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Katie Lo raised over $1,000 for the Chinese Hospital in the YMCA Chinatown’s 32nd annual Chinese New Year Run in San Francisco.

Its pretty admirable that a young adolescent is making strides at an early age.  The money she raised goes into educating children in local elementary schools on the importance of physical education and nutrition.  What better way to show this by having the youth finding ways themselves to raise that money.  Its a smart fund raising strategy and it gets the younger crowd to be more engaged in the important needs of their community.

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I came across an article that  the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum tweeted today about the California governor cutting programs that would benefit the elderly, disabled and new legal immigrants of low income backgrounds.  This is not the first time the governor is taking from communities that need help the most.  A couple of months back he cut programs focusing on domestic violence and HIV/AIDS programs.  I honestly fear the state of California residents.  Its worse enough that under-represented communities are left out of certain privileges that they work and pay for, but how can we get California out of this economic slump if we can’t even help ourselves or the communities that make California diverse and unique compared to other states?  Read more about the governor’s cuts.

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Last week California Rep. Mike Honda gave a great speech about immigration that touched on many key issues.  He started by talking about the inherent prejudice that lies in the background of so many discussions about immigration.  He said:

“When it comes to the issue of immigration, what quickly comes to American minds?  . . . (T)he likely response: Hispanics. . . . (I)mmigration realities are much more diverse. Reform will affect millions who emigrated from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, who come with a shared struggle, shared dreams and shared abilities to contribute to this country. . . . I know firsthand the frustration felt by API immigrants. Our stake in the immigration debate is substantial, our concerns unique, the reasons many.”

He pointed out the irony of the model minority myth, which works against low-income, less-educated Asians.  He said that, although Asian nations are the

“top recipients of America’s H-1B foreign worker visa and the accompanying H-4 visa, both of which are necessary for our technology workforce. . . .[Yet] in my Silicon Valley, which maintains the highest percentage of APIs of any congressional district, API ethnic subgroups struggle to graduate 50 percent of their young males from high school.”

Maybe most important, he talked about how comprehensive immigration reform could help the whole country, not just by helping it fulfill its promise of welcoming the world’s immigrants “yearning to breathe free,” but also, he said, by adding $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP in just the next decade. Finally, a call for solidarity: “For comprehensive immigration reform to be successful it must be inclusive, for we are in it together — no matter from which country we hail.”

[Here’s a link to the study that produced the $1.5 trillion estimate.]

U.S. Anti-Hepatitis Efforts Failing

Last month the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences) announced results of its study on Hepatitis B & C.  These contagious diseases are especially common among Koreans and some other Asian groups and can lead to early death from liver cancer or other liver problems.  But the report says viral hepatitis is not widely recognized as a serious public health problem, and as a result, too little is spent on its prevention and control. In a nutshell, the current approach to chronic Hep B and C prevention and control “is not working.” The IOM recommends increased knowledge and awareness about chronic viral hepatitis among health care and social service providers and the public, improved surveillance, and better integration of viral hepatitis services.  Read the report online free here.  Read more about hepatitis from the CDC here.

A Positive Approach to Immigration Issues

Steve Roberts’s new book, From Every End of This Earth:13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America, tells the story of 13 immigrant American families.  Each family had different experiences and originated in different country/tries, including Vietnam, China/Hong Kong, India, and Burma.  But they all had the same goal of reaching America and a better life. The book’s title comes from President Obama’s Inaugural Address.

The 13 stories are a wonderful example of how to tell the immigrant story.  We need to take back the debate from people who only want to talk about “illegal immigrants” and put immigration in a negative light.  There are lots of ways to put a more positive—even inspiring—spin on immigration through modest community projects that anyone can start.  Here a few ideas:

  • Use the Roberts book to start discussions in local book clubs, or at the public library.  Maybe your library would be interested in using this book for a “One Book, One Community” program.  How-to’s here.
  • The library could collect and promote books, videos, DVDs and other materials—including kids’ books—that relate immigrant stories.
  • Geography, history, or other social science teachers could start children on a genealogy project, which would teach them about the countries they came from, whether that was last century or last month.
  • Teens (and even adults) could write their own—or their great-grandparents’—family stories, like Roberts did, and compile them into a history of local area residents.  A local university history center or historical society might be interested in leading such a project.  Here’s a national directory of these organizations.
  • Community arts and/or food festivals are always popular.  They can involve people from many countries—not just Asian ones—in order to demonstrate that “we’re all immigrants.”

Good luck!  And write back here to tell us about your experiences.

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At President Obama’s Super bowl party this weekend, there was only one Republican, U.S. Representative Ahn “Joe” Cao. Why?  Aside from his life-long devotion to the Saints, it couldn’t hurt that Cao, 42, a Vietnamese American freshman lawmaker, was the only GOP member in either house of Congress to cross party lines on health reform in a full-floor vote.

With a Democratic majority in Congress, bipartisanship had been symbolically important, but with U.S. Senator Scott Brown’s victory, it has become vital to passing health care reform.

In November, I spoke with Representative Cao shortly after his vote to ask him what role he saw himself playing in the bill’s House/Senate reconciliation process. Would he be ready to compromise? And what would be his non-negotiable bottom lines?

Cao got his start as a community activist in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans where he says he worked for “African American and Asian American communities, regardless of ethnicity.” His voting record has shown Cao siding with his party in just 70% of his votes, a near-record low for a Republican in the current Congress.

On a more local front, Cao has just announced his bid for re-election. Whose tune is he marching to? In our interview, Cao said his voting pattern would be “based on the needs of (his) constituents.” He even gave his own recipe for bipartisanship: “If all of us were to focus on the messages explicit in the gospel – messages about the poor, the widowed, the sick – at that time, we will reach consensus.”

“Messages explicit in the gospel…”

Arriving in America as a refugee at age eight, Cao grew up mainly in Houston. He worked as a Jesuit seminarian in Mexico. But, instead of priesthood, Cao opted for a career as an immigration lawyer, which established him as a pillar of New Orleans’ burgeoning Vietnamese American community.

A lifelong Independent, Cao joined the Republicans the year of his House bid. Cao told the New York Times, he joined the party “because of their strong pro-life stance.”  No wonder then, after lengthy vacillations and convincing from both parties, he signed onto the House health care bill after its 11th hour inclusion of the controversial Stupak amendment, which would sharply reduce the range of available insurance options for women needing abortions. When Nancy Pelosi tried to push the Senate version of the health care bill through the House, Cao made it clear that he would not sign on because the Senate version was too lenient on abortion.

This position points to an allegiance that may have a stronger hold on Cao than any political partisanship: his affiliation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), on whose National Advisory Council he serves.

“…The poor, the widow, the sick…”

For Cao and the USCCB, being Catholic appears to be more complex than a one-point anti-abortion agenda.

In a position paper to Congress, the USCCB sided with many of the health reform bill’s Democrat sponsored measures. The letter said, “Universal coverage should be truly universal” and called for Congress to “not deny health care to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here.” To be sure, this could be read as a plea to expand “truly universal” coverage to the unborn, which “arrive here” at the moment of conception. But it could equally refer to Medicare expansion to those under 64, or the inclusion of immigrants (with or without documentation) in the Exchange(s) or even some form of “public option.”

The USCCB letter explicitly endorses several liberal-leaning health care measures: raising the cut-off for Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level, lifting the five-year ban on legal immigrants’ access to federal health benefits and even allowing undocumented immigrants to use their own money to purchase coverage on the health care reform bill’s proposed insurance Exchange(s).

Given his background as a refugee and his experience as an immigration attorney, such proposals might be agreeable to Cao. They might also play well in his district, with a constituency that’s 22% under the poverty line and 20% uninsured.

“….we will reach consensus.”

Cao’s success as a republican has been astonishing. His electoral upset in Louisiana’s 2nd District ended two decades of representation by William Jefferson, and he is the first Republican to represent the district in over a century.  He is also the first Vietnamese American ever elected to Congress and only the second Asian American ever to win a House seat as a Republican.

After Hurricane Katrina, Cao became involved with rebuilding efforts through his relationship to Mary Queen of Vietnam church (MQVN). First as a church member, then as a community board member of the MQVN Corporation, Cao worked closely with Father Nguyen The Vien and the Vietnamese American community-based organization, SOS Boat People. He led successful fights to get utilities restored to New Orleans East and demanded FEMA accountability (eventually shutting down their state office).

And both communities rewarded that involvement during his election campaign.  Civil rights organizations like Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Southern Poverty Law Center emerged as political allies, as did Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Nevertheless, as a Republican nominee in East New Orleans, Cao’s election chances were slim. However, a combination of circumstances propelled him to a surprise victory. The corruption scandal around the incumbent representative and election delays due to Hurricane Gustav worked in Cao’s favor. By Election Day, most die-hard Democrats and Jefferson supporters did not bother voting, paving the way for Cao to win.

The night Cao announced his election bid, “several hundreds of activists” rallied in New Orleans’s Lower Garden district in support, and not just Republicans and Asian Americans. African American community leaders, including Cao’s chief aide and former Louisiana Democratic State Rep. Rosalind Peychaud, were in attendance, as were many young people.

The ground swell may be growing in New Orleans, as voting for health care reform may have boosted Cao’s re-election chances. Eleanor Brown, 84, a lifelong Democrat from New Orleans feels positive about Cao. “From the articles I’ve read about him in the Times-Picayune, I just have a good feeling about him.”

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We get this question a lot.  Where are you really from?  A person’s  answer can be as simple as naming a location and/or their answer can be as complex as to how they self identify like culturally, ethnically, parent’s origin, location, sense of environment, group of friends and the list goes on.  I came across Schema Magazine’s “BWAYRF” Call For Submission.  They are asking people to send in their stories about where they really come from.  It’s interesting to read what people would say to this answer, much more I think story telling is a great way to share a bit of history and culture.  This call for submission can also bring to light health disparities or show how people live or are brought up.  If you want to share your story about where you’re really from, I highly suggest submitting to Schema Magazine’s “BWAYRF.”  Check out the link below…

http://www.schemamag.ca/indepth/2010/01/12-bwayrf-call-for-submission.php

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Wall Street’s Sad Panda is Really Sad Chinese Man!

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This is an endearing story that we are glad Michele Tay, creator of the YouTube video:  Wall Street’s Sad Panda, Revealed has shared in the online world. At the Asian American Health blog we try to touch on experiences such as this. Its amazing how this man goes back to the motherland because health care is cheaper there than here in America. This says a lot about our health care system, considering a person would pay the price of a plane ticket to go overseas to see a doctor or dentist. Immigrants have it hard, and for those who can’t fathom the immigrant struggle, Michelle Tay’s video has certainly put a face on it, a panda face at best.

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When I was a kid I thought I had to accompany my grandmother to the hospital because she was too frail to walk on her own.  Later on I realized I played a much bigger role than being my grandmother’s walking buddy to the hospital.

I grew up in Daly City, California.  The Filipino population is roughly 32% and what I remember growing up in a mainly Filipino community, were my peers not being able to speak Tagalog, while  my sister and I were the only ones who knew how to.  I spoke Tagalog because it was the only way I could communicate with my grandmother.

The irony of my observation is actually common in many Filipino communities throughout the United States.  During the mid 1970s Filipino’s immigrated in waves to seek political freedom, better financial opportunities and to further explore that idea of the American dream.   For those who have immigrated, assimilation became the best way to be accepted and eased into the American culture.  Speaking English and only English especially became a means towards Americanization.   There are very few 2nd generation Filipino Americans today who know how to speak their native language fluently and now many are challenged to make that cultural connection.

The cultural connection isn’t completely gone however.  2nd generation Filipino Americans understand some of the language but few can speak it.   The reason for this phenomenon is due to the immigration of older Filipino generations, such as grandparents brought over by their children who’ve already established a familial foundation in America.  In my household the older Filipino generation rarely spoke English and always spoke Tagalog.  And in other Filipino households such as my peers’, English has become the main language with the exception of the elders just speaking Tagalog or their native Filipino tongue.  I noticed that the children would speak to their elders in English and the elders would respond in their language.  The irony was, they both understood each other to an extent but never spoke the same language.

As first generation Filipino Americans bring their parents to America a distinctive relationship is developed among grandparents and their grandchildren.  Grandparents become a connection to the Filipino culture these American born Filipinos are rarely exposed to, and the American born Filipino children become a connection for the grandparents into the American world.  This is all simply possible through the means of language.

Anyhow, the reason why I share this story is to show the significance that language plays in our culture, community and health.   As a child I would be the one who helped my grandmother pick up her prescription at the pharmacy because my parents worked all day.  I was also the one to communicate to my grandmother in the best way possible what the doctor was saying and vise versa to the doctor.  Imagine a 10 year old  girl building that trust between a patient and her doctor?

In any case, I benefited learning how to speak the language.  However this disconnect and connection of cultures makes me wonder how other families do it. What about my peers who were taught never to speak their native language because it wasn’t American of them?  Are they able to help their elder family members?  If they do, do they get the message across?  Or worse, what about the miscommunication between doctors and their patients because of the language barrier?  What happens to the rest of the elders who can’t communicate their needs for health care?

With health care reform still being debated, language access has become such a need in our health care system.  I’ve heard many stories about patients not being able to communicate with their physicians because of language barriers.  Some of these miscommunications have resulted to mistreatment or misdiagnosis. As my grandmother’s walking buddy, I helped her more ways than just getting to the doctor’s office, I became her voice when she couldn’t speak for herself.  There are many communities out there who would benefit from hospital translators and will better receive the care they deserve.

If you can, be that voice for your grandparents or family members.  Call your representatives and tell them why language access is important in our communities.  It’s never too late to advocate for our communities’ needs.

When people don’t understand their doctors, and their doctors don’t understand them, quality health care simply cannot happen.  Some 23 million Americans are working to communicate effectively in English but are not yet able to; these Americans often struggle to get appropriate care. Communicating effectively with doctors and nurses is a pervasive issue for those who grew up speaking English and those who didn’t; for those born in this country and those born in other countries.



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