How Being Asian-American Affected My Understanding of Emotional/Mental Health

Jen Xu
7 min readAug 28, 2018

I do have to make several disclaimers, of course. 1: I’m mainly speaking from my personal experience, which is a female first-generation Chinese-American, raised in a pretty diverse area, at least in the city. I don’t really know how it might be different for males, for Southeast Asians, or people who are beyond first generation. 2: It’s a really grey area. There are some people who had a great environment for this growing up, and some who have not had such luck. 3: My parents were quite easygoing/understanding compared to everyone around me, even if they may not have fully understood mental health. So I’m speaking from a different angle, perhaps. But here we go.

There are several things I’ve noticed about the parents/community of first-generation kids. First, emotions — they’re not really talked about and not many know how to handle it. For example, when I was a camp counselor, I observed the different ways Asian parents dropped their kids off. It usually was a quick drop-off, a few words, and then an awkward hug and maybe a kiss on the head, if that. While non-Asian parents tended to linger, help their kids set up everything for the week, and have a big goodbye scene. Even my parents were like that — moving into my dorm sophomore year, my dad dropped me off, moved my stuff into my room, and left within half an hour. My friends’ parents on the other hand, got hotels and stayed for a few days to help with moving in, setting up the room, and hanging out.

I wasn’t sad about this stuff, I was just really entertained at the difference. I’ve observed this and it obviously contributes to understanding emotions/emotional health in the community. One big reason I think it happens is that this is how Asian parents show us love. It may not be necessarily with explicit words or physical touches, but it’s by the actions. Although there’s slightly too much pressure from some parents to go to a specific school and pursue a specific career path (thankfully this wasn’t the case for me), it’s still obvious that they want us to succeed. It’s just that our definitions of success are a little bit different.

Second, pressure — a lot of immigrants have sacrificed a lot to get to the States, and it isn’t easy for the parents. So naturally, they want their kids to have an easy life — but that means that they have to work hard early on to have a nice, relaxing life later. And while they’re putting pressure on their kids for…

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Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.