Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Teach Reproductive Health

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August 17, 2011; Source: East Bay Express | Talking about sex and reproductive health with any teenager is not something most parents look forward to. Parents who immigrated from very traditional and conservative countries are most likely not to talk about it at all, at least not in ways that are helpful. Oakland-based Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ) is making sure that Asian American parents have “the talk” with their teens.

According to the East Bay Express, the nonprofit recently held its annual retreat which was designed “to encourage young Asian women to develop their self-awareness and claim their inherent power to stand up for themselves, their families, and their communities for the long term.”

As part of the organization’s campaign to help Asian American teens learn about sexuality in a constructive way, 48 teenagers gathered periodically this summer to talk about gender roles, sexuality, and what it means to be Asian American. This year, ACRJ welcomed young men for the first time, acknowledging the need to invest in their futures as well.

The 14-to-18-year-olds came from predominantly low-income, new immigrant families of Cambodian, Chinese, Mien, Vietnamese, Lao, Thai, Indonesian, and Filipino descent. Their circumstances make an awkward and difficult period all the more challenging as their parents try to impose cultural norms from their countries of origin—to stop them from becoming “too American”—and as they contend with identities battered by negative media stereotypes of Asians.

One young woman, for instance, shared the double standard prevalent among immigrant families. Her dad threatened to kick her out of the house if she got pregnant but her brother never got punished for fathering two children before finishing high school. Many admitted sneaking out on dates without telling their folks.

“We don’t hear from Asian young people talking about gender, bodies, sex, and sexuality,” Amanda Wake, youth organizing manager of ACRJ, told the Express.

And there lies the potential danger and concern. Normal adolescent woes compounded by traditional norms and expectations can lead to risky behavior. ACRJ is doing its part to guide these young people into healthy and empowered adulthood.Erwin de Leon