Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
May 3, 2013
Asian Community: A Source Of Strength, An Obstacle For Acceptance
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Belinda’s mother recently passed away. She was 91 years old and ailing so her death was not unexpected. Still, there was grief, sharing memories, and solemn eulogies. Her large family and many friends came to the service, the burial, and the 40-days celebration. At all three gatherings people came forward to share stories how this matron from the Philippines touched their lives. People remembered her dispensing advice during difficulties early in a marriage, helping out with their young children, cooking for fiestas, and just being there when she was needed. For one she was a second mother, another called her Ate.
Belinda’s parents came to Union City in 1960. They were part of the original Filipino families who settled there. These original five shared among them a common set of beliefs, values and traditions. That is the definition of a community and that is what they built. A community where they can speak the language easy on the tongue, teach children values from home, and honor traditions taught from birth. An Asian community is a safe space from which to venture forth and a source of strength to learn how to make the American dream come true.
The stories we heard are tangible expressions of a truth we have long known: engrained in the character and values of all APIs is their ethnicity and culture. APIs grow up with a strong sense of belonging to family and community. From the community they derive their identity, their sense of interdependence, and expectations of mutual aid.
But there is another side to this tight social structure, one we encounter all too often in our work.
Although APIs may not be any more homophobic than other racial and ethnic groups, homophobia is part of what they bring with them. Homophobia, the tight social structure, traditions of family loyalty, and reticence to openly discuss sexual matters all conspire to make “coming out” difficult. The stigma of homosexuality may bring shame and isolation to their family and API LGBTs fear that “coming out” will deprive them of their family’s support and love. Too many “stay in the closet” and become isolated. Even when they come out, their families fear being ostracized by their community and they themselves “go into the closet” and also become isolated. We believe that homophobia caused isolation contributes to mental and physical health problems experienced by API LGBTs and their families and constrains their full assimilation in their adopted land.
The strong family ties that some scholarly texts say is at the root of our success as immigrants is also, sadly, an obstacle in the journey to LGBT acceptance. Nothing worthwhile is ever one-dimensional, but there are times we wish that this Asian strength could help in us make parents and families understand that to be LGBT is to be normal.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org