The communist regime of the Pol Pot social engineering policy between 1975 and 1979 resulted in genocide, execution, and death of many Cambodians. Currently known as Kampuchea, the country went through civil war and mass torture under the brutal regime, forcing many Cambodians to seek political asylum in the United States (The UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, 2019). Even though the Vietnamese army overthrew the government in 1979, psychological and physical trauma continues to persist among the minority population from the South East Asia country.
Over the last four decades, the population of Cambodian America is increasing in the United States. Since 1975, many Cambodians have migrated to the United States to escape political persecution while some have come to study. Similar to other minority groups, the Cambodians went through cultural trauma attributed to assimilation and negative experiences of racial stereotypes and discrimination (Bith-Melander, Chowdhury, & Efird, 2017). Unlike other minority groups in the country, Cambodian Americans face both extremes of socioeconomic status and health outcomes. Furthermore, the community faces significant barriers in accessing mental health services, for instance, lack of awareness, stigma, and shame associated with the condition (Bith-Melander, Chowdhury, & Efird, 2017).
The prevalence of cultural and transgenerational trauma remains high among the Cambodian American communities. Cultural trauma is a complex phenomenon that is deeply grounded on war, genocide, or natural disaster while transgenerational trauma is a collective, subjective, psychological, and emotional injury in the mind of an individual or community, passed from adults to children (Bith-Melander, Chowdhury, & Efird, 2017). The psychologist believes that unresolved cultural identity problems and a reduced feeling of self-worthiness among minority groups are the possible cause. As such, there are higher mental illness conditions among Cambodian Americans due to the historical transgenerational transmission of stress from the brutal regime of the communist party, and subsequent cultural loss in the United States.
Transgenerational trauma has negative consequences. First, it increases mental health conditions, violence, and cultural discontinuity. Additionally, majority of the affected people have also engaged in substance abuse (Atallah, 2017). Secondly, due to extreme socioeconomic status of the community, there is increased hopelessness, cultural alienation, and suicide among the younger population. Furthermore, studies done in similar people in Canada have revealed higher rates of sexual violence and venereal disease among communities with transgenerational trauma (Atallah, 2017).
Several initiatives and organizations are implementing programs to create awareness of transgenerational trauma and advocate for cultural healing. Committee against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) was founded in 1986 to advocate for the welfare of immigrants from Asia (CAAAV.org, 2019). Its formation followed the 1982 brutal murder of Vincent Chin, systemic racism, and socio-economic marginalization of the Asian communities in America (CAAAV.org, 2019). The organization is working among the diverse Asian population, both refugees and immigrants advocating for racial, gender, and economic justice for the Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants.
A second organization is the Mekong that works in the entire New York City and the Bronx. The organization works among the South Asia communities to achieve equity by organizing grassroots activities to promote healing, preserve culture and language, and improve access to essential social services. The majority of Cambodian immigrants and refugees settled in the Bronx, one of the most impoverished regions in America. The Mekong is a historical and cultural significant organization among the Cambodian Americans since it allows the community to learn their culture and history, preserves their culture, and unites them in the fight for social-economic justice.
The primary healing advocacy strategy adopted by the Mekong is cultural resistance, organized through women’s circles and summer intergenerational programs. Through such approaches, youth and adults share stories and collaborate in setting community needs and priorities to achieve social justice. Moreover, they preserve culture through teaching youth Cambodian dances and teaching traditional Vietnamese instruments.
Cultural resistance plays a significant role in promoting cultural identity and resilience. Through such an approach, immigrants’ communities can receive holistic mental health care in the management of stress. Moreover, by creating cultural resistance and promoting cultural identity through interactions, Southeast Americans can address mental health issues affecting youths. Besides groups’ interactions, cultural equipment also plays a critical role in preserving cultural identity. It creates a sense of worthiness among groups facing systemic racism, thereby promoting independence (Bith-Melander, Chowdhury& Efird, 2017). Therefore, cultural resistance remains significant in reducing transgenerational trauma among immigrant Americans from Asian countries.
For several centuries, there has been an increasing population of the foreign-born citizens in the United States. Such population growth has been characterized by demographic shifts that continue to trigger racial debates and anti-immigration rhetoric (Joshi, 2019). For instance, some of the native-born Americans blame foreign immigrants for economic hardship, insecurity, and drug trafficking. Even though anti-racial sentiments have always targeted immigrants, never in the history of America has it gained much publicity than during the last presidential campaign.
President Trump’s administration’s foreign policies and refugee crisis from Syria war continue to highlight the urgent need to address misconceptions surrounding immigration. Known as Xenophobia, the irrational hatred and fear of anything foreign or people from other countries, it is an illogical mentality that influence our foreign policies (Venugopal, 2019). The widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia have resurfaced massively during the current political administration. During the campaign period, Donald Trump intensified his o nslaught on immigrants as the cause of homegrown security threats and dwindling economic fortunes in the country.
Such xenophobic attitudes have had a significant impact on the mental health condition of the minority groups who are already facing discrimination, stigma, and socioeconomic deprivation (Bith-Melander, Chowdhury, & Efird, 2017). The country is witnessing increased hate crime targeting immigrants, mainly from Asian countries. For instance, Mr. Hick’s murder of Barakat and his siblings was triggered by anti-Islam prejudice. Similar hate-crimes have happened in the past against other minority groups such as Black, Asian, and Mexicans immigrants.
The brutal murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla is a clear example of a negative impact of xenophobic mentality. Kuchibhotia was targeted since he bought a luxurious house in Kansas, a dream for many native-born citizens (Venugopal, 2019). His killing reminds us of Vincent Chin’s murder, which sparked pan-Asian-American Civil activism movements. Vincent Chin’s murderers claimed that he was one of the Japanese immigrants stealing employment opportunities in auto-manufacturing companies (Venugopal, 2019). The two murders highlight the increasing dangers facing immigrants in the country, much of which are fueled by xenophobic attitudes.
Given the current political rhetoric, misconceptions, and emotive nature of racial prejudice in the country, there is a need to empower our communities to address the Xenophobic attitudes for a more cohesive and tolerant society. Notably, that initiative begins with us, and each one of us should have self-reflection about racial and religious prejudice (Joshi, 2019). We should nurture our children and youths to meaningfully engage in current political discourse to stop racial, religious intolerance, and immigration myths.
Students should understand world history to equip them with a better understanding of issues of immigration, culture, and human rights. Through education, people will learn about xenophobia and its negative consequences in our societies. Moreover, training will help our community to engage in meaningful discussion about xenophobia and racial prejudice. Lastly, we should join and support advocacy groups, for instance, Black Lives Matter and Desis Rising and Moving (DRUM) civil right groups. Through such actions, we can protest against our societies from racial rhetoric in the mainstream media and political rallies.
Ferguson is Everywhere
Black Lives Matter (BLM), is a clear example of how citizens can work together to advocate for socioeconomic justice and equality. Beginning as a small protest against the acquittal of Trevor Martins Murder, the movement has surpassed the expectation of many scholars. Currently, the organization has well-organized chapters and is organizing events across the country (Clark, 2018). The organization reignited the black identity and offers an ideological and political platform to address police brutality and systemic racism against the Black community. Moreover, it creates awareness on various issues affecting other minority groups in the country, such as high incarceration, poverty, and undocumented immigrants (Clark, 2018).
On August 9, 2019, for instance, an unarmed Black teenager was brutally murdered by a police officer in Ferguson. Shortly after his murder, community members began using the social network, Twitter, to raise the alarm about the shooting (Jackson & Foucault Welles, 2016). Tagged as “Ferguson,” the tweets sparked a national debate on racial profiling against Black communities, police brutality, government corruption, and need for reforms in the criminal justice systems. The series of tweeting assembled hundreds of protesters in Ferguson, and demand for President Obama to address the nation concerning excessive police’ use of force against protesters (Jackson & Foucault Welles, 2016). The BLM made it possible for the minority groups to talk openly about systemic racism in modern America, through organized street protests and mass media coverage that sparked debate on xenophobia and other socioeconomic issues affecting our society.
The events portrayed the power of social media in initiating online activism and ability to influence the public debate over challenges facing communities. Moreover, the online platform established a new structure through which the minority community can highlight discrimination and systemic racism (Jackson & Foucault Welles, 2016). Equally, BLM depended heavily in the use of Twitter and other social platforms to create awareness about police brutality and systemic profiling of the Black community through mass incarceration and extrajudicial killings (Clark, 2018). Social network became a critical mobilization tool that connected the diverse people in the country to talk about human rights. The founders of BLM believe that due to the social hierarchy of racism in the country, with the Black community sitting at the bottom, the liberation of the Black Americans translate to freeing the all other minority groups (Clark, 2018). Through such initiatives, the organization is talking openly about systemic racism and xenophobia in the United States.
The reading highlights the importance of tackling socio-economic injustices in our communities. Remaining silent in the face of systemic racism and racial injustices is unacceptable, and changes must begin with individuals. As such, there are many ways we can stand up and fight against social injustices. For instance, for me, I will engage more on advocacy by helping in creating awareness, fundraising for grassroots organizations, and increasing community engagement. Moreover, by joining the civil activism organization, for example, becoming a member of Asian Research Institute, I will communicate with a diverse audience, including teaching students to start meaningful debates on systemic racism in the country. Racism is hurting our people, and we have an opportunity to eradicate it.
Atallah, D. G. (2017). A community-based qualitative study of intergenerational resilience with Palestinian refugee families facing structural violence and historical trauma. Transcultural psychiatry, 54(3), 357-383.
Bith-Melander, P., Chowdhury, N., Jindal, C., & Efird, J. (2017). Trauma Affecting Asian-Pacific Islanders in the San Francisco Bay Area. International journal of environmental Research and Public Health, 14(9), 1053.
CAAAV.org. (2019). Committee against Anti-Asian Violence. Retrieved from https://caaav.org/our-work
Clark, A. D., Dantzler, P. A., & Nickels, A. E. (2018). Black Lives Matter 🙁 Re) Framing the Next Wave of Black Liberation. In Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change (pp. 145-172). Emerald Publishing Limited.
Jackson, S. J., & Foucault Welles, B. (2016). # Ferguson is everywhere: Initiators in Emerging Counterpublic networks. Information, Communication & Society, 19(3), 397-418.
Joshi, A. (2019). Immigration, Xenophobia, and Racism. Retrieved from https://asiasociety.org/education/immigration-xenophobia-and-racism
The UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. (2019). Op-ed: Intergenerational Trauma affects Mental Health of Southeast Asian-Americans by Joseph Nguyen – The UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Retrieved from https://socgen.ucla.edu/2019/04/23/op-ed-intergenerational-trauma-affects-mental-health-of-southeast-asian-americans-by-joseph-nguyen/
Venugopal, A. (2019). NPR Choice page. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/15/471270843/indian-americans-reckon-with-reality-of-hate-crimes