Culturally-Sensitive Services in Asian-American Communities

In the United States, 5.6% of the population identifies as Asian or Asian-American. In other words, 17 million people in the United States identify as “Asian,” whose origins could be from any of the 48 UN-recognized countries in Asia. While this moniker seems to serve the needs of the US Census Bureau in aggregating statistics, it seems just “a bit” oversimplifying to treat Asian-Americans as a single group. In 2016, the US Census reported 7.3% of Asians were not covered by any form of health insurance (government or private) (Barnett and Berchick). This percentage was the second lowest among the ethnic groups the report covered which included Black (10.2%) and Hispanic (16%)–the group with the lowest uninsured rate was white non-Hispanic (6.3%). The uninsured rate across all demographics has steadily decreased throughout the years–which suggests more Americans are able to access the health treatments they need. While it’s great that this report suggests Asian communities are also benefiting from these services, it erases the stigmas and inequalities faced by different Asian groups.

Ultimately, treating Asians as a monolith further perpetuate the “model minority” myth. The myth of the well-adjusted Asian originates from early reports that were conducted in English. Language is one of the largest barriers in Asian-American communities,  so because recent Asian immigrants were limited in their English fluency, their survey answers were ineligible for use in research studies. Thus, much of the research on Asian-Americans comes from English-speaking and more assimilated individuals who have more education and higher incomes (Kim and Keefe 288). This in turn has led to categorizing Asians as a single group and underrepresented Asians in existing research, which deprives ethnic groups who require more attention from receiving help.

More studies are recognizing this issue and disaggregating data, but there is still a limited understanding of Asian-Americans as a whole. From 2010 to 2014, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reported 10.4% of all Asians felt to be in fair or poor health, which is 2% lower than the total US population (Almendrala 2). Again, while this seems like a positive reflection of Asian-American wellness, the study disaggregated this data into the six most-populated ethnic groups in America (Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese). This revealed Vietnamese-Americans seem to have the worst overall health at 16.8%, Filipino-Americans are more prone to chronic illnesses (22.3% compared to 16.3% of all Asians and 24.1% of all US), and Korean-Americans are more likely to say their health interferes with their daily social lives (4.6% compared to 3% of all Asians and 3.9% of all US).

However, researchers not involved with the study suspect even this data may be skewed because of cultural and linguistic barriers are still at play when collecting these reports, especially since past US Census data reveals only 45% of Chinese or Korean speakers consider themselves proficient in English and only 40% of Vietnamese speakers feel say they speak English “very well” (Almendrala 5). Additionally, most of the interviews were not conducted by trained professionals but by family members which could also taint the results because of cultural stigmas towards sharing sensitive information about health issues. Even with an official interpreter conducting the interview, many are hesitant to discuss their problems because of fears that they won’t respect confidentiality in the larger Asian-American community. There is also the issue of health literacy and understanding disease. Especially in older generations, many only seek healthcare when their symptoms are too sever to be treated with standard care.

Due to all of these factors, it seems clear that one of the major barriers to understanding and addressing the needs of Asian-Americans is the availability of reliable, consistent, and culturally-specific resources. My ecology explores the role of local centers which not only assist Asian-Americas in navigating the healthcare process, but also provide a social and cultural space to foster a sense of community for Asians. Studies about Asian-American healthcare suggest that “the presence of an expert who understands Asian American culture and expressions of illness can help remove the barriers to healthcare. In fact, Asian Americans’ perceptions of cultural, gender, and linguistic sensitivity have been found to predict more help-seeking behavior” (Kim and Keefe 289). The site my ecology is particularly researching is the Chinese-American Planning Council in Flushing. CPC’s mission is to serve the Chinese-American, immigrant, and low-income communities in New York through educational, social, and community services. This includes multilingual services to apply for low and no-cost insurance, Medicaid and Medicare assistance, immigration consultations, youth programs, workforce development, and senior services. By creating a communal space for Chinese-Americans, CPC’s services are not only physically accessible to residents, but the center itself provides a safe and familiar space to create a sense of trust and reliability between the clients and the center.

However, CPC is a New York-based organization with locations concentrated Chinatown, Sunset Park, and Flushing. CPC is able to reach out to Chinese-Americans in these sites, but, like many local organizations, it has limits on whom it can reach and how far it can extend their resources. While organizations are able to respond to healthcare and social issues faced by the local community, they do not have the bandwidth to conduct large-scale research to better understand the overarching needs of Asian-Americans. Thus, health and social policy analysts must look more closely into native language, ethnicity, culture, health literacy, and immigrant status to understand the emotional, physical, and political aspects of different Asian-American groups. Experts who understand Asian-American culture can mitigate the effects of healthcare barriers and develop policies that meet the needs of specific groups (Kim and Keefe 291). By understanding and adapting to the cultures, there is also a greater likelihood that these communities would be more willing to seek out assistance from healthcare providers, which in turn would feed back into better understanding and responding to Asian-American health needs.

Works Cited
Almendrala, Anna. “What The Government’s Latest Asian-American Health Report Got Wrong.” HuffPost. 2016 May 20.

Barnett, Jessica C., and Edward R. Berchick. “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2016.” Report Number: P60-260. United States Census Bureau. 2017 September 12.

Kim, Wooksoo, and Robert H. Keefe. “Barriers to Healthcare Among Asian Americans.” Social Work in Public Health, 25:3-4. 2010. 286-295.


~ by aswling on October 24, 2017.

3 Responses to “Culturally-Sensitive Services in Asian-American Communities”

  1. Learning and substance– you’ve clearly done a lot of research here. It’s visible when you refer to data, statistics, and specific studies, but also in your referencing of cultural phenomenon such as the model minority myth. Not only do you refer to (and critique) your research, but you also do a great job of applying it to the CPC foundation.

  2. Most engaging
    You introduced your topic by statistics and it’s an effective way to attract your readers’ attention. It’s an insightful and comprehensive piece on the Asian American group and the difficulties they are facing.

  3. With your statistics and factual information about the Chinese-Americans in New York, I want to give you the best Learning and Substance. The statistics that you provided about how Asian-Americans in comparison to other ethnic groups was a plus in supporting your ultimate possible solution to create a communal space for Chinese-Americans, in order to provide a safe and familiar space to create a sense of trust and reliability between the clients and the center.

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