Growing Up Asian in America – 10th Anniversary
American parents want their children to be successful in America and also to value their Asian heritage. Growing Up Asian in America has become a very popular resource for parents and teachers. Through a Bay Area-wide essay and art competition, students share their ideas and images, their hopes and fears. Winning entries are displayed in an exhibit hosted by public libraries, becoming a community resource to promote cross-cultural understanding. The 2005 annual campaign report covers the 10th anniversary celebration of Growing Up Asian in America.
Note: Reports to donors appear as they were presented and may not be current.
This program was presented at the Ninth Annual Asian Pacific Fund Gala on November 19, 2005.
The Asian culture places a high premium on its children and how they turn out, but equally important is how these children are doing along the way. As any parent will attest, to tap into their innermost thoughts and heartfelt dreams requires a special skill and sensitivity.
Our signature program, Growing Up Asian in America, has become a powerful and effective way for us to unearth and take action on issues affecting our young people.
For the past 10 years, the Asian Pacific Fund has invited Bay Area students, from kindergarten through high school, to send us their stories and art work about growing up Asian in America. And the students have responded. Every year, about 1,500 students submit their entries to compete for $27,000 in prize money. To date, we have given out more than $250,000 in awards.
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this unique program, we’d like to look back on what we have learned from our younger generation about growing up Asian in America.
For this occasion, we’ve invited several of our past years’ winners and their parents to join us tonight. They are just a small representation of the students--more than 350--who have received awards from the Asian Pacific Fund for their winning art and essays.
These students shared with us their hopes and fears, their interests and needs. Not only did our Growing Up Asian in America contest draw out their voices, but as their problems, issues and concerns were revealed, we listened … and then set out to support programs that would help not only these particular students, but the many others who remain silent, but are also struggling with the same issues everyday.
"Learning English was much harder than I imagined. The first day of school, I shyly walked up to a teacher and whispered, 'Do you know the toilet?' She laughed as she pointed to the other direction. 'The bathroom,' she emphasized, 'is right down the hallway.'"
Oakland After School Educational Services (OASES) provides after school programming for the youth of the Oakland Chinatown community. Kids can go to OASES for help with homework, help with English skills, and a number of enrichment activities.
Many immigrant parents cannot speak any English at all, which places their children in the difficult position of serving as the bridge for their parents between two languages and two cultures. It’s well known that parental involvement is key to a child’s educational success. When immigrant parents hold two and three low-wage jobs in order to make a basic living, and when they have trouble with English, they cannot help their sons and daughters with homework.
OASES fills the gap for many of these families. Instead of going home to an empty house, these kids find a safe place filled with students just like themselves. UC Berkeley students, who serve as mentors, provide the youth with academic help and they are role models from the community.
"OASES provides for students. Not only do I see other youth who are like me, but I get to be with an adult who provides me with not only academic help, but who will hang out with me and care about me. And that’s something that we are able to do that the parents, because they are working, they can’t provide that for the students," says Nhi Chau. "What I love about working at OASES – it’s about a community I care about because I grew up in this neighborhood. So I see myself in these students: I am them and they are me."
The Asian Pacific Fund has distributed nearly $250,000 in grants for youth and after school programs, but much more needs to be done. Asian organizations continue to have problems competing for grants, even in the Bay Area.
Though most people think that all Asians do very well in school, in reality nearly 20 percent of high school dropouts in the Bay Area are Asian. Organizations like the Vietnamese Youth Development Center help these forgotten kids. For the last 25 years, the Vietnamese Youth Development Center (VYDC) has served the Asian immigrant population of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. In addition to offering after-school and enrichment activities, VYDC provides counseling services for youth referred to them through the schools and the juvenile justice system.
Youth who come to VYDC for counseling are usually referred for truancy or getting into fights and petty theft. Often that is just the tip of the iceberg.
"We get a referral for one kid with a particular issue and come to find out that there are so many things going on in the family that are affecting him," said Alex Dang. "The way he tells me is: 'Mom is sick, Dad has to work.' But as he reveals more to me, it turns out that Dad has a drinking and gambling problem, and Mom is depressed, clinically depressed, and he doesn’t know how to articulate that."
Poverty, language barriers, not feeling American enough, and being isolated within the immigrant community contribute to difficulty in finding help. Mental health problems may be unacknowledged and go untreated.
"Growing Up Asian in America / Synonymous to getting hit while the white kids got 'grounded' / They sit in their rooms, bored, on Friday night / I get smacked."
Asians are just as vulnerable to family violence as the general population, yet we are less likely to seek help. Up to 60 percent of Asian women have reported experiencing domestic violence during their lifetime. Yet only 16 percent of Asian domestic violence victims call the police and only 9 percent seek help from an agency. Even so, the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco turns away 75 percent of battered women who call for shelter due to lack of shelter space.
"I said 'Well, are you going to school?' He was like, 'No.' Then you realize, 'Oh, well, he's not going to school because there's family violence at home. And he doesn't want to leave his Mom by herself," Maria Su said.
Both domestic violence and mental health issues are underreported and underserved in the Asian community. The Asian Pacific Fund has distributed more than $300,000 in grants to local programs that provide mental health counseling and protect victims of domestic violence, but much more needs to be done.
"Asian families have a difficult time acknowledging mental illness and we tend to perceive it as very shameful to show weakness. And then we don’t like to disclose anything in the family to the outside world because we have this image and this face that we need to carry," Su said.
Through the Asian Pacific Fund’s essay and art competition Growing Up Asian in America, Asian youth have told us in their unique voices about the challenges they face negotiating two cultures and two languages, often torn between the expectations of their parents and the realities of the larger world. Sandip Roy, a past judge of the essay competition, hears common experiences in the diverse voices of Asian youth.
"Kids cannot be well rounded if a huge chunk of who they are is kept hidden away in a closet inside of them. There’s always this tussle at home about how American you are and how Asian you are," said Roy. "To know where you come from and to know where you live, and be able to balance both of those in your life--that only comes about if you do not feel ashamed or embarrassed about where you come from and you don’t feel threatened by the place where you live."
Ten years ago, the Asian Pacific Fund introduced Growing Up Asian in America, which has become the largest celebration of Asian heritage in the nation. Co-sponsored by NBC11, the program has now touched nearly 15,000 youth in the region and features an exhibit that is seen by more than 1 million library patrons each year.
This competition, Growing Up Asian in America, is really about the kids. These are kids who are learning about what it means to be Asian American on the battlefield: in school yards, which is probably the most visceral and raw place to learn about your identity. In the end it’s not about this larger responsibility of somehow, suddenly, this 12-year-old kid representing all Chinese immigrants. It’s about that particular 12-year-old kid’s experience. And I think that is really unique and liberating, because it lifts up this whole baggage from some 12-year-old’s shoulder, and asks him: “So, what going on inside your head?”