New Blog Series

 

test3A ten-part series of articles on the health and wellbeing of the Asian American community in Minnesota. 

APA ComMNet project participants gather data from the community.

APA ComMNet project participants gather data from the community.

Based on the data collected from a two-year study conducted by Asian Media Access (AMA) and Asian Pacific American Community Network (APA ComMNet), the Bicultural Healthy Living Blog is publishing a series of articles examining the health of the eight largest Asian American communities in Minnesota – the Hmong, Asian Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Laotian and Cambodian American communities. Each article will focus on one Asian ethnic community to understand the environmental, behavioral and social factors affecting the overall health and wellbeing of its members
.

The series of articles will be published as scheduled:

For the latest article on the health of the AAPI Minnesotan community – Visit the series’ main page here.

Tackling Sexual Health Issues for Bicultural Girls

Kaonou and Asia Hang at the Celebrations of Change Event

Kaonou and Asia Hang at the Celebrations of Change Event

Growing up as a teen in a small town in Wisconsin, Kaonou Hang was taught that it was inappropriate for a proper Hmong girl to talk about sexual health issues – whether it was about boyfriends and sex, her monthly periods or simply using words for the female anatomy.   This just wasn’t done in her culture and therefore relied on her friends’ knowledge to understand the changes that were occurring in her body as she grew into adulthood.

After graduating with a degree in biology with a special interest in maternal and child health, Kaonou decided that her 9-year old daughter’s experience of puberty was going to be very different.   She attended, along with other Hmong mothers, a workshop run by the Annex Teen Clinic, a Minneapolis-based health clinic for young people.  The workshop, entitled “Celebration of Change”, created space for mothers and daughters to talk about sexual health issues with a focus on the young girls’ expectations of going through puberty. The program is a part of the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health.

Kaonou Hang, an independent oriental medicine specialist, wrote:

As a mother of a pre-teen girl, I wanted make sure my daughter’s experience of puberty was going to be a positive one.  I also knew this was something the whole Hmong American community needed, not just me. After speaking to several community organizations, I came across the Annex Teen Clinic in North Minneapolis who had put together a sexual health curriculum called “Celebrations of Change” for African-American mothers and daughters. This was what I had been searching for.  My daughter and I, along with two other pairs of Hmong mothers and daughters were the first Asian American group to use the curriculum that was adapted for Asian Americans. I have to admit, even with my science and medical background, going into the Celebration of Change event was a little scary. I thought it was going to be filled with some serious heavy material. Instead, it was the complete opposite. It was fun, the dialogue was eye opening, and the time passed by way too quickly.  The event truly felt like a celebration of becoming a woman. Even though we were unable to cover every topic on puberty, this day allowed our daughters to know that they could come talk to us, their moms about this and any other topic.  The girls, the mothers and the instructors all thought the event was a success and the program will be rolled out to the local community in the near future.

Celebrations of Change Event held on March 2, 2013 at the Annex Teen Clinic - Mothers and Daughters

Celebration of Change Event was held on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at the Annex REACH Community Office Teen Clinic in Minneapolis – A Photo of the Mothers and Daughters who attended the event.

To learn more about the Celebration of Change event and Annex Teen Clinic, we asked health educator Song Thao, the facilitator who conducted the workshop, a few questions.

Song Thao, Health Educator at Annex Teen Clinic

Song Thao, Health Educator at Annex Teen Clinic

What is the Annex Teen Clinic?   

The Annex Teen Clinic is a sexual health clinic made for young people. We serve anyone up to the age of 26 years old.  We serve all communities in our area.

What do you do at Annex Teen Clinic?

As a health educator, a big part of my job is doing a federal grant-funded program called the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) in the schools that focus on healthy youth development.  It is a teen pregnancy prevention program designed to help young people make better decisions and to grow into an overall healthy teen.

What is the Celebration of Change Workshop? 

The Celebration of Change workshop is an event that started a couple years ago.  It is a flexible workshop that can be implemented over a few weeks, a weekend, or a full day retreat that explores healthy mother/daughter communication and healthy development during the stage of puberty. It is a program intended to help bridge the communication lines between mothers and daughters and to celebrate the time when young daughters are about to go through puberty.  The purpose is to get mothers & daughters comfortable with talking about the changes that will take place in their bodies and to celebrate this time of change.

How did the curriculum for Celebration of Change come about?

The curriculum for the Celebration of Change was developed in 1996 in an attempt to strengthen family communication around sexual health and development. It was created by a series of community members from different organizations who felt strongly about this topic.

How did you and others tailor the curriculum for the Celebration of Change Workshop to fit the Hmong community?

We kept a lot of the same information but took some information or activities out that we felt weren’t relevant to the Hmong community and we added some information that we felt the Hmong community could relate to.  I met with a few community members to gain their inputs and to figure out what would work best and get the message across the easiest.

Nou Yang and her daughter Brooke at the Celebrations of Change Workshop

Nou Yang and her daughter Brooke at the Celebrations of Change Workshop

What did you find that you had to do differently with the curriculum so it would be more culturally appropriate for Hmong girls and their moms?

I felt that because talking about body parts and development was always a taboo that by just being comfortable talking about it.  I also had to explain some words in Hmong or use some kind of Hmong reference/example to get them to fully understand some of the terms we were referring to.

Why do you think its important for Hmong girls and their moms to go through this workshop?

I think it’s extremely important for mothers and daughters of any cultural group to go through this workshop but especially important for the Hmong community to go through it because it’s definitely something different.  It opens up the door for communication and gives mothers and daughters a chance to connect in a different way and really deepen their relationship.

Sujin Vue and her daughter Suyi

Sujin Vue and her daughter Suyi

What did you find most surprising about having Hmong girls and moms go through the workshop compared to girls and moms who are not Hmong?

 Because this was a pilot program to see how well the Hmong community would perceive the program, I have not actually been able to compare it to other workshops.  But we do have other culturally specific celebration of change workshops that have been done in the past with the American (White) culture and the African American culture.

What have you found that helps working with Southeast Asian girls and moms to have them talk about these subjects?

I think having them split into the mother, daughter groups really helps because then they feel more free to talk or ask questions as they wish until they feel a little more comfortable.  I also think that incorporating different types of activities that still teach about sexuality really helps eases them as well as using activities that both mother and daughter can do together really helps.

Why do you think it’s difficult for Southeast Asian cultures to talk about subjects like periods, sexuality, bodies etc? 

I think it’s difficult for Southeast Asians to talk about sexuality because it is a taboo in our culture.  Also because we don’t have all the terms and words that the Western culture has.   And because it’s a generational thing.  Our parents’ parents have never talked to them because their parents haven’t talked to them and so on and that’s why our parents now don’t know how to talk to us about it. But that’s part of the reason for this workshop; it is to break the cycle so that we can freely talk about sexuality and not make it seem like it’s a bad or dirty thing to do but an educational tool.

Kaonou Hang and her daughter Asia at the workshop

Kaonou Hang and her daughter Asia at the workshop

What is Bicultural Healthy Living?

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Bicultural Healthy Living is the ability of immigrants and refugees to bridge two cultures, the American mainstream culture and their culture of origin, into one that allows them to live healthfully and happily.  By leading a bicultural healthy lifestyle, we hope that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities can find a path that allow both their Asian/Pacific islander and American culture to co-exist with the ability to use one or both cultural protective factors when needed.  This blog will explore the various ways and strategies to improve the health of AAPIs and the community as a whole by living a bicultural healthy lifestyle.

Traditional vs. Modern Diets

Before McDonalds or KFC dotted the landscape of Singapore, a small island nation in Southeast Asia, its residents enjoyed a staple of rice, meat and vegetables cooked in their Chinese, Indian and Malay traditions [i].  These days however, Singaporeans enjoy a westernized way of life that includes eating at fast food restaurants two or three times a week[ii].

Another McDonalds in China.   Photo Credit: Asian Correspondent.

Another McDonalds in China.
Photo Credit: Asian Correspondent.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health decided to find out the health cost associated with this change in diet and collaborated with public health experts at National University of Singapore.  Over 60,000 Chinese Singaporeans were interviewed about their health and eating habits [ii].  What they found was not only surprising to many in the public health community but a real cause of concern for modernized Asian countries.

Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiac Deaths for Fast Food Lovers

Study participants who ate more than two times a week at fast food joints like Burger King or Quiznos were more likely to die of heart disease and develop Type-2 diabetes.  These results were evident after researchers controlled for other factors such as gender, educational level and weight.  Interestingly, Chinese Singaporeans who ate traditional Singaporean meals, like stir-fried vegetables or steamed dumplings, were not at risk for acquiring these diseases.

Popular Asian Dishes. Unknown source.

Popular Asian Dishes. Unknown source.

The results of this study along with other similar research findings convinced public health, medical and nutrition experts that good health is connected to maintaining cultural traditions, especially rituals that involve cooking food in simple unprocessed ways.

The Asian Diet Pyramid

Emphasizing traditional food staples such as rice, noodles, legumes, vegetables and fruits, along with some red meat, fish and poultry, the Asian Diet Pyramid was developed by Oldways Preservation Trust to encourage healthy eating in the Asian American community.    Oldways organization is guided by a simple premise that good health can be found through heritage [iii].

Oldways Heritage Pyramid developed by Oldways Preservation Trust,conjunction with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Oldways Heritage Pyramid developed by Oldways Preservation Trust,conjunction with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

A new generation of Asian Americans has heeded the call for returning to a more traditional diet used by their grandparents.  Young Asian Americans activists like Aileen Suzara, a Filipino American educator, environmental justice advocate and a natural chef, uses traditional Filipino food and recipes to understand and connect to her Filipino American culture and community (learn more about her here).

As more Asian countries modernize and look towards the U.S. as an example of western living, it has become evident that America’s obesity epidemic will also be exported along with the super-sized burgers, shakes and fries.  Asian Americans in the U.S. can look beyond this pattern of ordering food-to-go or eating meals outside the home and look within their own culture to find meaningful ways of achieving optimal health and wellbeing.


[i] Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org.

[ii] Western-Style Fast Food Intake and Cardio-Metabolic Risk in an Eastern Country. Andrew O. Odegaard, Woon Puay Koh, Jian-Min Yuan, Myron D. Gross, and Mark A. Pereira. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/05/31/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.084004.full.pdf

[iii] Asian Diet Pyramid. Oldways Heritage Through Health. www.oldwayspt.org.

Who We Are…

AMA Staff at the 2012 Hmong New Year in Minneapolis, MN

AMA Staff at the 2012 Hmong New Year in Minneapolis, MN

In response to the increasing disparity in health outcomes within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Minnesota, especially among the newly arrived Asian immigrants and refugees, the bicultural healthy living concept was conceived.  This concept emerged from work initiated by the Asian Pacific American Community Network (APA ComMNet), a collaborative group led by Asian Media Access (AMA).  In 2010, AMA and APA ComMNet received a prestigious grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to participate in the REACH CORE program (Racial and EthnicApproaches to Community Health, Communities Organized to Respond and Evaluate) that seeks to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S.

As a member of the National REACH Coalition, AMA and APA ComMNet conducted outreach and engagement with Minnesota’s eight largest AAPI communities and collected qualitative and quantitative data to understand the systematic, environmental, cultural and social factors influencing the health of AAPIs in the state.  Guided by the MAPP process (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership), AMA and APA ComMNet found that by moving beyond the aggregated data used for AAPI communities, various cultural, historical, institutional and societal factors emerged deeply impacting the overall health of AAPIs in the state.

Along with its partners, AMA and APA ComMNet have devised a strategy that will allow the Asian/Pacific Islander culture as well as the American culture of AAPIs to co-exist with the ability to use one or both cultural protective factors when needed.  The bicultural healthy lifestyle promotes a balanced approach to living a healthy and full life.

To learn more, check out the “About Us” page…

Balancing a Bicultural Life: How it Can Improve Your Health

Young Asian American dancers during the Hmong  New Year Celebration

Young Asian American dancers during the Hmong New Year Celebration

We live in a country where over 300 languages are spoken at home and one can find a native from every corner of the world.    Built largely by immigrants, the United States is a melting pot, or a salad bowl perhaps, of varying cultures and traditions.  Leading a bicultural healthy life, therefore, is the ability of immigrants and refugees to bridge two cultures, the American mainstream culture and their culture of origin, into one that allows them to live healthfully and happily.

Right now, however, many in the immigrant and refugee community are unable to find this balance.  They are in the losing end of a battle to overcome serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Although seen as a “model minority”, Asian Americans are struggling.  With high infectious disease rates of Hepatitis B, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, prevailing mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, and an increasing number of obese and overweight members in the community, Asian Americans are not immune to the social and environmental factors that has deteriorated the health of all Americans.

By encouraging a bicultural healthy lifestyle, we hope that Asian Americans can find a path that allow both their Asian and American culture to co-exist with the ability to use one or both cultural protective factors when needed.

An example of a bicultural healthy practice is encouraging Tai Chi for 30 minutes a day as opposed to walking or running on the treadmill or employing the traditional Asian staple of rice, boiled vegetables and fish as opposed to eating in a fast food restaurant. 

This blog will explore the various ways and strategies to improve the health of Asian Americans and the community as a whole by living a bicultural healthy lifestyle.

Looking forward to your comments!

Topic for the Next Blog Post: Introducing the Asian Food Pyramid