are an important part of the equation since your child won’t be a child forever. I would love for there to be an NPR program that includes adult adoptee scholars, writers, educators, bloggers etc. Our voices are out there, but for the most part, we’re not listened to or honored as much as yours. As adoptive parents, and as reporters and journalists I hope you’ll consider our voices as important as your own and give us opportunities to be a part of the dialogue.
Below are two announcements about online surveys in need of Asian American respondents.
Our names are Mindy Markham, Jessica Troilo, Marilyn Coleman, and Lawrence Ganong and we are graduate students and faculty members at the University of Missouri – Columbia. We are inviting you to participate in a research study about how mothers and fathers with different marital statuses are viewed. Participation is voluntary and completely confidential.
The survey is available online and can be accessed at any time that is convenient for you. We would appreciate it if you would take the time to answer this survey in the next two weeks.
If you are uncomfortable with online technology or are experiencing technological difficulties, we would be happy to assist you at any time by talking you through the process. If you have any questions or concerns at any point, please contact us directly by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your participation,
Mindy Markham, M.S.
Jessica Troilo, M.S.
Marilyn Coleman, Ed.D.
Lawrence Ganong, Ph.D.
University of Missouri Institutional Review Board Approval #1061098
The University of Memphis’ Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Research Team is conducting a GLBT-affirmative study on Same-Sex Parenting, and we are looking for participants. The purpose of this study is to learn about the experiences of same-sex parents in relationship to legal parenting rights. We believe this research is important in advocating for parents to be fully recognized in their family role and to not be discriminated against in family concerns.
Participants must be 18 years or older, currently be in a relationship with the same-sex partner with whom they have planned and created a family, and have at least one child under the age of 18 living in their home. The study should take approximately 20 minutes to complete online and meets human subjects approval by our university Institutional Review Board (E10-43).