Diversity within the Asian Immigrant Diaspora

A conversation between Wendy Ma, CCC + Mindy Chiang, RCC

(Wendy) “How did immigrating to Canada from Taiwan impact you, Mindy?”

(Mindy) “It allowed me to empathise with those who had a similar experience as me – feeling like I didn’t belong, I was different, and being excluded because of my accent. I had to navigate through that as a teenager and realised much later that it was racism. I had to learn that it wasn’t my fault – but many of those years, I felt like I was not good enough because people didn’t like me or what not.”

(Wendy) “Wow, what a difficult, oppressing experience you went through as a teenager, being judged by peers because of your accent.”

(Mindy) “Yeah! I was 12 years old – I didn’t speak any English at all before moving to Canada, and started off in ESL. I remember practising my Canadian accent in the shower. I didn’t really even understand why I was doing that at the time – I just felt that I wanted to speak with a perfect accent. I practised words that I thought didn’t sound good.”

(Wendy) “Aww, in the shower…It makes sense that you wanted to change your accent because of how other people treated you. This is something that many people don’t talk about, but there are definitely others out there that were or are also practising their accents – this seems to be an experience for first-generation immigrants.”

(Mindy) “For sure! It would look different for first-generation immigrants, compared to the second or third generation. And actually Wendy – you are second-generation right?”

(Wendy) “Yes I am! That’s why naming these nuanced experiences are so important. Currently Asian mental health is so generalised, although we’re both Chinese-speaking counsellors at Peak Resilience, our experiences are different in so many ways. Because I have an older brother, I grew up speaking English with him, so I didn’t have challenges with speaking English. BUT this resulted in my Chinese being not as great. This also made me feel out of place in certain environments. With family, I’ve never been able to express myself fully in the way that I want to, so that’s been a challenge. I felt distant from the people who were closest to me and most dear to me.

(Mindy) “Mhm, yes wow. I see.”

(Wendy) “It was confusing growing up too, feeling torn between my two cultural identities as both Chinese and Canadian. School would be Westernised and I wanted to fit in, but I’d go home and we’d function as a Chinese household. I remember being angry a lot when I was a child. I was against being Chinese up until my young adult years and would argue with my parents and tell them “I’m Canadian, not Chinese!”. I would also tell them how their behaviour was “incorrect” because it wasn’t the “polite, Canadian way”. I pushed my culture out of my life because outside of home, it wasn’t accepted by the majority of the society.”

(Mindy) “Oh wow! Mhm, yeah. It’s interesting how different our immigrant experiences are.”

(Wendy) “Exactly! It shows the complexity of this work, and how there is so much more to explore in our field regarding Asian mental health and the immigrant experience.

(Mindy) “Naming Asian mental health as a whole is too general, and it can be misleading. We have to be careful to not explain our perspectives of the Asian diaspora so broadly.”

(Wendy) “That’s so true, that’s a great point. We are still the minority within this profession – there are not many Asian counsellors and there is pressure for us to speak up about our experiences, at the same time as not overgeneralizing or minimising the nuances within the Asian diaspora. If we do identify some common themes and patterns though, which we have to in some form to understand our clients’ experiences, what comes up for you?”

(Mindy) “Hardwork and taking responsibility! Immigrants have to work harder than others in order to catch-up. Although others that aren’t immigrants may also engage in hard work and responsibility.”

(Wendy) “For sure! I think a difference would be that immigrants are in survival mode, and they can’t take any risks. Other people may choose to be hardworking and responsible, but immigrants have to be. Otherwise they could be deported. They don’t have a choice.”

(Mindy) “Yeah, yeah. The stake is much higher. It also makes me think about the mindset immigrants have about toughing it out and taking responsibility for everything.”

(Wendy) “Yeah, Asian immigrants are particularly hardcore about it. From an intergenerational perspective, ancestors have persevered and pushed through the same way, so it’s ingrained in them to live the same way they did. It worked for them, it benefited their lives, and helped them survive. As a child of immigrants with more privilege, a majority of my personal journey in resolving familial conflict was through acceptance. I realised they may never change, and I learned how much their way of survival helped them thrive.”

(Mindy) “Mhm, that definitely contributed to intergenerational resilience…I’m glad we focused on the immigrant experience in this conversation. We were reminded that we cannot overgeneralize these topics.”
(Wendy) “Mhm I agree! Thank you Mindy. This conversation allowed us to name some similarities and differences within Asian mental health, and I think this became a space where we were both able to be seen and curious. I hope that by sharing our own human, lived experiences, others feel validated and invited to explore their unique Asian mental health experience.”

Thank you Mindy and Wendy for taking the time to write about your thoughtful experiences. If you felt you personally connected with Mindy or Wendy while reading this, consider booking a session with Mindy or Wendy!

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