The Shared Asian American Heritage

Before considering some of the shared values and practices of Asian-American groups, it is necessary to reiterate that these groups are exteremly diverse and that individual differences must be kept in mind as these broad generalizations are discussed. There are, however, some similar threads found in various Asian culutres, including the tendency to be more collectiv-istic (as opposed to the more individualistic Western orientation), as well as the tendency to view the role of the family as central to existence. In addition, the value given toward preserving honor and harmony may be common across Asian-American individuals. These commonalities will be discussed before attention is turned to some of the differences present between the various Asian-American groups.


Valerie Pang and Li-Rong Cheng have called collectivism ''one of the most powerful values'' found in Asian-American communities (Pang and Cheng 1998, p. 6). Collectivism is characterized by a value system such that the group has more value than the individuals of which it is made. In this orientation, individuals sacrifice their own goals for the greater good of the community, and norms and traditions are emphasized. Virtually every Asian culture is collectivist in nature, in contrast to the more individualistically oriented American framework. This has special implications for Asian-American children, as they may incorporate both Asian and American value systems into their own beliefs. This can be difficult for them as they straddle both cultures. An example is the extreme focus on independence as a positive quality in Western value systems such as that in the United States. An Asian-American child might allow his family more of a role in decisions regarding career or marriage and may thus be viewed in a negative light because of ''dependence'' on his family. It is important to understand that collectivist societies such as those in Asian cultures may have different values and priorities than those adhered to by Western societies.

Deep Familial Ties

The role of family as central is another common tenet in most Asian cultures, and this familial devotion is often seen in Asian-American children as well. Brian Leung discusses these deep familial ties, noting that Asian-American parents are often seen as sacrificing their own needs for the needs of their children, and in turn adult children are often expected to care for their elderly parents. Also, respect for elder family members is more common in Asian-American cultures than in Western societies.

It is also important to note that not all Asian-American families are at the same stage in their own process of acculturation to the United States. Leung divides these families into three potential groups: recently arrived immigrant families, immigrant-American families, and immigrant-descendant families. Recently arrived immigrant families may struggle with involvement in educational practices in America because of differences in beliefs about the educational system, language barriers, and employment demands. Immigrant-American families are those that consist of parents born overseas and chil dren born in America, as well as entire families born overseas that have lived in the United States for a substantial amount of time (twenty years or more). These parents will most likely have more involvement in their children's education, as they are more accustomed to the culture of America. Differences may exist in opinions and values between parents and children as their levels of acculturation may be at different stages, and this can at times cause conflict in an Asian-American family. Finally, American-born families are those in which all members of the family are American-born. These families may subscribe to many Asian values but may practice them to a lesser extent.

Preserving Honor and Harmony

A third major tenet shared by many Asian and Asian-American cultures is the presence of behaviors designed to ''save face'' or preserve honor and harmony. Saving face is important not only for oneself but also for others with whom one might be interacting, including groups outside of the ingroup. Disagreements are usually avoided and maintaining a polite and conscientious appearance is more important than winning an argument. This approach must be understood as appropriate in Asian-American children, though it differs from Western viewpoints about asserting oneself. Even children from American-born Asian-American families may retain these types of behavior patterns, as they are central to the Asian value system.

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