Academic journal article Social Work

Assumptions of Asian American Similarity: The Case of Filipino and Chinese American Students

Academic journal article Social Work

Assumptions of Asian American Similarity: The Case of Filipino and Chinese American Students

Article excerpt

In social work, the cultural beliefs and values of a group are believed to have significant implications for service delivery. The perception of culture as a critical factor in social work practice emerged in the 1970s. Most of the early literature on ethnic and racial minority culture was anecdotal. And the profession has continued to rely on nonempirical literature to understand and guide its practice with ethnic and racial minority clients.

When empirical research on ethnic minority groups has been conducted, it has tended to follow a conventional model of race that subsumes numerous ethnic groups into one of four racial categories: Asian, black, Hispanic, and white. For example, culturally distinct ethnic groups such as Cambodians, Filipinos, Japanese, and Pakistanis are lumped into one racial category, Asian Americans.

A conventional model assumes that membership in a racial group is analogous with shared cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes. For example, when differences in social services utilization are found among racial categories, they are attributed to culture rather than race. Thus, a direct empirical examination of cultural beliefs and attitudes often uses racial categories that serve as proxies for cultural factors (Agbayani-Siewert, Takeuchi, & Pangan, 1999). For example, mental health agencies might associate low rates of Asian American service utilization with cultural concepts such as loss of face, but the validity of this assumption has not been empirically tested. Each racial category has within-group cultural differences that may conceal more than they inform (Takeuchi, Uehara, & Maramba, 1999). For example, Asian American groups are distinguished from one another by such characteristics as language, cultural values and beliefs, history, acculturation, place of birth, socioeconomic status, and age.

An alternative to the conventional approach is an elaborated model that examines the values, beliefs, and attitudes shaped by culture and includes social factors such as race. An elaborated model is well-suited for studying the Asian American population, which includes 25 subgroups (Uba, 1994) and is the fastest growing racial population in the United States. Between 1980 and 1990 the Asian American population increased by 95 percent compared with a 53 percent increase among Hispanics (Hing, 1996)). Between 1990 and 2000 the rage of growth of Asian Americans was 71.9 percent (Ong, 2003). The National Committee for Research on Census Data concluded that "practically or theoretically, it makes little sense to lump together Americans of Asian origin ... as if they were a single entity" (Barringer, Gardner, & Levin, 1993, p. 2).

This study postdates that important ethnic cultural differences exist within racial categories by comparing the gender attitudes of white, Hispanic, Filipino, and Chinese college students. A conventional model would predict differences between white students and students in the three other ethnic groups. Conversely, an elaborated model permits a study of differences and similarities among students in the two Asian ethnic groups and among white students and ethnic minority students.

Filipino and Chinese Americans

Filipino and Chinese Americans are the two largest ethnic groups in the Asian American racial category. Both groups are largely new immigrant communities acculturating to a new society, but cultural and historical differences exist that affect acculturation. Filipino culture and society is an admixture of numerous influences, most notably American, Spanish, and Chinese. The history of the Philippines is characterized by almost 400 years of colonized rule under the Spanish, followed by American occupation that began in 1899 (Agoncillo, 1990). In contrast, although China has experienced invasions and attempts at domination, there has never been a sustained period of Western rule. Euro-American colonialism has had and continues to have a profound effect on Filipinos, including children in the Philippines and the United States (Lott, 1980; Rimonte, 1997; Santos, 1983). …

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