AAPI Families: A Unique Experience from the First-Person Perspective

Hi Kempe Community!

Kyla here, the Marketing Associate at the Kempe Foundation. This blog post may feel a little different than other ones we’ve done. While I’ve written highly researched blog posts before, this one is a first-person perspective of the unique experiences that growing up in an AAPI family can feel like. If there’s one thing I’ve learned working here at the Kempe Foundation, it’s that children are rooted in families, and therefore, child welfare exists within the family unit as well. By understanding the nuances and differences between familial cultures, I hope we all have a better understanding of how vastly varied child care looks like for every family. As an Asian American immigrant, I have the unique perspective of living between the United States, and Indonesia, where I’m originally from. Hopefully, my story coupled with research from professionals, can paint a better picture of what family means in an AAPI home. 

In AAPI households, “caregiving” takes many forms. Jennifer Tang, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of Everwell Health and Counseling in Michigan, who specializes in culturally sensitive family therapy says, “There’s a deference to older generations, which is, in part, demonstrated through family caregiving.” This concept of filial piety – a belief system that one must respect one’s parents, elders and ancestors – is central to many Asian cultures, especially those influenced by Confucianism. In my household, it was assumed that my father would take care of his parents, and when my parents retired, I would take care of them. We revere the cycle of caregiving, as the young takes on the caregiving status when the old reach a point where they need to be cared for. My whole life I remember my father setting aside an allowance for my grandparents, and providing a home for them. I asked him once why he did this, and his answer was “They took care of me, and now it’s my turn.”


This cycle of caregiving also indicates that parents often instill cultural values, such as filial piety, into their children from a very young age. For example, The Pew Research Center indicates that “Asian Americans and the overall American public are in broad agreement that parenthood and marriage are at the top of the list of “the most important things” in life; other priorities such as career success, homeownership and helping others in need trail far behind.” Especially as a woman, having children are indicated as one of life’s greatest achievements. My parents always taught me what to teach my own children. They would say “Remember to teach your children Mandarin,” or “Take this opportunity for your future children.” Generational knowledge and wealth is one of the focuses of my Chinese-Indonesian culture.

But my culture is unique to me. There are many cultures embedded in the AAPI umbrella, and they each have differences in the family structure. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), says “For instance, Filipino American caregivers might rely more heavily on large extended families for support, while Chinese American caregivers might consider it their responsibility to keep the needs and issues of their relatives private.  Failing to recognize these kinds of cultural distinctions between AAPI communities makes it that much harder to understand the support caregivers need — let alone to provide it.” After moving to the U.S. for college, I was able to meet other Asians. Despite relating to some similarities, there were some differences in our stories as well. These distinctions are important to consider when understanding AAPI families


What most of us have in common, is the idea that our families represent the “Model Minority.” National Alliance on Mental Illness states, “Both internal personal motivations and external cultural values can create a high burden of expectation and pressure to succeed. Predominant stereotypes like “Asian advantage” and the “model minority” myth assume that AAPI individuals should be intelligent, affluent, obedient and living the “American dream.” Failure to live up to these stereotypes and expectations can be a source of significant stress, often creating feelings of inadequacy.” When met with stereotypes like these, I’ve often found people tell me “but that’s a good thing, you are shown as a good example.” What I say to that, is there are no good stereotypes. Stereotypes diminish a human being into a caricature, and it reduces the complex experiences and thoughts of Asian Americans into a character that fits into someone’s idea of what is “Asian.” Even though we have cultural similarities, Asians and Asian families are all different. We have different dreams, cultures, and ideas. Reducing us into a stereotype is one way we can approach child welfare for AAPI families as a blanket solution versus understanding what makes us unique.


Some AAPI families also have the added pressure of being immigrants. My own family immigrated from China to Indonesia a few generations ago. Now, I have decided to immigrate to the United States. Each generation in my family faced different challenges when it came to immigration. My grandparents lived through a lot of trials when it came to learning the language, attending school, and even xenophobia towards them. Now, I live through a time of great Asian hate in the United States. These added pressures change family dynamics, and sometimes it brings us closer, but at times it also sends us farther apart.  


In some immigrant households, the children take more of a caregiving status due to language barriers. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) says in an article for Care.com, “When family members or relatives don’t speak English, caregivers must support older adults in successfully navigating complex health and benefits systems or risk delaying care or receiving none at all. In a confusing legal landscape, caregivers in mixed-status households face challenges helping their undocumented relatives access health care. And with the rise of anti-Asian harassment and violence — particularly against AAPI elders — caregivers are forced to step into the world not knowing if their own safety will be threatened.”

These shifts in caregiving responsibilities is common in Asian households, because a lot of us live in multi-generational homes. In fact, The Pew Research Center reports 27% of Asian Americans live in multigenerational households. Coupled with filial piety, the children often find themselves learning how to take care of their grandparents at a very young age. For me, it started when I was 3 years old, where I learned that it’s better to wait for my grandparents to start eating before I did. Or helping them sit down at a table before I did. I learned how to greet every elder when I entered a room. These are the lessons that are valuable in an Asian family unit.

All in all, these aspects of AAPI family life are fundamental to understand to approach child welfare in a culturally aware way. By understanding these differences, we can start to navigate AAPI child welfare, and family education and care in an empathetic, holistic method. I hope this blog post has helped you better understand how it feels like to grow up Asian, and how much family means to us.