Exploring Aspects of Filipino-American Families

Article excerpt

Filipinos are the fastest growing Asian population in the United States. Yet we Westerners know little about the Filipino-American family aspects of its organization, facets of its functioning, or salient cultural values. This paper explores these issues in the first-generation Filipino-American family and offers specific treatment recommendations. Case examples are provided.

As a whole, Asians are often seen as reluctant to attend therapy and receive dubious praise as the "model minority" (Crystal, 1989; Sue, 1981). The myth exists that Asians adapt well to our society, are overachievers, do well in school, and do not experience problems. Asian children are stereotyped as smart children who never cause their families any trouble. Generally, however, there is evidence which suggests that Asian groups experience problems in the same proportion as the mainstream population (Araneta, 1982; Sue, 1981).

According to 1980 census data, the Filipino-American population is the largest Asian population in Chicago and the largest Asian group in the United States ("Filipinos," 1990). A survey of 100 mostly first-generation Filipino-American adults was conducted by the Filipino American Council of Chicago, Committee on Social Services and Human Resources with the assistance of the author. The results indicated that 39% of the respondents had experienced some sort of problem assimilating into American culture, 32% had problems communicating with their children, 25% experienced a drug or alcohol problem with their children, 20% had a child drop out of school, and 33% experienced a clash between American and Filipino values which resulted in family conflict.

Yet first- and second-generation Filipino-Americans rarely use mental health and social services. A brief, informal survey of several Chicago-area social service agencies indicated that they served few or no Filipino-American clients. However, according to the survey mentioned above, a staggering 80% of the respondents indicated that they would seek help provided by the Filipino-American community or by clinicians sensitive to Filipino culture.

A culturally competent, family-oriented clinician rather than an individually oriented clinician would more likely be successful with Filipino-American clients because the family is of prime importance in the Filipino culture. Hence the purpose of this paper is to increase clinicians' cultural competence for working with first- and second-generation Filipino-Americans and their families. Clinicians should expect as much variation among Filipino families, however, as among any group of families and should therefore remain curious about the unique interpretation the family has made of the concepts discussed here.

This paper was undertaken as a result of my experiences while traveling in the Philippines, volunteer efforts with the Filipino American Council of Chicago, and direct clinical contact with several first-generation Filipino-American families. On a more personal level, I was married for over 17 years to a first-generation Filipina immigrant. Nonetheless, I am not a Filipino-American and hence the following observations are subject to all the possible misinterpretations of anyone who offers his/her personal constructions about another's culture.


One factor which contributes to the disparity between the need for therapy services among Filipino-Americans and their use of such services may be the stereotype among mainstream Americans that Filipinos are well-suited for and already acculturated into American life. Potential referral sources may not think that Filipino-Americans need professional help.

Perhaps this stereotype is partly a result of America's ignominious history with the people of the Philippine Islands. America's view of Filipinos has changed over the years to suit the best interests of the U. S. government. The stereotype that Filipinos are well-assimilated into American culture has colluded with aspects of the Filipino culture that, in my opinion, have been both misunderstood and misapplied and have lead to making Filipinos an invisible Asian minority. …