The lumping together of so many diverse cultures as “Other” throughout official statistical collection in this country illustrates the breadth of ignorance that prevails in the United States regarding Asian history, Asian cultures, and Asian-American realities. This is a slot into which Asian-Americans often find themselves tossed, alongside Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and any other groups that cannot be squeezed into the three more specific umbrella terms commonly used to describe the ethnicities of American citizens: Latino, African-American, and White/Caucasian.
This ignorance has generated a decades-old myth of Asians as a “model minority” within the American population. Although much intellectual discussion has begun to challenge that myth, Asians and Asian cultures are still viewed by mainstream America as passive, polite, intelligent, hard-working — and as incapable of doing poorly in school, incapable of shooting drugs, and, significantly, incapable of contracting HIV.
There is a clear need for disaggregated data when it comes to minorities and Asian sub-groups. Increased disparities research from underrepresented minority groups is an important strategy to improve health outcomes for minority populations. By understanding the root causes of disparities in our health care system, we can shape the changes that will deliver the highest quality care for everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society.
And who’s better to identify health issues and concerns among various ethnic groups than leaders in their respective communities? They speak the same language, understand the culture and are trusted members of their neighborhoods.
At the Asian Health Coalition, we have an interest in conducting community-based participatory research (CBPR) which involves the active collaboration of academic and community partners to address community-level health concerns. A central tenet of CBPR is to develop and engage multiple partnerships and perspectives in the research process. Underlying this tenet is the notion that, through active collaboration, the skills, knowledge, and expertise of various community stakeholders can be incorporated to effectively define health challenges, their causes, and their solutions.