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Panel talks Asian, Asian American identity

Feelings of invisibility, lack of belonging identified as issues affecting Asian American mental health

Panelists discussed the implications of the invisibility of Asian and Asian American men for mental health and well-being at an event Tuesday.

“We really wanted to address identity as a salient factor … in wellness,” said Aleta Bok Johnson, a coordinator of the event and a CAPS staff member.

Identity plays a crucial part in mental health. “Asian American mental health in general tends to be … a very taboo topic within specifically the Asian American community,” said Lina Lalwani ’19, a coordinator of the event.

Panelists discussed invisibility in terms of political contexts and personal ones as well.

Robert Lee, associate professor of American studies, placed the dialogue in a historical context. He explained that part of the invisibility stems from the trade-off of social visibility and economic success.

A number of panelists approached the issue by sharing personal stories as well.

John Lee, a clinical psychologist, shared how he hit a “dead-end” with Columbia’s psychological services while he was an undergraduate because they couldn’t understand the pressure from his parents to succeed. He later became an investment banker but quit his job to become a clinical psychologist against the wishes of his parents.

The parental pressure to succeed was a common theme during the night. Raj Thakkar, assistant adjunct professor of public service at New York University, shared how he struggled growing up with a lack of love from his father, but therapy and social entrepreneurship helped him overcome feelings of isolation.

“Only later in life did I realize that he essentially just projected a lot of his pressure that he felt from his father onto me,” Thakkar added.

Thakkar also felt rejected because he didn’t grow up with role models who resembled him, he said. “I hated how Indians and all Asians were just nowhere to be seen on TV and (in) the press,” Thakkar said. “Why are we invisible?”

Jason Yoon, a 2001 Rhode Island School of Design graduate and avid baseball fan, explained how he was “always predominately interested in sports writers” and how this intersected with his interest in Asian American masculinity.  Yoon was able to explore his own identity by painting portraits of Asian and Asian American baseball players.

“I was really drawn into the mental health discussion,” said Tin Dang ’18, who attended the event, adding that he appreciated Lee’s insight on the model minority myth as an alienating factor. But Dang said he was “slightly disappointed” that the panelists didn’t go into more detail about the mental health issues that impact Asians and Asian Americans as a group.

The panel was coordinated by Counseling and Psychological Services and the Brown Center for Students of Color’s Asian/Asian American Heritage series.

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