Listen in on my sermon [mp3] titled “Why does it hurt so much?” based on John 11:17-36, delivered this morning at Great Commission Community Church in Arlington, Virginia. I stayed in the moment and somber mood of the past week, so the tone is a little bit on the heavy side.
The best I’ve found so far, that speaks into our Asian American context — Helen Lee has written an excellent series of posts exploring the dynamics and pressures in the cultural context of an Asian immigrant family: Portrait of a Family, Silence of Murderer’s Mother, More on Cho and Family, Seung-Hui Cho’s note and Christianity, Race and the Va. Tech Tragedy, Addendum, Va. Tech Tragedy [reverse chronological order]. These affect most of us in the 1.5 and 2.0 generation, and most of us find ways to cope, some healthy, some more addictive. Sadly, one person decided to do the worst of evils.
Additionally, 2 days ago, I asked Ellie Hsieh, a graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program of Virginia Tech, for her perspectives into (1) an Asian American family’s dynamics and (2) the ministry opportunities that a church has to better serve this grouping. Hopefully, it will encourage more dialogue on this issue::
1) Asian immigrant families deal with multiple stresses as they attempt to acculturate to life in the U.S. For instance, there are language barriers, cultural conflicts, the loss of one’s social support network back in Asia, financial stresses, racism, etc. One major one is the conflict between cultural values. For instance, the parents may still adhere to the cultural values they grew up with in their country of origin. So in some Asian families, they will assume that it’s ok to hit their kids and leave marks because that’s how they were disciplined when they were growing up. But U.S. law would describe that as child abuse.
So Asian immigrant families may lack the education and experiential knowledge on U.S. values and customs that can impact their families. This is just one example, which may be more uncommon these days because research has shown that immigrants really do know that in the U.S. things are done differently. (See “Judgments about Intimate Partner Violence: A Statewide Survey About Immigrants” by Susan B. Sorenson, in Public Health Reports 121:4, 2006) However, knowledge about the laws does not always translate into adherence to the law… this of course, is what happens in churches as well (i.e. we know what is the right thing to do, but do we always do those things?).
For most Asian immigrant families, the struggle is learning how to mix 2 different sets of values together and to make compromises so that your children who grow up with American values getting taught to them in school, in the media, and elsewhere, can grow up with a healthy balance of their parent’s culture and American culture. These struggles usually occur when the kids become adolescents because that is also the time most adolescents begin to seek greater independence from their families and greater understanding of their place in the world. So teenagers might begin to question and reject why their parents push them so hard to perform well in academics. And it might be acceptable practice to compare their children to other children, or to use criticism to encourage a child to perform better. These are customs/values that go contrary to American values… where as my parents would say, “children get praised for even mediocre work”.
So these acculturation stresses impact how an immigrant family functions. Many 2nd generation Asian Americans have experienced a “role-reversal” in their own families. Because their parents didn’t speak English well, they had to serve as interpreters and deal with adult matters at a young age. They might have to speak to insurance companies, doctors, business people well before they even need to. And so the parents come to depend on their children to serve in these adult roles and if the parents never really become competent in English, the children might begin to disrespect their parents… see them as incompetent or incapable and thus, the role-reversal: children acting as adults, the adults acting as children in certain situations, especially in public matters.
2) I think Asian churches have a lot of power to impact the Asian American families they serve. First off, churches are commonly viewed by Asians as a social support and since most Asians commonly avoid seeking the help of public or government institutions when faced with a dilemma, pastors are typically viewed as “elders” (respected members of the community), people who know more and can give them advice. Second, churches provide Asian families with a social support network, a community where they feel comfortable, they belong, everybody seems to be similar to them. This means that you can provide language classes, education on U.S. customs/values/laws that would enable immigrant families to better adjust to life in the U.S., employment opportunities, etc. So… the church if it is willing to address, not only the spiritual aspects of its members, can also reach out and impact all the other aspects of living. I think most Asian churches do a lot more in this regard. That is, they do provide a lot of community support to their parishioners because they are more than just a spiritual center, they are also a community institution. (This is discussed in the book: New spiritual homes: Religion and Asian Americans by David Yoo)
So, if Asians continue to view counseling as a stigma, churches can also help change that perspective. They can bring in Asian counselors to do workshops to help Asians view counseling more positively, make counseling more approachable and acceptable, to view it as a resource, just as they would view relatives as a resource when family problems arise. Moreover, in light of the recent tragedy at VA Tech, I truly hope that our Asian community will finally awaken and have its eyes opened to the value of counseling. The media continues to discuss it and I wonder what fellow Asians think about counseling now, especially those in my parents’ generation.