The Asian American community in Southeastern Pennsylvania is diverse. The Asian diaspora includes people with roots in countries like China, Korea, the Philippines, India, and Cambodia, just to name a few.
Whether they were born in the United States or immigrated, many in the Asian American community feel pressure to create an identity that is acceptable to both their family and this country. This issue has gotten more attention as violence against Asian American people has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, more people are in need of mental health support, says Dr. Noel Ramirez, psychotherapist and director of The Mango Tree in Philadelphia.
A Filipino-American, Dr. Ramirez works with a broad mix of clients, including multi-racial individuals, transracial adoptees, and people from across the Asian diaspora. Some are recovering from conflicts in their home countries. Some have internalized racial oppression. And others are addressing intergenerational tensions that often arise when cultural norms and expectations differ between parents and children. This usually happens when younger generations embrace modern American values that conflict with traditional Asian culture.
According to Dr. Ramirez, “We get folks who are struggling with navigating collectivism in a culture of individuality when the family is the focus. We get career changers who were told the only pathway to wealth was to be a doctor or engineer and that wasn’t their passion.”
Asian American: A Complicated Concept
According to the 2020 census, nearly 24 million people in the U.S. identify as Asian. “The concept of Asian American is complicated,” Dr. Ramirez says. “The first step is helping people develop language around their ethnicity. What does it mean to be Asian American? Korean-American actor Steven Yeun says that to be Asian American is not just having your foot in two different places; it’s a third space of identity.”
“Being labeled Asian American,” says Dr. Ramirez, “I’ve come to learn and appreciate all forms of Asian cultures in the U.S. because I’m lumped together with all of them. Even at The Mango Tree, the staff speak five languages. It’s a uniquely validating experience growing up in a pan–Asian community.”
Connecting with the Community
Being an active part of your community is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health, especially if you belong to a minority group, says Dr. Esther Hio-Tong Castillo. Dr. Castillo is the founder and former program director of the Chinese Immigrant Families Wellness Initiative at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.
“With Asian Americans, there is a lot of invisibility,” she adds. “We’re seeing more Asian representation in different fields today, but it’s still lagging. As a mom of a 7-year-old, I have to go out of my way for my daughter to see herself represented in children’s books.”
According to Dr. Castillo, this lack of visibility makes it even more important to seek out culturally specific activities within your community. Creating strong connections builds resilience within the Asian American community.
“Some people feel they’re not Asian enough or American enough. The Asian community is so diverse ― immigrants, people who speak different languages, eat different kinds of food, have different immigration stories. Sometimes it’s hard to find out what it means to be Asian American. But the process of discovery and exploration will help individuals to improve their mental health.”
For information on local resources and events in the Asian community, visit:
- Asian Americans United
- Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia
- Philadelphia Asian & Queer
For information on national resources in the Asian community, visit:
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.