Friday, March 6, 2009
People judge others often, but they fail to think about the circumstances and backgrounds that those they judge grew up in. They fail to contrast their own circumstances, possibly a nurturing environment, to that of a criminal, most likely not all that great: maybe poor, maybe abusive, maybe stressful. It's easier to forgive people, to love people, to overlook mistakes when you attempt to understand people, when you try to understand the experiences they've been through, the families they grew up in, the people they called their friends, the role models that have encouraged them, the people that have hurt them, disappointed them, or put them down. Circumstances make a profound impact on someone's character. The experiences they encounter mold people into who they are today. I grew up around good friends...mostly hung around church friends. In school, I hung around those who respected me, encouraging, supportive. I think I was pretty sheltered. I didn't have close friends who were into smoking pot, drinking alcohol, sex, parties. But what if I didn't grow up around the people I did or in the environment I did? What if I grew up in an abusive environment? Or poor? Would I be jacking car parts? Stealing from stores? How many people out there could have gotten straight A's in school but didn't because they didn't grow up with the support and emphasis in doing well in school like I did? I totally respect the people that could resist their unsupportive environment and be decisive about what they want from life and pursue it.
Growing up, I was raised by my grandma while my single mother worked long hours. When I was younger, I didn't understand why my mom didn't spend more time with me. All I wanted was a family like I saw on TV: a nuclear family that sat down to eat together for dinner, but that wasn't us. My mom would go to work from 6 or 7am and come home at 10pm.
It wasn't until college, through joining Asian-American organizations, that I finally realized I wasn't the only one. It's a trend in the Southeast Asian community. Many of our parents are limited English speaking refugees forced to leave under the horrendous conditions that the Vietnam War (or the War in Southeast Asia or as they call it in Vietnam, the American War). What else can they do but work? Language here is so important, and if you can't speak English, you will always be stuck with the low income job. Language is power here. Our parents HAD to work the long hours to pay for the rent, the food, the children. All they ever wanted was to give us an opportunity and a choice in our future.
I know now that I am one of the lucky ones. Many who grew up in environments where their parents were constantly working went to find another family. They needed someone's presence, someone to be there for them. They needed brothers and sisters, and while searching for a sense of belonging, many found themselves in juvy and jail. One of my uncles went to jail for being with the wrong people at the wrong time. He was young, impressionable and found with people who had shot someone. He didn't commit the act, but he was with them and the first time I saw him was when I was in high school when he came out of jail. Sometimes I can't even imagine that he had gone to jail. He is such a SWEET uncle, taking us around the city and telling us ghost stories. Another one of my uncles was addicted to cocaine at one point and has a huge dragon tattooed on his arm. He's also the same person who played video games with us from SuperNintendo to Sega to Playstation to XBox and on and on and got us chips and helped us work out our game systems. People make mistakes, especially people who need a place to belong. They're vulnerable.
As a mentor encouraging minority high school and middle school students to consider higher education, I shared this pride with them: we, born as Asian-Americans, are the children of courageous refugees and immigrants who challenged the unknown for a better future, yet in this unfamiliar country, we struggle, often with low knowledge of the American system, limited English proficiency, low sense of belonging, and low income. However, we shouldn’t feel shame in our circumstances but take pride in how we deal with them.
Let’s get the dialogue started about health as it pertains to Asian Americans, something frequently ignored and neglected. Often, we hear about health and sometimes, we hear about Asian Americans, but when you put the two together, the prominent health issues change drastically from just prevalent health issues in the general US population.
Join the movement! We want to create a community of young adult writers (and readers) to share their personal experiences and perspectives about Asian American health. With so much changing in our government now, we should reflect on and raise awareness of what is happening in our own communities so people can finally CARE about health disparities and issues in the Asian American community. We want AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to share about their experiences.
Please email me at AsianAmericanHealth@gmail.com if you’re interested in becoming a contributing writer so I can add you. I will send you an invitation, and then you will have to accept the invitation, so you can start writing. We’re not looking for article-type writing (although if you want to, feel free). We’re just looking for diary-like entries, typical to most blogs: first-person voice writing about their day or what they learned. There doesn’t have to be statistics or any research, just your own experience. As a contributing writer, you'll be expected to write at least once a week. You can also share good articles you’ve read and announcements (scholarships, fellowships, jobs, internships, conferences).
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