A Chinese teen-ager wearing stirrup tights and an oversized jacket hesitated at the threshold of the Asian Pacific Family Center in Rosemead.
Her frantic mother, who speaks only Cantonese, thought her daughter had gone crazy, wearing "underwear" in public and defiling her natural beauty.
The girl, who speaks English as well as her native tongue, thought her mother was stupid. Sometimes she thought about suicide.
To the relief of counselors at the center, the girl agreed to join her mother in a series of therapy sessions.
"It's hard enough for adolescents to deal with parents, but when you have cross-cultural expectations of what is right and good, and then have someone who is emotionally disturbed, and then top that off with language difficulties, it can be overwhelming," said Glenn Masuda, a counselor who works with youths and their families.
Masuda was among staff members who greeted representatives from mental health agencies and local governments to celebrate the center's first anniversary recently as the San Gabriel Valley's only multilingual mental health service for Asian and Pacific immigrants.
The center, 3907 N. Rosemead Blvd., has been made homey and inviting for clients to whom counseling is as alien as their new country.
Center officials said about 200 families and individuals have been helped in the center's first year, almost all of them unable to speak English or to afford private care.
Each of the 18 staff members--psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and community workers--speaks at least two languages. Most speak three or four and a few speak five, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Chiu Chow, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Burmese and Tagalog.
Established by Pacific Clinics (formerly the Pasadena Guidance Clinics) and funded by Los Angeles County, the United Way, private foundations and support groups, the center's priority is the treatment of the chronically mentally ill and severely emotionally disturbed.
Patients pay on a sliding scale based on income, and center officials said no one is turned away because of financial problems.
Besides medical treatment and counseling, the center provides preventive care, education for other agencies dealing with the needs of Asian immigrants, school programs and a wide range of social services. Many clients are referred to the center by school officials and friends, others by law enforcement and mental health agencies. About 13% of the clients seek help on their own.
Masuda was pleased to learn that the Chinese mother and daughter had been referred to the center by friends.
"Word is getting out," he said. "Parents are beginning to talk about it."
Many youths learn about the center through school programs, such as weekly intercultural discussion groups at Mark Keppel, San Gabriel and Arcadia high schools conducted with the help of the center.
Linda Han, 17, a Vietnamese and a junior at Mark Keppel in Monterey Park, said her group last semester--which included Chinese, Mexican, Taiwanese and Anglo students--helped her to deal with people outside of family and school.
"I was shy and afraid to speak in front of a group, and I learned to be brave," Linda said. "I learned each person is different, that they have different ways that might not be what you think."
Communication skills are also sharpened in the center's group therapy sessions, where mentally ill clients meet weekly.
A member of one such group, a 30-year-old Taiwanese who asked not to be identified, said he was hospitalized for mental illness 26 times before coming to the United States four years ago. He said he becomes anxious every time he leaves his home in Alhambra. He added, however, that "America is the cream" and he wants to be out enjoying his new world.
Another 30-year-old Taiwanese, who came to this country alone three years ago, works so hard at a menial job that he has lost sleep and suffers from paranoia. Smiling, he told the group that he now feels ready for vocational training.
A 33-year-old Vietnamese woman in the same group has been rejected by her family because of her chronic depression and must find another home. With the group's help, she has become more communicative, and the center is looking for a board-and-care home for her.
Staff members Jeannette Choi and Rosie Davis said group participants have shown improvement since they began meeting three months ago.
"Groups are easier than we expected," said Davis, a Taiwan native and a social worker who helps the patients with financial aid, transportation, housing and other services.
"Group therapy is very new to Asians, but we haven't seen much resistance to it. Our most important goal is to prevent re-hospitalization," Davis said.
Gladys Lee, the center's director, said that since January, 200 parents have completed or are enrolled in a seven-week parent education program that covers child development and behavior, family relationships, discipline and acquaints them with mental health services.
In Monterey Park, where 40% of the population is Asian, the center operates a program with the Police Department that includes videotapes to acquaint residents with law enforcement.
The center also provides a weekly column that appears in the Chinese News, one of the Asian newspapers published in Monterey Park, to help immigrant families adjust to their new home.
Susan Mandel, executive director of Pacific Clinics, said the center was initiated by a task force of 30 San Gabriel Valley agencies and is the only private treatment center of its kind in Southern California.
"It is so hard to find mental health professionals who are multilingual, and hard to place one in each agency," Mandel said. "This way we can get them all in one place."