(((I am currently studying for a licensure exam & completing an internship. This blog post is intended as a study exercise.)))
“Asian Americans represent a wide range of diversity to the extent to which they have adopted the norms of the dominant US culture and retained the norms of the traditional Asian culture” (Trihn, et al, 2009, p. 25). While enculturation is the process of acquiring the norms and values of a particular culture, acculturation is a process of socialization that occurs when an individual is influenced by two cultures. With acculturation, immigrants struggle to maintain values from their country of origin, while learning to adapt to the norms of the dominant culture they live in. The process of acculturation differe greatly from family to family as well as amongst individual members. Triton, et al, (2009) notes that a “problematic distancing occurs between immigrant parents and children” (p. 27), when varied rates of acculturation occur within each generation. This is commonly known as a “cultural gap”, wherein “parents tend to cling to values from their culture of origin….[while] children might increasingly adopt the norms of the dominant society (Trihn, et al, 2009, p. 29). As I have experienced personally within my own diverse extended family, children are often raised hearing mixed message and are left to “figure things out” on their own. LaFramboise, et al, (1993) define acculturative stress as a “worsened mental health status…anxiety, depression, feelings of marginality, alienation, and identity confusion (p. 29).” Lee, et al, (1996), describe five types of Asian Families based on the dynamics of this acculturative transition
TRADITIONAL FAMILIES: “consist entirely of individuals born and raised in Asia, with little exposure to Western Culture (Lee, et al, 1996, p. 275)
FAMILIES IN CONFLICT: Families in conflict often immigrate to the United States with young children. As a result, children are acculturated into American society while parents and grandparents tend to uphold traditional values.
BICULTURAL FAMILIES: La Framboise, et al, (1993) defines biculturalism as an ability to operate effectively within two cultures. As a result, well acculturated parents, who hope to instill in their children a pride and appreciation for their own ethnic identity.
AMERICANIZED FAMILIES: All family members adopt mainstream cultural values. My mother has preferred to adopt this acculturative style, and as a result I know little about her home country
NEW MILLENNIUM FAMILIES: These families go “beyond prior cultural expectations and are forging new identities…’integrate multiple cultures… (Lee, et al, 1996, 275)” ‘
Values & Belief Systems…
Asian Americans comprise about 3% of the U.S. population, (4,000,000 people), (Rosenthal, 2005). By 2050 it is estimated that this population will grow to about 8%. Relatively little is known in literature about Asian Americans. Rosenthal, (2005) states that “one theory for this is that very few Asian Americans have very few problems and are very successful and thus researchers are not giving this group attention that they deserve.” What follows is a “quick and dirty” overview of key insights that should be kept in mind when counseling Asian clients..
COLLECTIVIST IDENTITY: As an American it is important to understand a collectivist identity. Doing so requires one to set aside, (for the time being) the idea of individualism. Seeing yourself as part of something greater than yourself is essential. Identity is constructed based on a different point of reference. For example, in my mother’s culture life centers around family and plays a central role in daily life.
PATRIARCHAL FAMILY LIFE: The vast majority of Asian cultures have a very patriarchal structure, where the dad has a wealth of authority (Rosenthal, 2005). However, the degree of patriarchalism that is presented in an Asian family, depends on the degree of acculturation. Additionally, Asian countries with a greater westernized sociocultural influences tend to be more egalitarian in nature. This is especially true in the Philippines, where my mother was raised.
GUILT & SHAME: My mother comes from a collectivist culture in which family life is central to daily living. For example, she is still called “Nene” which means baby. Additionally, she discusses the notion of “DUTY” as a responsibility to her family. This notion of “duty”, while foreign to me is very important to her. It is by fulfilling this “duty” to family members that she expresses her love as a wife, mother, sister, and daughter. Integral in this belief system is a form of social control that parents utilize on children to encourage compliance. Failure to respect your elders and live up to your “duty” can produce feelings of shame and guilt.
COLLECTIVE TRAUMA: Asian families often have complex migration histories that involve political upheaval and wartime experiences (Lee, et al, 1996). For example, my mother’s family survived WW2 and eventually immigrated to the United States for a better life. A complex history of trauma exists within their family history with lasting, profound effects.
ACADEMIC PRESSURE – There is a greater pressure to succeed within Asian families. For example, Rosenthal (2005) notes that while 41% Asian mothers say academic is critical, only 11% of white mothers hold this belief.
BODILY COMPLAINTS EQUATED WITH EMOTIONAL ILLS (Rosenthal, 2005). Rosenthal notes that oftentimes Asian cultures equate emotional problems with physical ailments. As a result, it will be important to investigate all physical complaints thoroughly to develop an understanding of the underlying cause.
LESS LIKELY TO SEEK THERAPY – Rosenthal, (2008) also notes that Asian Americans are less likely than other demographics to seek therapy. As a result, when thy do seek therapy, they are often extremely disturbed. Additionally, Rosenthal (2008) states Asian Americans have a higher incidents of depression than any other minority group.
STOICIM = MATURITY: In many Asian cultures, a “lack of emotional expression represents maturity…[and] silence is seen as an act of respect.” (Rosenthal, 2008). As a result, it will be important for therapist to “carry ball more” (Rosenthal, 2008) during therapy and lead the conversation with well-thought out questions.
ADDENDUM: Exploratory Interview Paper.
In this paper I share the insights gained from an interview with my mother. In addition to learning about my mother’s background, I got to know more of our relationship with one another from her perspective. I will begin by utilizing the addressing model and move on with a summary of the interview. In addition to sharing insights about my mother’s culture, I will add a bit of personal reflective commentary. At the end of this paper I have provide a transcription of the recorded interview.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
In this section, I utilize the Addressing model, as discussed in our textbook. This model acts as a framework around which to explore the influence of my mother’s culture on her own belief systems. As I have come to understand it, these cultural belief systems, affect many elements of a person’s life. In addition to defining a life perspective it also influences your identity, feelings, thoughts, and interactions with others, (Fortune, 2012; Hays, 2008). The cultural gap has between us has been an ongoing struggle. The importance of multicultural sensitivity is vividly apparent to me. For the sake of brevity, I discuss the key areas of greatest relevance for my mother, having the biggest impact on her identity. I provide only a brief overview of details relevant to my mother’s life history within each relevant area. In a later section I share these specific arenas of life were relevant to her development in her own words.
Age and Generational Influences.
The Silent Generation. My mother was born in the Philippines in 1938, moved to the states in 1965, and has lived here since. A member of the silent generation that preceded the baby boomers, my mother’s earliest years were in the midst of a war. While she has little memory of her earliest years of life, according to records she’s uncovered, her dad signed up for the “USAFE” (United States Army of the Far East), just one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The date this occurred was December 8th, of 1941. With her father away, her mother was left alone with a three year old and five year old. While completely ignorant of the realities of war in my own life, I have an appreciation of the effects it had on my mother’s family. They had to develop a toughness that served them well as the war came to a close in their survival.
Extended Family Influences. The Philippines is much more collectivist in its orientation in comparison to the United States which is clearly individualistic (Fortune, 2012; Root, 1997). The extended family is central to one’s life and identity. For example, in the United States the focus is on our own goals their achievement. In the Philippines, on the other hand, the well being of the extended family is a primary consideration (Fortune 2012; Root 1997). This can be seen in the way members of the family, will sacrifice of themselves, for the sake of the family. It can also be realized in the way family harmony and psychological-well being of the extended group takes precedence over individual insecurities and any need to vent pent up emotions (Fortune 2012).
Extended family influences go well beyond one’s degree of personal orientation toward a collective unit. According to my mother, the Philippines is very much a melting pot. While the majority of the country is Catholic, they also display influences from other religions such as Confucianism. As a result of this, it is a well-known but unspoken rule within the family that children display absolute obedience to elders. Any elders, whether strangers, older brothers, parents, uncles are to be shown respect. Finally, one interesting fact seems to illustrate to me how much membership to the family defines your identity. Within the family, siblings do not call each other by name, but by birth order. My mother was “Nene”, as the youngest in the family, this word in Tagalog means “baby”. My aunt on the other hand was the older sister and was called “Ate”, for big sister.
While my mother has no disabilities to speak of, she is a retired Clinical Cytogeneticist and worked in the Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of South Dakota. One of her tasks was counseling parents of children with developmental disabilities. Her support was very critical when my oldest son was born with a congenital heart defect. Very ill, needing several heart surgeries, these medical issues affected his childhood development for quite some time. Through her support and educated background, I feel I was able to handle the situation well as a parent of a sick child.
National Origin & Racial Identity.
Racial Identity. As a Filipino who immigrated to the United States in the 60’s my mother is definitely a minority in this culture. Having said this, she does make a point to note that she was raised in the Philippines, and was part of the “majority” there. Everyone, like her was Filipino, and so race was an inconsequential issue she gave little thought to. Therefore, issues such as “Insidious Trauma”, (defined by Maria Root as “trauma associated by a devalued identity in a dominant culture,” (Hays, 2008, p115)), don’t apply to her.
This isn’t to say she didn’t experience racism, as she will note in her interview summary below. Nonetheless, she has noted a set of coping skills that many who had lived their entire lives as a minority didn’t have. Part of the problem for many who were raised here, she notes, is the racism experienced, was throughout critical years of childhood development. Nonetheless, she also says there is more to the issue that. While the Philippines and American are both melting pots, she has stated there was a different preconceived reaction to the idea of different groups blending together. Growing up, it was know the Philippines was a melting pot was a non-issue and that everyone there was the byproduct of many blended cultures. In fact, there are Spanish, and Chinese ancestors in her family. In contrast to this, she felt this culture seemed to hold the idea of differences between various groups as being significant in a way she didn’t understand. For example, the idea of marrying a white man and having mixed kids to her wasn’t a big deal. Despite this, in the late 60’s and early 70’s she felt people reacted sometimes to this in a manner she didn’t quite understand.
National Origin. As an immigrant, my mother’s biggest issues have been associated with attempting to honor her own values while having to learn about a whole new culture. Finding a balance between these two competing value systems is best described as “bicultural competence” (LaFramboise, et al, 1993). The greatest ambivalence she experienced was in raising her two daughters. Living in a small town in the Midwest with few minorities and foreigners, she had little support. Adding to this was the fact that she was separated from her extended family, another critical support system, unavailable to her.
My mother’s socioeconomic status and background are quite intriguing to me. Currently, my mother and father are both retired doctors and upper middle class in their background. Additionally, growing up, her extended family was also considered solidly upper middle class. For example, she notes her parents were able to afford to put two girls through medical school. Without any loan programs, advanced education, was available only to those who could afford it. She was very lucky.
On the other hand, despite this fact, there are a few unique details that differentiate the meaning of social class for my mother. Firstly, she said, the overall standard of living was different from the United States. This made her experiences of blending into my dad’s upper middle class background still quite difficult. She didn’t quite understand the materialistic perspective whereby your possessions defined your worth. Her perspective is really of the need for essentials in life: food, clothing, and shelter. While she does enjoy having things, it was simply for how they reminded her of “back home”. She didn’t feel it reflected on her worth as a person.
Still, having said all this, the critical cultural differences she dealt with go much deeper. In the aftermath of the Second World War, her family lost everything, but “the clothes on their backs”. Having to work hard and rebuild their lives, she simply states the overall life perspective on things is entirely different, and “hard to put words to”.
Spain came to the Philippines in 1400 and ruled there until the late 1800’s. As a result of Spain’s influences: (1) many words in Tagalog are of Spanish origin, (2) many last names are of Spanish origin, and (3) the primary religion practiced by 95% of the population is Catholicism.
Adherence to Catholicism as a member of the church community was vital to my mother’s family. For example, she said they all said the rosary every night. On Sundays all 24 of her cousins went to mass every Sunday, sitting in the same two pews every week with Grandma behind them to ensure they behaved. She warned them of their misbehavior with a flick on the ear.
Due to America’s influences, the Philippines has a very egalitarian view of the genders. For example, within the extended family system, the oldest child in the extended family is considered head of family, whether male or female. In fact, my mother said her family was very matriarchal in nature with the last two family heads being female.
After the Second World War, her maternal grandmother was a widow, and left as matriarch of the family until her passing. After her death, my moms own mother became family head as “Ate” of her four younger brothers and sisters. Everybody respected them both as head of the family and did as they said.
Also notable of the matriarchal vibe in the family was the fact that all family resources were devoted to equally toward both men and women pursuing advanced degrees. When you consider the fact that this occurred in the 30’s for my grandmother’s generation, its really quite remarkable. In conclusion, its also interesting to note that the women surpassed the men in performance, with all finishing their education and even earning advanced degrees.
Cultural Assessment Interview Summary
While the previous section provides a perspective of my mother from within the Addressing Model, this section provides an overview of her life in her own words. At the end of each section I will include a few of my own personal thoughts.
When the war came to a conclusion, my mother was about six years old. Life for her in the aftermath of war was very different from life in America. Nobody had anything and all people were left to rebuild their lives from search. her parents were educated and were fortunate to find jobs. Her mother was a schoolteacher. Her father took advantage of the GI Bill as a former soldier of the USAFE and became an engineer. While I have been able to talk with my mother about these experiences, I’ve come to understand that some caution needs to be taken when discussing these issues. There is often an unspoken rule amongst my mom’s family that you aren’t to bring that stuff up, because it is too painful. Having said that, I am grateful my mother has shared these experiences with me. It has helped me understand how these early experiences influenced her.
Limiting Emotional Expression.
There are two key characteristics within my mom’s culture that influence how emotions are expressed:
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS: As stated earlier, in my mom’s culture an authoritarian parenting style was the norm. In the case of war, this was clearly essential for survival. Absolute respect was essential and meant listing to mom for the sake of survival.
FAMILY WELL-BEING IS FIRST: Thinking of the family collective unit first is essential during wartime. Within my mother’s family the idea of harmonious family relations was important. Making this a priority over personal feelings meant suppressing our own private needs for the sake of harmony and to avoid strife.
Material Loss & Gain.
In a recent conversation since our interview, my mother complained about something my sister said recently. She allowed me to record this portion of our conversation on Skype since it was relevant to the topic at hand:
As I heard of the misunderstanding between my mother and sister, I couldn’t help but think of the things from within the perspective of this assignment. My mother’s early childhood was filled with tremendous loss. After the war, at the age of 7 she had to work with her family to rebuild their lives from nothing. She learned to work hard, remain tough, and as a result is appreciative of what she has. Additionally, she put much time creating things as her form of “art”. What’s interesting is that since everybody after the war was in the same situation, nobody was better than anybody else. The American notion that our material possessions can define our social class wasn’t relevant then.
As a result of all this, today she sees her material possessions as reflective of memories of “back home” They also reflect all the hard work she’s endured to get to where she is. They hold value that isn’t quite understood from an American materialistic perspective.
Social Expectations & Generational Influences.
“When you were born what were the social expectations of a person of your identity?…What generational roles make up your core identity? (Ajuoga, 2014).”
The differences between parenting styles and family structure stand at the forefront as key insights that make the Philippines different from the states. I discuss these below alongside my mother’s struggles to raise two daughters in a foreign culture.
Parenting Styles. Parenting styles in the United States are very different form where my mother grew up. While she says we are more friendly, empathetic and familiar, parents are more authoritarian in the Philippines.
Extended Family Structure.
The above quote points out a critical difference between American and Filipino family structures. Family order is a critical component of one’s identity. My mother was called “Nene”. She was always called this whenever we visited, even as an adult. In this respect, generational influences carry a greater weight as a component of one’s identity.
Education in Biculturalism.
As the quote above indicates, my mother’s greatest difficulty was in trying to figure out how to raise us in a different culture. With a set of normative values drastically different than what she was familiar with she struggled with an ongoing internal conflict. She wanted to remain true to her own values while helping us adjust in American Culture. It’s interesting to note that my mother’s own acknowledgement of my struggles at the end of the quote here. Very protective of her, I kept many of my struggles in fitting in to myself.
Norms & Values.
“When you were a teenager, what were the norms, values & gender roles supported within your family, peers, culture and in the dominant culture (Ajuoga, 2014)”
Key differences in norms between my mother’s culture and my own appear to be the greatest in the areas of dating, money and parental control. I provide my mother’s thoughts on these areas below.
Adolescence & Dating.
In my home my mother made the rules, my father was busy with his job much of the time and preferred to leave such issues to her. As a result, I did suffer quite a bit of difficulty with fitting in. I felt there existed a notion of ‘normal’ as in how I am supposed to be around my peers but yet I wasn’t taught how to be that. I stood out. I didn’t wear makeup, or dress like the other girls. I was clueless in the realm of dating and didn’t experience my first kiss until my second year of college. I was entirely on my own in figuring things out in this culture. With American High Schools centered around fitting it, I was definitely an oddball, and bullied endlessly.
Adolescence and Money.
With fewer resources available, and entirely reliant of parents, adolescent life in the Philippines was very different. She would struggle with the idea of allowing us to have what we wanted. For example, she says also makes the following comment in our interview:
Her measuring stick was very different. With the life of the average middle class family very different in the Philippines, she didn’t understand our desire for “things”. She always had a problem with the idea that fitting in for girls meant dating and having certain clothes.
Adolescence & Rebellion.
When I was growing up, I remember my mother absolutely hated the Golden Girls and Rosanne. These two television shows bothered her. She felt everybody was so disrespectful. There was a clear standard within our family that you are to be respectful and not allow your emotions to get away with you. As two intellectual individuals, my parents were very stoic. I felt they weren’t too interested int he open expression of emotion.
Social Movements in Teens.
“How was your view of the world shaped by the social movements of your teenage years (Ajouga, 2014).”
If there were any social movements which stand out for my mother it was the influence of Hollywood and the influx of American influence into her culture during the Post World-War 2 era:
Educational & Occupational Opportunity.
“When you were a young adult, what educational and occupational opportunities were available to you?” (Ajuoga, 2014).
The one thing I remember my mother always complained about growing up, is the issue of popularity in the United States. It always distressed her how much it seemed peer group interactions influenced our identity as a person. In her culture, education is available to those who can afford it. As a result, in a respect, it enforces social class structures there. Those who can afford, continue sending kids to college, so they have greater work opportunities. Those who work can’t afford it don’t, and so consequently climbing out of poverty is quite difficult.
As a result of this, in adolescence, academic achievement is higher in importance for kids. Children are divided into groupings in her school by academic achievement. The ones in class number one were the high achievers and everybody looked up to them. She also said the school displayed everyone’s grades in the town center on an announcement board for everyone to see.
Life in the States.
The entire quote below consists of my mother’s concluding remarks regarding how she transitioned to life in the states. I have nothing to say about what is written below, other than I have a lot of respect for her. She was quite young and yet very secure in who she was.
Ajouga, P. (2014). Re: MCC 638 Week Four Overview. Retrieved from: https://ssoblackboard.bellevue.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_328162_1%26url%3D
Fortune, B.A. (2012). Acculturation, intergenerational conflict, psychological distress and stress in Filipino-American families. Regent University, Virginia.
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Root, M. P. (1997). Filipino Americans : Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.