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You may have heard this from your parents, “Finish that last scoop of rice! We would starve and walk hours as kids to get rice.” They tell you their impoverished, childhood stories of going hungry with no money with the intent of bettering your well-being. The collective guilt dawns as the ghosts of past generations haunt us as we navigate our seemingly privileged modern lives. If you have ever felt this way or have heard about it from a close friend or partner, you can acknowledge that you are not alone.
Intergenerational Trauma, also sometimes known as transgenerational trauma, refers to the physical and mental symptoms experienced from trauma that are often shared with descendants. It is often observed through parents’ habitual responses to stressors or behaviors passed onto their child with implications for the child’s health and well-being. An important note about intergenerational trauma, as opposed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is that one can experience its effects even if they did not directly undergo trauma themselves. It can manifest through epigenetics, physical health, as well as our psychological and mental well-being.
It’s such an innocuous part of our lives; in learning to become aware and process these experiences, we learn to accept and heal these shadows that linger over us. In light of the coming holidays, WAVES hosted a virtual event where panelists shared their personal and professional experiences with intergenerational trauma, while holding a brave space for our attendees to process and discuss their journeys and experiences. By gathering, we met with the intention to heal through community and to host dialogue about celebrating our heritage, families, and stories.
Our main takeaways were centered around:
There is power in understanding your personal, family narrative. It may still be a work in progress, but knowing what our family had to overcome in the past can provide directions for the future. Immigration is often a shared experience for many among the Asian diaspora in which we leave our native lands and reconstruct a home in a completely new environment with different racial, language, and experiential backgrounds.
Two of our panelists, Dr. Monica Band (EdD, LPC) and Huyen “Kiki” Vo (LCSW), shared their childhood upbringing stories as a multicultural and immigrant child. It’s common to go through a phase of self-questioning given cultural differences, but from the panelists’ experiences, there’s a reconciliation phase where we become proud of where we come from. Bhavya Rai (Mental Health Content Creator) mentioned her bi-cultural upbringing watching Bollywood to get a glimpse of Indian culture and better communicate with family. During college, her identity evolved as she navigated her mental health journey through grades/performance and imposter syndrome, ultimately finding acceptance and support from her family. Understanding our heritage and figuring out our identity is complex, but we are encouraged and empowered to do so in our own timing.
As children of immigrants, we are aware of the sacrifices our parents often made to provide a better life for us. As a consequence, they have suffered trauma in the wake of their endeavor, which can habitually get passed down generations. Some of us are blessed with the opportunity to reap the benefits sewn from the older generation. With that, some of us can create a reconciliatory space to break the cycle. Some can see the focus of the older generation to preserve survival. Sometimes when parents suppress and brush all their pain under the rug is their way of shielding and sparing us from the pain.
Sara Stanizai (LMFT) shared about how in Afghan culture, they gather in a communal circle to connect with each other and heal. Healing spaces for our families have always existed but now they’re packaged differently. Part of healing is us learning our parents’ ways of connecting and abandoning our preferences, while part of it is teaching them to meaningfully connect with us. Our parents are caring for us, just in their own ways to their best of their abilities with the knowledge they have.
Lastly, communication is key. We talk about having the language to meaningfully connect with one another, which more often than not is verbal. As part of the Asian Diaspora, it’s common to have a language barrier within generations with nuanced communication differences where a lot of love gets lost in translation. Our parents’ generation may not have the tools and capacity to meaningfully connect with us at times.
However, there is hope. Dr. Calvin Sun (MD) shared his story about his father passing and the difficulty of having the right language to understand each other. Trying to connect takes trial and error and oftentimes can be messy. It wasn’t until after his passing that Calvin read his father’s diaries that they really understood each other. There’s something about differences in communication and love language and allowing them to come to you in their own ways. The older generation tends to love by serving and providing food, as actions speak louder than words. However, sometimes words are needed to know that we are loved.
All in all, healing is multifaceted and we hope you can grow your capacity and empathy to love the generation above and in turn break the cycle. Our identities are ever-constantly evolving and difficult to navigate, but worth it. Connecting with our parents can be very tricky, but we are privileged to have the capacity to do more for them. Navigating meaningful language and communication methods is another piece of the puzzle where we are encouraged to learn, teach, and set boundaries with language.
|Dear community, As we close out the year 2021, we are filled with immense gratitude and love. The Asian community has experienced so much in the past year, with moments of both pain and joy coming to mind. Not only did we undergo some of the most trying times in our histories, but we also displayed incredible resilience and learned ways to collectively pursue healing and support one another. In this issue, you will see us highlight the accomplishments of 2021 and our future plans to step into the new year.
|Support AMHC! If you are looking for ways to continue to support our mission to normalize and destigmatize mental health, please refer to our links and most importantly SHARE with your loved ones about the Asian Mental Health Collective. We appreciate your support. Thank you for all that you do for us and the community. Warmly,
The Asian Mental Health Collective (AMHC)
Support AMHCCopyright © 2021, Asian Mental Health Collective, All rights reserved
The Lotus is our monthly email newsletter that spotlights AMHC’s volunteers, lifts up diasporic Asian mental health stories, and provides resources and support for the Asian community. Learn more from two of the amazing women behind the newsletter, Nico Cruz and Tina Tran, and be sure to subscribe to get all the latest from AMHC.
1) How did you get involved with AMHC?
Nico: After a five month hiatus from graphic design, my older brother asked me if I was interested in being involved with AMHC and their email newsletter that was in the works. Though I was in the Subtle Asian Mental Health Facebook group, my knowledge on AMHC or what they were all about was very limited. Regardless, something inside me was telling me, “why not try it out? It could be a great experience and really fun.” I told my brother that I was interested, and a few days later, Lisa Cheng, Chief of Human Resources for AMHC, contacted me. Since then, I haven’t looked back! Not only am I a part of AMHC’s amazing newsletter team, but I also have the privilege of interning with them as well.
Tina: I’m a member of Subtle Asian Mental Health, which is where I was introduced to AMHC. After seeing a post from Lisa Cheng about volunteer opportunities, I decided to apply and have been with AMHC ever since! I particularly wanted to join the newsletter team as I have always loved doing outreach and writing articles. As someone going into the medical field, I don’t have many opportunities to expand on my creative interests. Joining AMHC’s newsletter team gave me a chance to combine my love for writing with my interest in mental health.
2) Tell us about The Lotus–what is it and how does it engage the AMHC community?
Nico: The Lotus serves as an outlet for many different opportunities. For starters, it’s used as a way to shine a spotlight on members of our community and recognize them for all that they’ve done to support Asian mental health thus far. AMHC is a fully volunteer-led organization and without the hard work and dedication that every volunteer contributes, AMHC would not be where it is today. The newsletter also creates the most efficient way possible for our team to gather and share information about past and upcoming AMHC events, mental health resources and people/organizations that need to be recognized.
Tina: The newsletter combines all of AMHC’s organization updates with new, engaging content every month. We focus on different themes every edition, like Pride month or Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we feature rising leaders in the Asian community who are working hard to bring awareness to their respective issues. Our newsletter also gives a rundown of resources that are important for the community to be aware of. Last but not least, the newsletter gives a quick update on everything new in AMHC to help connect and grow the community.
3) What do you love most about being on AMHC’s newsletter team?
Nico: I am proud to be a part of this small, but mighty group of women, and I will never get tired of saying that! In all honesty, I’ve always struggled with working in teams. I constantly feared letting other members of my team down and continuously told myself that I wouldn’t be able to contribute enough. Working with The Lotus team has helped me get over these fears and see the value in teamwork. It is what you make of it, right? I found in this team a group of compassionate and resilient women who showed me that even when life continues to place barriers in front of us, it really isn’t the end of the world. Even if plans need to be shifted around, we adjust and move forward.
Tina: I love being able to work alongside such strong and resilient women! I am honored to have met all the brilliant women on this team and have learned so much from them. They have helped inspire me to take charge of my mental health and have become a great support in my life. Our team may be small, but we are very mighty!
4) What are some ways you’ve learned to care for your mental health?
Nico: For a long time, I had a horrible habit of neglecting myself and not seeing the purpose of rest. I would work and tell myself that I couldn’t rest until I accomplished everything on my plate. However, I didn’t end up getting the rest that I needed. Instead, I burnt out and spent an excessive amount of time recuperating. This became a cycle for me until I finally told myself that I needed to find a way to balance both my priorities and myself. With the holidays coming up, one of my favorite ways to rest is to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie while wrapped up in a blanket and snuggled against my new pups, Adam and Rio. I also enjoy trying new recipes, catching up on my favorite tv shows (i.e. Grey’s Anatomy, The Resident, and The Flash) and if I really have the time, read a good book.
Tina: Self-care is a department that I am still struggling in and I constantly have to remind myself to take some time to rest. I was raised to always be grinding and working hard and I definitely still have that mindset. However, my parents grew up in a time period where grinding was the only way to survive. Since I am lucky to have the opportunity to work hard on my own terms, I have been able to find ways to relax and recuperate. Some of my favorite things to do are read and listen to music as I find these activities very comforting. I re-read Harry Potter every year just for that sense of nostalgia. I also love watching shows like, “Only Murders in the Building” on Hulu. Playing with my four dogs is another way I am able to forget about the world for a minute.
Jane Kusuma is an illustrator and designer from Seattle and the one-woman team behind Jovietajane Creative Studio. As the Asian Mental Health Collective (AMHC) began to expand and rebrand, Jane Kusuma graciously reached out to our organization to donate her time and energy into designing the rebrand. Following the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, Kusuma realized she wanted to donate her time, not just her money. Kusuma chose AMHC after finding our organization through Instagram. She mentions how “mental health is the last thing people think about and donate to” and how she was inspired by her own mental health struggles to donate her time for AMHC. Kusuma wanted to modernize and neutralize AMHC’s branding to make it accessible for all ages. She used soft, tranquil color palettes to create a calm and containing environment for everyone who wants to be a part of AMHC.
Jane Kusuma was born in Indonesia and discovered a love for drawing at an early age. At 14, she solidified her decision to pursue the arts and worked towards a career in graphic design. After getting her start in working for major toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel, she began to do freelance work on the side. Kusuma was then sponsored by a company and began working in a corporate setting. However, after a period of time, she began to suffer from burnout and realized her mental health was deteriorating. She took a 3-month sabbatical to reevaluate her life and realized she “would be so much happier doing freelance work.”She jokes about “being allergic to the 9-5 schedule” as her most creative hours are in the early morning and at night. Kusuma asserts how the ability to set her own timelines, choose her own clients, and experience different creative projects helps fuel her artistic nature.
When it comes to mental health, Jane Kusuma reflects on how she has struggled with anxiety and depression throughout her life. At 28, she started to recognize the importance of rest. She remarks, “My mental state will always affect my art. I used to think that if I was struggling I would make better art but that isn’t true.” Kusuma has since placed an emphasis on including joy in her art and making sure to take the time slow down and rest as needed.
Her final reflections include a message to those who want to pursue the creative arts. She asserts that there is no need to buy expensive equipment but rather, to “use the resources you already have.” She notes using online resources and platforms like Skillshare to learn and expand on one’s artistic abilities. Kusuma also believes that college isn’t necessary to those who want to pursue the arts as there are many other ways to learn.
In regards to Asian mental health, Jane Kusuma expresses the importance of speaking out and being open about mental health issues, in spite of being raised in cultures where silence and silencing is the norm, and where mental health is stigmatized. Kusuma acknowledges the difficulty of the times andand emphasizes the need, now more than ever, to care for ourselves.
Puppy ig: @jasper.thepreppy.westie
Quarantined in my apartment, afraid to even get groceries, I was powerless. I was glued to my bed, just watching the hours pass by. My body craved social interaction and connection, but all I had was a laptop screen. I shouldn’t be resting, I need to be producing. The guilt of even taking a moment to rest seemed overwhelming. I just needed to get through whichever project or assignment I was working on, and then, only then, could I give myself permission to rest. To me, rest was a reward, not a necessity. My body was telling me I needed rest, but my brain was telling me I was worthless if I did. There was such intense shame attached to the simple act of pausing to catch my breath. The cognitive dissonance was eating away at me, and it eventually left me frozen in fear. I, along with so many others, was burned out.
The term burnout was coined by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to describe the consequences of severe stress and high standards in helping professionals, such as nurses, doctors, therapists, and more. Today, we describe burnout as a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Sound familiar? In the midst of a global pandemic and mass uncertainty, I kept lying to myself that “I just need to get through today” or “I just need to get through this week” or “this month” or “the rest of this year” to push through. I just need that little bit of extra motivation to finish graduate school, volunteer for the Asian Mental Health Collective (AMHC) and be there for my family, or for work, and then I will finally rest. Pushing myself past my known limits was all I ever knew. Growing up as a Chinese-American, I was taught that my performance and results depended on my work ethic. Lack of achievement was only due to laziness and unwillingness to work hard, and the responsibility was mine to keep striving to be better. When I was in college, I competitively swam 20 hours a week, juggled two part-time jobs, chaired three clubs, and had a social life. I was able to do it all–so why couldn’t I do even a fraction of this work now?
With our world flipped upside down, so many of us struggled to find a new rhythm, routine, and balance. Perfection was no longer the standard and survival became the norm. Outside of essential workers, Zoom meetings, working from home, and infrequent outings became our way of life. Being social was no longer a luxury. In the past, I used productivity as an excuse (or coping mechanism) to ignore my anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Distraction through productivity, if you will. And suddenly, all the structure was torn away from me. No longer being able to predict what was going to happen next, nor be prepared for it, the perfectionist in me was quite literally screaming. To me, my worth was completely dependent on my ability to produce. Even when given the opportunity to rest and pause, I had no clue how to be okay with myself.
American society wants us to earn our living, earn our keep, earn the right to live somewhere rather than acknowledge that we deserve to live even if we are not constantly producing. For many, the pressure of productivity goes deeper than capitalistic tenants. Being a child of immigrants and a victim of the model minority myth is a deadly mix. Ever try to complain about your life when your mom literally survived the Cultural Revolution and used to dig through trash to avoid starvation? Yeah, me neither. Being raised by parents who have sacrificed everything can make our problems seem so small and insignificant. And not only do our problems seem minuscule, but they also add an immense sense of responsibility. So yeah, my mom was able to move across the globe, get her Ph.D. in Chemistry, write her thesis in English (her second language), and here I am currently getting a C+ in Geometry? Some investment I was! As a child, the pressure to succeed to validate my parents’ decision to leave their lives behind was immense, suffocating, and unrealistic at best.
Perfectionism, productivity, and high expectations come at Asian-Americans from all angles. Our parents desperately want to see us succeed, our peers believe that our race is the reason we succeed, yet college admissions write off our successes as a disqualifier rather than a product of our hard work or our environment. The model minority stereotype (also called the model minority myth) is a perception of Asian students as perfect: inherently highly intelligent, capable, respectful, and hardworking. The model minority myth is a deadly double-edged sword that harms everyone. Not only is it used to justify mistreatment of other Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), it is also used as a tool to overlook and to gloss over Asian-American success as some sort of guaranteed fact. The model minority myth leaves Asians with no room to struggle, no room to ask for help, and no room for error.
In the midst of it all, I somehow made it through the 2020-2021 academic year. After endless online courses, papers, and projects–in June 2021, I graduated with my Master’s in Social Work from the University of Chicago. My greatest accomplishment? Surviving. I did not walk away with academic honors, athletic honors, nor did I chair any clubs. I was not a spectacular student, nor did I give a speech as valedictorian of my class. I was, for the first time in my life, just average. And what a feeling that was. To simply be proud to walk across the stage at graduation knowing that through all of my mental health struggles, imposter syndrome, the pandemic, and more seemed like a small yet monumental step for me. I did what I used to think was the bare minimum, and there I was holding my degree in my hands.
As Asian-Americans, we need to start making our “bare minimum” our norm. We need to relieve ourselves of the responsibility to always be perfect. Let’s start normalizing our struggles, our pain, our grief, our joy, our rest, our off-days, and our good days. It’s time for us to show the world that Asians can be loud, imperfect, angry, rude, tired, sad, happy, and all of the above at the same time. It’s time for the Asian-American community to rest. We have endured generations of both covert and overt xenophobia and racism delivered through policy, street violence, and exile. In the past year, we have been labeled a virus, witnessing Asian-owned businesses go under, and watching in horror while Asian elders were attacked, and even murdered. We are carrying generations of expectations, responsibilities, and hope on our shoulders. Instead of working ourselves even harder, the most radical thing we can do right now is to rest without belittling ourselves and invalidating our human needs. We are imperfect, we are human. We don’t need to justify why we exist or earn our existence, we already do by being alive.
As a queer Asian-American woman, I constantly think about the ways in which my racial identity has impacted my mental health. It’s why I started working with subtle asian mental health and the Asian Mental Health Collective. It’s why I surround myself with other Asian people to create spaces and opportunities to connect with our mental health. It’s why I work to address systems in our society and community to bridge the disparities that I see around mental health conversations.
Ironically, this writing took me over three months. I wanted to be completely candid and honest with you all about my experience with burnout, rest, and wrestling with my Asian identity during the pandemic. And I am telling you all of this because visibility matters around this topic. If you are reading this because you are doom scrolling or procrastinating on something, know that you have survived every one of your hardest days so far, and I am so proud of you. I say this to you so that I also say this to myself because damn, it can be so hard to be kind to ourselves.
Asking for Help 101
Feeling burnt out but don’t know how to ask for help or where to start? Allow me, a recovering perfectionist and Type A personality, to introduce a few ways to set healthy boundaries with your supervisor, professor, parents, and more:
I want you to start small and remember all of the times people came to you for help. Why not extend the same kindness and support to yourself that you do to others? This is an incomplete list of how to set boundaries with both yourself and those around you, and your sign to allow yourself to be human. I know it is hard to be kind to ourselves, especially with the way many of us were raised and taught, but we are on this journey together. Thank you for reading.
Transgender athlete Schuyler Bailar has broken many records in his life, one of the most notable being that he is the first transgender athlete on any NCAA Division 1 men’s team. Schuyler is also an advocate and activist for the LGBTQ community, using his voice to empower others. Though his accomplishments as a swimmer and Harvard athlete are truly admirable, our interview focused on his mental health journey as well as his upbringing as a mixed-race Korean American. Schuyler has always been open about his mental health struggles and we at the Asian Mental Health Collective are honored that he has allowed us to take a peek into his inspirational journey to becoming a professional swimmer and a big voice in the LGBTQ community.
Schuyler is no stranger to mental health struggles, as he is someone who has battled with anxiety throughout his whole life. Schuyler broke his back after a biking accident in high school, which resulted in him being unable to swim for many years. While in recovery, Schuyler lost his identity and struggled more with his mental health because “breaking [his] back had taken everything that [he] knew and used to cope” as a competitive athlete. Schuyler also began struggling with an eating disorder which he went to a rehab center for 4-5 months during a gap year between high school and college. This was also where he discovered the term transgender and began realizing his gender identity. Besides these personal health struggles, Schuyler was also battling with the internal feeling of “being between worlds”, which is a big recurring theme in his life.
As a Korean American, Schuyler had difficulty reconciling the two halves of his identity, his Caucasian side, and his Korean heritage. He states that the “first thing [he] knew about [himself] before gender or anything was race.”
“I don’t know when I didn’t know that I was between worlds… my dad and my mom were completely different people visually. Race was something I saw everywhere,” he mused.
Schuyler’s Korean grandparents lived nearby and the proximity and familial closeness at times made him feel more Korean than White. However, he says how there is an “interesting erasure, where [he] is expected to be not Asian but also come from Asian roots.” His Korean grandparents enrolled him in Korean Sunday school, where he felt “dumb” as he could not compete with fellow Korean peers who spoke the language at home every day. Referring back to his struggles with an eating disorder, Schuyler mentions how his Korean grandmother showed him love through her cooking, and he felt as if he was “rejecting love, when [he] was rejecting her bowl of rice”. As he was growing up, people on the streets would assume he was adopted when he was with his dad, or that his mother was his babysitter as he did not look completely Asian or completely White. His mom eventually had to change her last name because others threatened her, saying that people would take Schuyler and his brother away if she did not have a matching last name.
“Knowing that I’m not perceived as my parents’ child is a painful experience.”
Going back to the time Schuyler was enrolled at the Oliver-Pyatt Rehab center for his eating disorder, he met a therapist who he states “saved his life”. For many years growing up, Schuyler struggled with gender dysphoria, always feeling the safest and most comfortable in short hair and boy clothes. However, he did not have the knowledge and terminology for what he was feeling until he spoke with this specific therapist. Schuyler talks about how his therapist listened in between the lines and figured out that his main problem revolved around his gender identity. Schuyler emphasizes, “I did not wake up one day and said I am transgender. People don’t decide to be transgender. They find the language, they find the courage, and they discover that’s who they always were.” With the realization of his gender identity came more problems, a major one being that he was going to have to choose between coming out or swimming and continuing to hide his identity. Over time, Schuyler was able to choose both competitive swimming and being open about his gender identity, and he acknowledges his privilege of having a supportive, loving family who was behind him every step of the way. Schuyler laughs as he states that the only caveat his grandmother gave him about his identity was that “Korean daughters take care of their parents” and since Schuyler’s parents now had two sons, he was still going to have to step up. In Schuyler’s experience, his family is very matriarchal, and as Schuyler’s grandma accepted him, so did everyone else in the family.
Schuyler is now very open about his identity as a queer Korean American transgender man and has become a voice for the LGBTQ community. He actively shoots down misconceptions about the trans community and publicly voices his experiences in support of other trans youth. He states that, “Being trans is not a choice. It is an identity like how I didn’t choose to be Korean American. I did choose to come out about it and transition. For a lot of trans people, the choice to transition is a choice between life or death.” Schuyler notes his privilege in being able to come out and how choice is something he is lucky to have had in his life. He also clarifies how being transgender is commonly mislabeled as a mental illness and delves into the history of gender diversity. “White supremacy were the things that started to push out gender and sexual diversity as a way to oppress and assert dominance over other cultures. Pre-colonialism, homosexuality was actually praised.” The real mental disorder is gender dysphoria and he says how the treatment actually involves affirming the person’s gender identity, not forcing them to change. Transgender persons also are subjected to uncomfortable questions all the time about their genitalia or other invasive questions. Schuyler emphasizes how “sharing about being transgender does not invite you to ask questions, especially not about their genitals”.
Schuyler ends the interview with motivational advice for anyone struggling with their gender identity. He says, “The world will push you to be different versions of yourself and when the world tries to tell you who you are, the world is often wrong. The world and your parents do not know you better than yourself.” He also brings up a poem that he wrote to his 8 year old self while in treatment. Schulyer writes, “8 year old Schuyler, they’re going to try to trick you to think that you don’t know but you know who you are, and you have a right to know who you are.”
To keep up with Schuyler and his many resources, please check out our links below and follow him at @pinkmantaray on IG!
Tell us about the listening sessions and support groups that AMHC offers. What are these programs and how can people sign up as participants?
Ryan: The listening sessions were a one-on-one peer support initiative that have transitioned to the current professional-led community support groups. Every month we start a new 8-week group with various topics led by Asian licensed mental health professionals to provide a space to connect with and seek support from other group members. We advertise these sessions on our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), so look out for them to register! The team is also looking into different peer counseling models to ensure we keep to professional guidelines, so we could still have something one-on-one in future that is similar to our listening sessions.
Amanda: Previously, AMHC used to offer one-on-one support to anyone requesting a listening session. However, in order to reach more folks, it was transitioned to a support group style. People can sign up as participants by checking on AMHC’s FB page, IG stories, or Twitter to find the link to join support groups. Currently the one I am helping to facilitate is open to all, so don’t hesitate to sign up!
What is your role on the listeners team? What have you learned from your experience?
Ryan: I help to coordinate the support groups and have had the chance to be a cofacilitator with Dr. Sean Cheng for one of the very first groups we started. As a trainee in the mental health field, the experience prompted me to think about and refine my own facilitating style, as well as how to moderate conversations that members bring up. I also learned that there is power and comfort in community.
Amanda: My role on the listeners team now is being a co-facilitator to assist Dr. Smith, a licensed clinical psychologist, moderate the support group. I have learned how to pay greater attention to bodily cues, facial expressions, tone of voice, and many other aspects because as a facilitator, it is important to notice how others are reacting to vulnerable, possibly triggering experiences being shared.
What’s the most rewarding part about volunteering for these support programs?
Ryan: It would be hearing from group members how thankful they feel to have these spaces where they can share, feel validated and not have to explain themselves as other members typically have common experiences as Asian/Asian Americans. This tells me that we’re doing something right and folks are benefitting from these groups!
Amanda: The most rewarding part about volunteering for these support programs is meeting people from all walks of life. It reminds me that outside of the bubble of my life, there are others with similar and different experiences than me. I continue to develop a more open, unassuming mind.
“What we learn when we gather in spaces like this, is that not only are we not alone, but we are cared for and there is power in sharing our stories that we’ve been carrying as unwanted baggage. Once we open up our experiences and share them and explore their contents, we create a new story because we see how strong those experiences have actually made us.” – Ryan Alexander Holmes, Actor
AMHC provides many resources and programs to support Asians in every stage of their mental health journeys. One of these programs is WAVES, a series of events such as roundtables, guest speaker panels, and other meetups that foster connection and awareness of mental health in the Asian community. The main goal of WAVES is to create a sense of community and a safe space for the Asian community to discuss their mental health.
Learn more about WAVES from two of our amazing team members, Christian De Luna and Vivian Duong.
Q. How did WAVES get its start? What does WAVES do?
Christian: WAVES was co-founded in New York City in Summer 2018 by Eric Pai and myself. We wanted to create an informal space where folks could come talk about any topic—all without the inherent stigma that mental health entails. We envisioned a community where folks could walk into a room and know that everyone else “knows” and has been through their own journeys and struggles.
Vivian: WAVES was founded by Christian de Luna and Eric Pai. We hold community events to discuss our collective Asian experience and its impact on mental health.
Q. What do you love the most about working on the WAVES team at AMHC?
Christian: There are so many people who want to help our community. It’s been amazing to see the volunteerism put forth by all members of our team. I’ve met so many great folks (digitally for many), but I feel like I’ve known them forever at this point.
Vivian: What I love about WAVES is that we aim to bring the community together to have crucial, collective conversations on mental well-being. It’s fun — being able to connect, learn, and explore different perspectives from folks of different backgrounds. No mental health journey is entirely the same.
Q. What have you learned about Asian mental health as a WAVES member?
Christian: Asian is a monolithic term used to describe a broad swatch of cultures and ethnicities. There are so many nuances that each Asian person brings to the table based on their identities and upbringings, all factoring into their individual mental health. Mental health is not a one-size fits all matter, and being able to make the space more contextual and personable is really exciting work. I can’t wait to see where the road leads from here.
Vivian: Mental health is not linear. It is not always consistent. Some days, the tides are high, other days, they are low. Sometimes, they can be sporadic and chaotic like a raging storm. Maintaining your mental health isn’t always easy. However, you do not need to go through the mental health WAVES alone.
“Where do you come from?” This is the question Nina Jusuf regularly opens her sexual assault trainings with. Jusuf frames her training as a conversation, first delving into the history and culture of the individual, to truly understand the background and upbringing of the group she is training. She then continues by starting a conversation about sexual health and one’s sexuality, breaking down the barriers and stigma that comes with talking about one’s body. Jusuf‘s trainings not only educate on topics around sexual assault, but also allows for exploration of one’s identity and values. With a career that spans from volunteer work to directorship, Nina Jusuf has always taken a stand to help the Asian community expand discussions about sexual assault and domestic violence.
Nina Jusuf started her career in domestic violence and sexual assault as a volunteer through a hotline. She then transitioned into working as a shelter advocate, before serving as executive director of San Francisco Women Against Rape. In 2010, Jusuf met Mira Yusef, the executive director of Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity, and the two combined their efforts to form National Organization for Asian and Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence (NAPIESV). Now, NAPIESV provides training and technical assistance regarding sexual assault issues for organizations serving the Asian community all across the world.
During our interview, Jusuf continually emphasized the importance of the intersectionality between one’s sexuality and their culture, immigration status, as well as economic status. Regarding the Asian community, culture and tradition play a big role in one’s views towards sexuality and sexual assault. Topics of sexuality and assault are taboo and there are many values about “saving face” ingrained into many of their upbringings . There may also not be specific words or terms in certain cultures that describe the sexual violence that occured.
“Part of the culture is not to report assault or bring shame to the family,” Jusuf added. From a young age, most children are taught to respect and listen to their elders, a virtue also known as filial piety. Jusuf says that this filial piety may have some ties to Asians and the prevalence of sexual violence. A seemingly innocent demand like, “Come sit on my lap” from an adult in the family could have future consequences if children are not typically able to say no and have not learned the concept of consent. Although there are aspects of “saving face” and “not reporting” in other cultures, internalization of these cultural values is also a reason it is more prominent in Asian culture. Current sexual violence discourse is not inclusive enough for the Asian community. Being able to understand the subtleties of Asian culture and tying that in to helping sexual assault victims is NAPIESV’s main objective.
An important aspect of NAPIESV training, is the emphasis on cultural diversity and tailoring the conversation and approach to match the individual’s background. NAPIESV collaborates with many organizations to further the cultural aspect of treatment. An example of this is how the New Mexico Asian Family Center approaches the start of a conversation about sexual assault by having a “rest circle” or “tea time” gathering. This allowed for a sense of familiarity and comfort, especially before a conversation that could contain uncomfortable topics and potential triggers. Jusuf also described an example of a grief exercise, where she pointed out that “the Chinese believe grief is stored in our lungs, which results in our chest feeling heavy.” During her exercise, she would bring in Chinese beliefs and exercises, like tai chi, to adapt for the individuals in that demographic. Jusuf mentioned that one’s body manifests our emotions in other physical symptoms and she tries to find ways to release those emotions.
Jusuf ended the interview by speaking about ways to create a supportive community for survivors. She highlighted the significance of “collective strength” and creating a safe space not only to share about sexual violence, but to share life experience and a sense of community. “The first step is to listen,” Jusuf explained. The main goal for sexual violence survivors is healing and to be able to describe what happened to them. Healing has no particular timeline and being able to adapt to each person’s healing journey is crucial. “Be comfortable with sitting in silence and being patient with them. Become a friend and walk with them in their healing journey,” Jusuf said.
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** We would like to extend our gratitude to Ms. Nina Jusuf for participating in this interview and allowing our organization to highlight the amazing work NAPIESV is doing for the Asian community.
This month, we’re highlighting Subtle Asian Mental Health (SAMH)—the amazing Facebook community that gave AMHC its start! With more than 58,000 members and growing every day, SAMH reaches members of the Asian Diaspora across the globe and connects them to mental health resources and a large community of support. The SAMH moderation team is volunteer led by Asians with diverse mental health interests and backgrounds.
Meet Our Moderation Team: Austin Saephan and Lillian Nguyen
What do you love about the SAMH community?
Austin Saephan: One thing I really love about the SAMH community is how passionate the community is about mental health and all that relates to it. Whether they are having thoughtful discussions or sharing wholesome memes, the community continues to collectively support and share each of their stories with one another. Reading through and interacting with each submitted post, I can feel the passion and sincerity of each member. All in all, I continue to learn and feel inspired everyday by the SAMH community.
Lillian Nguyen: I love that there is always a member who is there to give support when someone is in need, especially during times like this when the community has helped each other with emotions of loss, frustration, and anger. There are plenty of resources available to members, whether it’s through the collective or events offered by members of the community.
What have you learned about mental health by being a moderator?
Austin Saephan: During my time as a moderator, I have found myself continually amazed by how diverse yet similar mental health is across everyone’s own lived experiences. While most members do identify as Asian, each member still embodies their own unique backgrounds filled with their beliefs, opinions, and thoughts. Despite the community’s spiritual, political, and even geographical differences, there are still so many common threads across each individual’s mental health story.
Lillian Nguyen: When members discuss their similar experiences of trauma, I have learned that mental health can manifest differently at various timeframes . Mental health is something difficult to work through, yet there is humor found in the shared experiences through memes.
Why is Asian mental health important to you?
Austin Saephan: As an Iu-Mien American, Asian mental health is a very personal passion of mine. Living through and recovering from my own mental health concerns, I recognize the intersection between being Asian and the stigma behind mental health. My own culture and familial ties ultimately shaped my path to understand and eventually heal my own mental health. Using my lived experiences, I hope to continue to work towards as well as empower other like-minded folks to destigmatize Asian mental health for all.
Lillian Nguyen: Asian mental health is important to me because there is a lack of resources for the Asian community in terms of getting information on mental health and finding providers. There is a generation gap in the understanding of what mental health is and how to help. In the Asian community it is seen as a stigma, but this shouldn’t be the case. I want mental health to be seen as an illness that shouldn’t be hidden or something to power through.