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A helping hand for Asian families

Asian Youth Center in San Gabriel helps bridge cultural divides with

October 23, 2009|Ching-Ching Ni

Taiwanese immigrant Thomas Liu was locked in a constant battle with his son Gordon throughout his years at Arcadia High School. The father disapproved of his son's baggy pants, loud music and computer games.

After Gordon's parents forbade him to play online video games, hired him a tutor and got him into college, they thought everything would finally be all right. Instead, their son buckled under the pressure, started taking drugs and nearly dropped out of school.

The elder Liu eventually sought help in a parenting class at the Asian Youth Center in San Gabriel. There he learned that his troubles were among many challenges facing new immigrants struggling with parenthood in their adopted country.

"Before, I talked to him like, 'You have to obey my orders,' " said Liu, 50. "Now when I am very angry, I have to calm down first, listen to him, find out why he does what he does, let him express his feelings, then find a solution together."

The Asian Youth Center, a nonprofit that runs after-school programs and parenting classes for Asian immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley, was founded in 1989 as a project of the United Way. Today it has a staff of about 50 and serves roughly 5,000 youths and 1,000 parents a year, including some non-Asian families.

One of the biggest challenges for counselors is teaching Asian families how to balance the sometimes conflicting values of their homeland and their adopted country, said May L. To, executive director of the center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary Thursday night with an awards banquet.

"Parents have a huge impact on youth from Asia," To said. "The old culture influences how they raise their children here in America. Yet their children are bringing the new culture of America home, creating conflicts. It's a constant struggle at home if there is no balance."

The center currently offers four to five parenting workshops a week, in both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. Parents are encouraged to criticize less, listen more, and to discipline their children with respect, said Sun H. Lui, a counselor at the center.

All parents clash with their kids, but Asian parents have the extra burden of language barriers and cultural expectations that can deepen the generational divide, To said.

"Sometimes Asian parents want their children to be 100% obedient, from clothing to behavior to gesture to language," she said. "Their children feel very deprived. They cannot go out, wear makeup, date or party. Sometimes they turn to drugs because they are upset with their parents."

Liu and his son said that counseling at the center helped bring their family closer. "I notice he's trying to communicate with me more," Gordon, now 22, said of his father. "Before he was always isolated from me. We wouldn't really talk."

Michelle Hoang, whose son is 5, is a regular at the parenting workshops. The 37-year-old mother said she struggles with anger issues.

"I want to be a better parent before it's too late," Hoang said. "The East can be too negative -- the child is never good enough. The West can be too positive -- no matter what you do it's always 'good job.' In America, we should take the best of the East and West."

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ching-ching.ni@latimes.com

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