Feb. 27, 2023

Chinese–How do you support someone through their "immigrant sorrow"? (Ron Chew, S1, Ep 14)

Chinese–How do you support someone through their

Ron Chew is an activist and changemaker. Since the mid-1970s, he has worked as editor of the International Examiner, director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, and as the executive director of the International Community Health Services Foundation (ICHS) for Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID). He is currently the head of Ron Chew Communications.

Tessa Chu is a community organizer and healthcare administrator. She serves on the board of ICHS and the Asian Healthcare Leaders Community – Puget Sound chapter. Tessa is a second generation Taiwanese American and Seattle transplant from Southern California. She received her MPH in Healthcare Management at Yale and BS in Chemistry from UC Berkeley.

After listening to this, you will be able to

  • Explain the idea of “immigrant sorrow”
  • Describe immigrant experiences that generate feelings of exclusion
  • List ways navigating dual identities (ie immigrant and American) can be distressful and how generations of immigrants hide in the “shadows” due to fear
  • Name ways to build community resiliency and support community health by building a sense of belonging 


Next Steps:

  • Sign up on Healthcare for Humans website to join our community
  • Subscribe and share this episode to help clinicians care for diverse communities better
  • Follow Raj on Twitter




  • Timespan:59 minutes and 37 seconds
  • Transcription Type: Cleaned Verbatim
  • Speakers: (Ron Chew, Tessa Chu & Raj Sundar)



Raj Sundar: Have you ever heard of immigrants sorrow before?



Ron Chew: Each time a generation of people migrates over to a new place, there's a huge transition in terms of just purely learning the language, the culture, that norms. But there's what I describe as this immigrant sorrow. During my growing up years, my mother who immigrated in her 30s, I just remember this, she was sad all the time. Even in moments of happiness, it was sadness. Because she left behind family members, she left behind a place that was familiar to her.



Raj Sundar: Hi, you're listening to healthcare for humans Podcast, the podcast dedicated to educating you on how to care for culturally diverse communities, so you can be a better healer. This is about everything that you wish you knew, to really care for the person in front of you, not just a body system. Let's learn together. I'm Dr. Raj Sundar, a family physician, and a community organizer. Welcome to Season One, where we talk about the history and culture of immigrant communities. You just heard from Ron Chew, a real life community organizer. I call myself a community organizer, but Ron Chew has done this work for decades: fighting for social justice, helping people acknowledge the existence of the Asian-American community, and empowering the community to make sure their voice was heard. The clip you just heard was about something called "immigrant sorrow". When I'm planning for these episodes, and my podcast in general, I'm asking myself the same questions over and over: "Why do I need to know this to care for the people around me? Why do I feel passionate that others need to know this, so we can build a better caring world?" This concept of immigrant sorrow is a good example of what I'm hoping to convey with this podcast. There are two points that I want to make about this. One is there's power in naming something very specific, that helps people know that you understand what they're talking about, or feeling. Two, even if we can always have shared experience, shared language, and awareness is the first step in building empathy and compassion. Now, the power of naming, as many of you know, I'm an immigrant, I came to the US when I was eight years old or so. And even if you, listening to this are not an immigrant, you have a general understanding of the difficulty of being an immigrant,. The sadness of leaving your own country, the difficulty of navigating a new country, and the uncertainty of attempting to build a future in a place that's not always supportive of you being there. We know this feeling and we see it in people. We sometimes say you're sad, you're depressed because it's been hard. But if you've heard the term "immigrant sorrow", you can use that term to describe that specific feeling and experience of leaving your own home and attempting to build a new life somewhere else. There's power to being specific about that feeling because it's more nuanced, and more precise and you can communicate to the person in front of you that you understand. The second point I want to make is about shared language, and awareness. You've heard this before, it may have come out in previous episodes, you'll definitely hear it in this episode as well. That people are looking for other people who look like them and talk like them and who can make a sense of shared experiences. They don't want to explain everything over and over again. So what does that mean? They want to be able to show up and want the other person to be able to say, I know what you're feeling because we've been through something similar. I understand. You don't have to bear the burden of explaining everything to me. We can be present in this moment. The problem with shared experience is that it's not always possible. Yes, we want to strive to make that happen. Because it's very, very important. But sometimes it's just not possible. If you're an immigrant, you have an insurance from your employer. And you can only go to this specific doctor that's close to you. I want to propose if we can't find shared experience, there's power to shared language and awareness. Because now, you know what immigrant sorrow is. Even though you may not have had that specific experience. You can say, I can imagine what you're feeling because I paid attention and listen to others who have had this same feeling. I understand. You don't have to bear the burden of explaining everything to me if you don't want to. There's power and I hope this episode gets you closer to being able to say, I understand for the Chinese community, and maybe the immigrant community overall. As I mentioned, you're going to hear from Ron Chou, a third-generation Washingtonian historian and journalist. He has written the book "My Unforgotten, Seattle". His story is closely linked to the story of ICHS (International Community Health Services), an organization in the Pacific Northwest that was founded in the 1970s to care for low income Asian immigrants. You will also hear from Tessa Chou, a friend, a friend of the pod, and director of business strategy for healthcare organization, should we playing the role of a guest and a host, blurring the lines of what it means to be in this conversation in this space. I'm always happy to have additional voices on here if you're interested, because I know that makes all these episodes richer. And a reminder, this is part three of the four part series on the Chinese community. Part one was about history. Part Two was about caring for folks. Part three, today, it'll be personal reflections, and stories to fully understand the experience. You'll hear themes such as trying to find belonging, but being unable to, building a sense of identity, navigating to cultures, and hiding in the shadows due to fear and discrimination. And, as always, thanks for joining me, even when my voice doesn't sound the best.  Because when you have a two and a half year old and a 12 month old, you always have a cold. Here's Ron Chew and Tessa Chu. All right, we have two people with us today, Tessa and Ron. So maybe we could just start with the introduction about you and then we'll go to Ron.



Tessa Chew: Okay. Hi, everyone. I'm Tessa Chu. I've been in Seattle for six years, and from the start, I had wanted to get involved with volunteering for community health that serves Asian immigrants. And through volunteering with ICHS, which is a Community Health Center in Washington, I met Ron Chew, and I read his book "My Unforgotten, Seattle". And I was really excited about your upcoming interview with him. So I kind of finagled the way onto this episode. So thanks for inviting me.



Raj Sundar: For bagel, I was excited to have you. I really wanted to convince you to do the whole thing. But we'll do this together. Of course, Ron, maybe we just start with your origin story.



Ron Chew: I would say Raj a few things. One is I'm a lifelong Seattleites. My family's immigration story starts in 1911, with immigration of my grandfather, who is on my father's side. So I'm third generation, but because of impact of immigration restrictions, I'm the first American born generation. So I finally made it here as a settlement generation after struggles to overcome some of the discrimination that limited immigration early years. I'm turning 70 Next year, so I suppose I'm an elder at this point. I've worked my base of operation has been in the Chinatown International District, for most of my life, all the way from working in the museum field as director of the Wing Luke museum. I worked for a long time as a journalist, editor of The International Examiner in my early career, and in the latter part of my career before I formally retired two years ago was in healthcare working as director of the International Community Health Services Foundation, which were I intersect with Tessa. And as I was calling out, she's coming in, but I helped raise money for community health services to serve the under-served populations within our community. So I guess I'm a variety of things grew up in two cultures, in two languages, and have operated largely in the base of a historic neighborhood in Chinatown, International District.



Raj Sundar: Ron, I'm surprised anyone let you retire. Your whole book is about how people kept pulling you into different things that they wouldn't let you stop.



Ron Chew: I joked, Raj and Tess probably sees me around in the Commedia I joked that I'm retired, but I'm actually busier than I was when I was working. So maybe I should go back and work and then I have less things to do. But the retirement is good. And that there's a flexibility to work on numerous projects simultaneously. And I guess I'm part of what they described as the Encore generation: where you're older, but you know, he's still got some life and yo pursue new things that you hope will spark some passion and that will also be productive.



Raj Sundar: Yeah! What are you up to these days?



Ron Chew: I'm actually still working for ICHS. Believe it or not as a fundraiser. Helping raise money for Aging in Place facility, which will serve my generation, principally that baby boomer retiring generation, and talking about this tsunami wave folks who really don't want to be institutionalized, but want to have the support structure around them to be able to age in place in their homes, but then get the support for healthcare and so forth. So I'm helping raise money for that. Muscle helping a refugee artists and initiative that's a organization that works with refugee women who repurpose fabric and materials and make them into products which they sell and use to support their families. So operate in that museum realm, consulting with museums that are either working on capital campaigns or doing organizational capacity development. And I do a lot of writing.



Raj Sundar: You sound busy, as you said.



Ron Chew: It’s good to be busy.



Raj Sundar: Fair enough. We both read your book, My Unforgotten Seattle". And I wanted to zoom in to different parts of your life, to just get people to understand the experience of immigrants, and then transition into what you've done for the community and how you've helped the community, build a voice and thrive. So I wanted to start out with your origin story. You mentioned that your grandfather came here. There's a story there about how he came here. But I wanted to zoom in on just the struggles of immigrants and how America eventually becomes your home country. Because I think people still tend to view immigrants or people who come here as an other. But there was this one quote, where you talked about how the land of the flowery flag eventually became your mother's home country, as she stayed here longer and longer, that she felt that this was where she was going to stay and not go back to China. Just understand what you heard, as you think I interviewed them more later on in life, about how life was for them and how that transition happened into this being their home.



Ron Chew: Yeah. I think Raj, there's some universal reality to this story. Which is that each time a generation of people migrates over to a new place, there's a huge transition, in terms of just purely learning the language, the culture, the norms. But there's this word described as "immigrant sorrow" and those of us who have parents who were born in a different place, know that well. You know, it's hard to move to a new place and situate yourself because there's a huge adjustment period. And for different people, depending on their makeup, and how much support they get. It's either harder or easier. But during my growing up years, my mother who emigrated to Seattle in her 30s, I just remember this, she was sad all the time. Even in moments of happiness, there was sadness because she left behind family members. She left behind a place that was familiar to her. But she ultimately chose to rejoin my father. They had been separated by the Chinese Exclusion Act, because he was working here. He couldn't bring her over. They had been married in China. When she finally got over here, she never really accepted this country, because a lot of the values are very different. And I grew up here. And that was a huge emphasis on individual pursuits. I was very headstrong because of peer pressure and just the way the culture is. I cussed out my parents when I was younger. I did things I wanted my privacy for my mother's generation was no concept of privacy. I slammed my bedroom door. You can't come in here. To my mother's, that was strange. And so America repelled her in some respects. She didn't necessarily want to go back to the poverty of China. But so she was awash in this immigrant sorrow. And it wasn't till she returned to China, many years later, after retirement, to pay respects to her father when passed away to visit his grave-site. Then, she came back to America. And finally, she accepted that she was going to live out her remaining life in America. And so that sorrow dissipated. I would say, not totally, but this huge burden was lifted from our shoulders. But there's implications in the healthcare arena, you know, in terms of having that mental health support that I think would have helped her and many others of her peer group because all of them: my mother, my aunties, or the women in the community, worked in sewing factories. It was a hard life and didn't make much money, the way they were treated, they were trapped in an environment where they didn't understand the world around them. That least had time with one another. They all suffered mental health issues, depression issues, this immigrant sorrow. It was a wash and how convenient. I never understood it as a child, but as an adult now, as a senior, I now understand it much more.



Raj Sundar: That's the terminology I haven't heard before, but a good way to capture the idea of immigrant sorrow. I think with that, there are probably components of loneliness, and hardship.



Ron Chew: Yeah.



Raj Sundar: That's the terminology I haven't heard before, but a good way to capture the idea of immigrant sorrow. I think with that, there are probably components of loneliness, and hardship.



Ron Chew: Yeah.



Raj Sundar: So you just don't even have time to think about these other things, sometimes.



Ron Chew: My mother's way of life is a little less common place, tests upright. And notice that there's a lot of people who are served by ICHS who do this and that people don't know that they're working all the time. Growing up, here's seven o'clock, there's some Campbell soup left in a pot on the stove, or some joke, which is this Chinese rice, kanji. And she was gone. She went to work in the sewing factory till four o'clock. She got off at four,  and then went to another sewing factory from 4:30 to 9:00.  Got off and we had dinner at 10 in  the evening, you know, as a family. And of course, my father works seven days a week. He left the house at about 10:30, a little bit after 10:30 started at 11. Work from 11, often until 2:00 because he also worked in the cocktail lounge in the restaurant where he worked as a waiter. So I didn't see a whole lot of my parents. And the one meal we had was at 10 in the evening.



Raj Sundar: Yeah, to know that this still happens. I think we've talked about your grandparents. But it's still happening right now. And people are working jobs. And I think sometimes healthcare clinicians don't acknowledge it when they are talking about recommendations. So it's almost like you're dismissing like, how hard it is when you're like, Oh, why don't you just try to spend more time with your family and eat more home-cooked meals? And then you'll feel better? Right?



Ron Chew: Well, and then I remember it even in school. I don't know if they do this anymore. In class, they would ask you, "What did you eat for breakfast or lunch or dinner?" And it was hard for me because a lot of the foods didn't exist on that little pyramid, pie chart, or whatever they have. How do you explain these dishes when you don't even know the English word for them? Or what category they fit in. And it was embarrassing, because a lot of stuff you ate again, was pungent, dried, sometimes fermented foods that they would have no concept of. So I remember in class, just now, there were some white students, and that I would just copy whatever they said. They had sure a toast, bacon or whatever. When I had never actually had it before. Of course, they're part of this health issue and trying to figure out if you're eating a balanced meal. I mean, one thing I could say is I had rice and rice, almost every meal, lots of it. And so it's almost like, you're embarrassed to be who you were.



Raj Sundar: Yeah, this might be a good transition to food. Because you mentioned that there's a whole chapter on food as medicine. I think it's really important to focus on. Because the US healthcare system doesn't think of food as medicine. It is food only as a nutrition to help you live maybe a healthy life. But not that specific foods can help with specific illnesses, and rebalance certain things. And each food has its purpose. And I don't think we think of it that way. So let's talk about food as medicine. What does that mean to you?



Ron Chew: At least in my culture, and I suspect in many non-western cultures, food is nourishment. It is not simply flavor and convenience, which select foods become particularly in this day and age, you know. So when my mother was making food for the family, and most of them were when I'm talking about dinner meals. But she make sure that there was a balance of foods that healed your system. So in wintertime, there are certain foods that were to deal with the challenges that your body had when the weather was cooler. Or if some of us kids came down with a cold or something, there are certain foods that she made more of. If your system had too much hot this balance of hot and cold elements in your body. Then you had foods that were cooling and why was soups the kitchen cupboards are filled with these huge mason jars with dried herbs and bok choy and mushrooms and every kind of food ingredient, animal parts. You name it. Different jars that you would pull.  Different amounts into some brew that we would have. Remember because of my age, I grew up with a pre hyper palatable convenience foods. Most of the food is actually real food. It wasn't like prepackaged stuff with ingredients, you don't really know what they are. But yeah, we ate whole foods all the time. We didn't also have dessert. That was a foreign thing. I didn't even know what a dessert was. It was only when I entered school that and you have the school lunch where he they had this little kind of fruit thingy or something we eat our meal and that was it. We also waited for a meal to dinner. Like as I was starving by time was 10. Nowadays, you got food aid. I just buy it at store. . It's all around.  We had oranges. So if you wanted an orange, help yourself that you waited for that meal and then we eat a lot eat a lot rice all the time. We didn't count calories. But again, food was considered a way you re-balanced your system: the hot and cold elements of your body. It wasn't even vegan or the meat where you just ate whatever food wasn't as plentiful as it is now. So you just ate whatever was around.  Didn't have any dairy products didn't grow up with that in the vocabulary of culture. I grew up in no dairy, until much later. That's when we visited a Western doctor, a Jewish doctor who took care of us as we were growing up in my sort of middle school high school years. But prior to that, "what's butter? what's milk?", it didn't exist. But we're all healthy and wooden ship guiding whatever. I mean, it was such a foreign thing. Why would you starve yourself is ridiculous. If you're hungry, eat. Of course, nowadays we don't know when we are hungry because we eat all the time.  But the body knew if you're hungry and ate more.



Raj Sundar: Gosh! So many things to talk about. Tessa I want to also ask you what's your experience with food as medicine?



Tessa Chu: I believe wholeheartedly in it. It was poorly drilled into me growing up as well. The concept of cooling foods or foods that heat you up was something that I grew up with. We also, my paternal side, my grandparents, my dad really believed in Chinese medicine. So actually, they would prefer to see Chinese herbalist over Western doctors. So growing up, I got to taste the wonderful better flavors of like, either powder that you like, try to just take with water or there's like herbal packets that you brew with soups with chicken. And then you have that at the end of a meal. A lot of it was focused around how do we get tested to grow up because I was really runty are like always the shortest, like class. And so lots of that. But also remember, like these medicines were food, they were delicious. At times when I was really more on the hot side, we would make mung beans. Mung bean is a cooling food. And I really enjoyed that as a treat.



Ron Chew: Yeah. And if I might add to it, Tessa said, so it wasn't just my mom or Tess's mom or whatever that knew about these healing aspects of using food as medicine. It's like, it's just everybody did this. Everybody had the same herbs and ointments and medication stuff. Everyone made these tonic soups and had these. And so it was just common knowledge, you knew how to treat your family, because those are common knowledge now that common knowledge is uncommon. And so there's been a movement more recently, I think, to try to go back and retrieve that knowledge. It's sad and one generation can lose so much.



Tessa Chu: I think you'll be amused to hear there's the concept of "sitting the month" after you give birth you rest for a month and you're supposed to eat very healing foods. There's now like these start-ups that send you prepackaged and prepared foods. All you need to do is heat them up. They mail it to your door. But there are a lot of companies that do that now, for this generation, not my generation.



Ron Chew: There you go. You got a business enterprise there if you want to make some extra money on the side.



Tessa Chu: Yeah. You need to eat like hot foods, like stuff for ginger, stuff like pork. See, you can't mung bean soup is a no-no during the month period. Because you've lost so much blood. One of the medicines that you talk about in the book, Ron is the pow chi pills. And those are like a constant and everyone's cabinet family. They have saved lives. So I'm chuckled when I read that.



Ron Chew: Yeah, I mean, these things are really potent. I mean, they work because I don't know how they work. And there's some reason why it continues to be a standard in the medicine cabinet or at home. So, I'm a firm believer in this stuff because, again, my mom listening to the Western Doctor do all the stuff and helped her sometimes it didn't. When it came time, the real deal and you got to knock out that flu, have some of those little tablets or have some of the camo Cha that BFT and yeah, it works.



Tessa Chu: Do you still use these medicines? And did you pass them on to your kids?



Ron Chew: Here's the thing. I actually haven't been sick a long time, which probably because I've run all the time. But that's a whole, that's not a Western thing or anything, or Eastern thing. But yeah, I would use them if I needed to use them. I still have them in my medicine cabinet. One thing I was going to add most of what we ate growing up, were fresh greens, and fruit. Because again, back in that era, I've had pig's feet, and we had all this other stuff, especially pork, a lot of pork, and some chicken. But the  meat was too expensive. So we grew and every woman in the community had a little vegetable patch in the backyard. In fact, they are likely to have to tear out the lawn and grow stuff. So my mom grew bok choy, onions, mustard greens, and so forth. And that they, again, typically dry a lot of that stuff. And then have them ready for soups, and so forth. But every meal we had greens just was you couldn't have a meal without some kind of vegetables and greens and rice. And then you build around that because it was more plentiful. He could grow that. You know our clothesline, it's funny. You know, these Chinese families, that clotheslines because back in the day before they had washing machines and washers hanging up your clothes, clotheslines weren't necessary for clothes there for hanging your bok choy so you could try them. So I wouldn't necessarily call them clotheslines, their food lines food slash clotheslines. And it was a different world. I remember when I started getting active in Chinatown International District when I was older, as a student at the University of Washington, I go back to Chinatown you look at the fire escapes. And if you actually look up, you see all the people hanging their Bok choy, drying it on the fire escapes. So tradition survives.



Raj Sundar: We talk about the sacredness of food and cultures a lot with this podcast. And I think when people don't know that just the deep relationship that communities have with their food. And I know that's been lost. But there's a sense of wanting some revival to. I do find that healthcare systems often dismiss things that we don't fully understand, especially Western medicine, like food as medicine. That doesn't really make sense because we haven't done randomized control trials for a specific tea or he said pol Chai Pills working, addressing a certain illness. So sometimes we tend to dismiss it. But as you said, there's a lot of things in life and in just treatments and healthcare that we don't know how they work, but they do work or communities have experienced them working and healing their own families, their ancestors, and they try to carry that on. The one additional point that you made is about dieting. That foreignness of the concept. I want to explore that a bit. Because you also said you'd like you ate when your body tells you to eat. And I don't know if you are well aware of this movement, Ron. And there's this movement called "intuitive eating". Now, just to address this thing, because we've been so obsessed with dieting, in changing people's body sizes and shapes. Like we've forgot, there's this thing, like your body just knows when it's hungry. You just have to remind yourself and relearn it because we ignore those body cues so much in our current society. But I want to just hear both you and Tessa's thoughts on that about dieting. If you brought that up in the Chinese community, what would people think?



Tessa Chu: I think the initial reaction will be that sounds really foreign, because why would you deprive yourself of food that you need? Because the underlying philosophy is food as medicine so why are you depriving yourself of something that your body needs? I don't think it's uncommon to not eat certain foods like not eat fried foods, if you know your body is flaring up and so you have something going on, it's okay to avoid those kinds of unhealthier foods. But the concept of diet within the West which is just eat less, or eat only raw foods, or eat a Mediterranean diet, those are a little bit. I think, less customizable to like a Chinese palate, the Chinese way of eating.



Ron Chew: Yeah, again, I agree with Tessa on that. My mom would joke about that sometimes, but the Chinese term she uses "Jai Wu", which means like restrict stomach. So this idea of why would you restrict your stomach, your stomach is your body and so is what's up with that. You know, she also grew up in the era and I did too with the beginning of TV. He had this syrup telethon kind of things where he had pictures of starving People in different places, and she'd get pretty weepy in watching those because she grew up in China where people were starving. And so, again, that idea of restricting a stomach? Doesn't your stomach know when you've had enough? And doesn't your body have the ability to cleanse that? When it needs to cleanse it? Unfortunately, we've grown up in an era where we eat for more reasons than survival and nourishment. We because it's just there's products that like, tempt you, and it's available all around. And it's not necessarily the best stuff for you. So, you go grocery store, more than half the stuff isn't really food, it's just products in boxes and stuff. So I get the term intuitive eating, you said. For me that makes sense. But it's almost kind of laughable in a way. It's kind of like, what I mean, doesn't everyone have that. But I didn't, I think maybe we don't trust ourselves. And again, because we get fooled, or since get fooled by these things that are made in a lab, and then pushed off as food.



Raj Sundar: So let's now talk about just growing up. You talked about briefly the history of your parents using food as medicine growing up. And there's part of the book where you talk about growing up as an immigrant child. And this is also a universal experience. I think, for a lot of immigrants, their children who grew up in America, and they're trying to navigate this new identity that we briefly mentioned of being an American, but also your parents being connected to a different culture and community. And I'm going to rely on Tessa to take the lead here. But I wanted to first start with some term clarification because you talked about American Born Chinese. But I think we all know, but let's just say it out loud that there's difference between ABC and fobts. Right? What are those terms mean? Let's start there. And then maybe Tessa, you can help us navigate this topic.



Ron Chew: So I was an ABC, because I was born in this country, American Born Chinese. FOB refers to fresh off the boat. And they both can be a pejorative than how it's being used. So I was an ABC. So being ABC, he started making fun of the FOB, because you want to assert that you belong. But I wasn't quite ABC enough among my peers, because there's some folks who are really more ABC. I grew up in a Chinese speaking home. Believe it or not actually I still had a pretty heavy accent. When I was growing up, I didn't understand the language until a little later period. Had great difficulties in school couldn't read. And it was hard. Because you're forming your identity. You want to feel like you're part of, that you fit in. And I didn't fit in. Because I didn't understand English well enough, and couldn't speak it well enough. But you know, my Chinese was starting to buy Middle School of starting fakes. I was pushing myself away from my parents, because I want  my own identity. And then, of course, the influence of watching TV and your peers, and so forth. So you're floating in this mid space where you don't really belong. And it can do huge things to your ego, your sense of who you are, and so forth. You're embarrassed by your parents, the way they talk, the way they dress, and the customs. Don't want to bring school friends over to see how you live and so forth. So that's a really hard period. And I think we need to be supportive, particularly of a lot of the younger folks who go through that transition. And of course, also the older folks, my mother, part of her depression also was her children pushing her away, being embarrassed by her. And then she lost her sense of authority because she's supposed to have authority. Right? And Tessa knows. Elders are supposed to be prized for their wisdom, the ear you got these kids, cussing them out, closing the door on them, not listening to what they have to say. And then she didn't feel like she really belongs in this country. I want to go back to my home country. But what is my home country, I've been living here for x number of years, my children aren't going to go back to China. So I need to make peace with this place. So all around, you've got some behavioral health issues, some need for support for all the generations. But people don't understand that. The additional element, and I'll let Tessa chime in on this. We grew up in the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act. So my grandfather came here illegally. Because you could not come here if you're a Chinese laborer from 1882 until repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, World War Two. And then even beyond that, because it was such a small quota that lot of people just continue to come in. So, you know, I grew up as the grandson and son of illegal immigrants, because of the exclusionary laws. So you're in the shadow of not wanting to be discovered. Parents don't want to be discovered. Grandfather don't want to be. So they don't participate in a lot of the activities that you would. Otherwise,  the voting and applying for financial aid. All these kinds of things, we see that in the DACA generation now, too. I feel for those kids. So you got all those issues bundled together, and it makes it hard. And our healthcare system often doesn't really factor those things in, you know. We still got huge impact war and people coming home, you know, some of the discriminatory attitudes, xenophobia and all that.



Raj Sundar: I think Tessa you had in your notes that you sent me about what really stuck out to you in the book about reconnecting to your own Chinese identity and  growing up as an American. I'm curious to hear a little bit about that. And also hear Ron's story of reconnecting to this other identity that seems foreign to you. Because we brought up how difficult it is when you're growing up as a teenager. You're like trying to establish yourself as an American because of peer pressure and social pressure. But then at some point, I think it changes for people to reconnect with this other identity they've ignored, or feel like they don't understand. I think, Tessa, you have that story. And Ron does too. I'm curious to hear more about that.



Tessa Chu: Yeah, the nursery rhyme that your mom and you say, really reminded me of my grandmother's lessons to me. As a kid growing up from age 8 to 14, I'd visit my paternal grandparents in Taiwan in the summer. And because my dad's an only child, my sister and I would go separate months. But something she would always tell me was you have "Quang Pi Fu", which is your skin is yellow and not in a negative way. And you have almond-shaped eyes, and whatever. And you're Chinese, you may think that you're American, but underneath all of that you're still Chinese. And that but your nursery reminded me of is just this reminder of who you are, who you came from, where they're from, too.



Ron Chew: And for me, I think, Raj to referring to, you know, all the way from when I was very young, my mother would force me to. She had a series of questions that she would pose to me. She'd ask, what is your Chinese name? And then I'd say, Chick Pain. What is your brother's name? He's Jinping. What's your other younger brother's name? He's Heping. What's your sister's name? Hewping. You know? And so it goes on? Like, what village is your what is your father's name? What is your mother's name? And I'd repeat that in my more malleable years. And it before I rebelled, I remember taking naps on the couch in the living room. And she it's almost like a ritual, she make me respond to these questions. I think it that stuck in my head. But for her, she wanted us to remember some basics. So that one day, if you question who you were, you knew your name. You knew your parents, they knew the village that your father was from, and you knew the village that your mother was from. And those are great little things much like you, Tessa, which you come back to as you mature and get older. So I went back to China in 2008, my sister, with my kids, with my sister's kids, and we visited our father's village. And things became alive because you realized, this is where you're from. And the strange thing is, you realize people look like you, you know, and I noticed that because it jaw line of the folks from that particular village, sort of similar did my jawline, and their nose is kind of a little more peak come like mine. Wow. Those genes are strong, you know. And then in the village, my mother had sent photos of us growing up there. They were in this altar place, this rundown little area that used to be a sort of a living space that they you know, those pictures were saved. So you have a place here you belong to is hugely powerful. I think that's perhaps a lesson to all of us to lay down these little markers for those who come after us to just remind them. Because someday they may want to know. You know, ultimately everybody wants to know what is your place. When I became an activist, later, writer and you know, working for health care workers going museum, you know. You'll get to another place where you have your own agenda. That you'll need these reminders. These little signposts that kind of tell you who you are.




Tessa Chu: Yeah, I love that.



Raj Sundar: Thanks, Ron. I think, no, I'm just pondering about just my own experience, which is reconnecting with my identity.



Ron Chew: You can share yours as well.



Raj Sundar: I don't know. But there's a sense of belonging that I think we are all looking for. And there's power and understanding your roots. As you said, like people look like you and you feel this is where I'm from. And that feeling is so meaningful when you're trying to find your own place in the world. I think it's important for our listeners to know because these are the things that are sometimes on parents might be like, how do I continue this culture that's so important to me, I don't want to get lost in this generation. Which is hard to continue because your children are getting so much information from their peers and media, right? And then you as the child later in life, trying to reconnect to it, as you're finding your own place in this world. As you were navigating this, and getting in touch with your parents' story and your own story, there's the discrimination that happens persistently at different points in your life. I wanted to highlight that, because one, I wanted to look at it through a lens of just resiliency of the community trying to put up with some of this, and what coping tools that people use to withstand some of the discrimination. Specifically, I'm talking about, like when you're working in the Hong Kong restaurant, and I think there was one quote about just the white Americans treating you like faceless underlings, they could order around, right? That's like kind of a daily, some can say micro aggression but just assault on your identity as a person. And then there's like beggar or community level discrimination. And we could use the example of the reaction to the murderers. Because I hope I'm saying this right, though, while wammy orders, right? When that becomes like the face of the community, or their community is really violent. And that's what the media wants to highlight. And you have to fight for your identity again, because somebody's imposing their thoughts on your community. And here you are trying to figure out your own identity and facing this discrimination. So what does it look like for you to withstand that? And stay resilient in the face of that?



Ron Chew:  Yeah, it's tough. It's easier, I would say, as you get older because you've developed more armor. You've got two more experiences when I started working the restaurant at age 13. Because back then they didn't have child labor laws and went to work because I got to make some money. But it was hard work at the restaurant, especially seeing how my father was treated, and some of the waiters, because back in that era, they would boss the waiters around as if they were underlings basically "get this for me" in their tone of voice. I don't like this, you know, it's just kind of this, they call waiters "Charlie". That wasn't their name. Just like Charlie, get me this. How did he become Charlie? I remember distinctly my father being called "boy". I mean, I you could maybe say 13 but that's my father. So you get really angry. I remember this is very interesting when I was even at the University of Washington, and I worked at the University of Washington daily for the newspapers, It's a whole another story. But I'd be working. Put on my waiter, bus-boy uniform. Some of the students that I worked with, didn't recognize it. It's just strange to look at it and wait for them to say something. They didn't see me. I became something else. So that was hard. Later, the incident you referred to Raj in 1983. There were 13 Chinese who were killed in a gambling establishment in the Chinatown International District. And it was a robbery of essentially this pretty horrendous event that was highly publicized in the press. I was working at the time at the International Examiner newspaper. And so all of a sudden, immediate coverage became just lavishly stereotypic. The International districts somehow just became Chinatown. Came the Chinatown massacre stories with unattributed quotes from sources in the community and so forth. And I saw the media swarm into a neighborhood and they would ask people, if they knew what had happened or whatever. And people who didn't respond were called secretive, or a source who refused to respond or they went to the widow of one of the men who lived in Canton alley, they describe their encounter and they said, a woman slammed the door on the face and what was trying to hide and headlines is veil of secrecy. Then, this idea of Chinese tongs and hatchet men folks lurking in the alley and I remember being mom, a cluster of reporters, so I was recording myself or joking about while I went to Denny's the other day. Chinese guys jackets nose freight, I might be assaulted, and so we can easily slip into these stereotypes. And it happened during the Coronavirus. I'm a runner and I was assaulted by people verbally assaulted during the early stages of the pandemic. Oh my gosh, you know, and then it can be fueled by, obviously, people in high places, you know, our leaders. So, you know, words do have their consequences. So, communities of color have a huge vulnerability because of the fact that we look like something that isn't what is the favored brand. So I worry about that, even with the current escalating tensions between China and the US.



Raj Sundar; Yeah. And when you're going through this, what does support look like when you're struggling with this alone, from caregivers from clinicians? And maybe it's something ICHS is doing right now that other systems should be replicating, but what does it look like practically, you think?



Ron Chew: Tessa knows, and probably could speak to this more because I'm consulting for ICHS, I'm not there really that often. But I think it's having a diverse workforce. It's having providers that speak different languages. It's having providers and been through that experience of having immigrated or dealt with immigration are dealt with discrimination or intolerance. That's powerful. When I was growing up, and ICHS was being born, my mom would go there for blood pressure checks on a weekly basis. The providers knew her, she said, lady with her purse jammed with all these forms that she needed to translate it and so forth. And they tolerate her and they checked her blood pressure. And not that it changed much from day to day. But she went there for support because people spoke same language as her. That's huge. If you can't speak to somebody in their language, if you haven't gone through the same experiences that they've gone through, it's you're not speaking on the same plane. So when I was working in ICHS, some of the garment workers who were friends, of my mom. They were so grateful because of the service they got. Some of them who worked in restaurants. The CEO of ICHS, I'd go to lunch there, every now and then. Do they get piles of food, what's the deal says? Well, they're grateful, they can't do it or express in any other way. Like they work there so they're just gonna make sure you have double the amount of food you can eat all this food. It's just told him the work for ICHS don't worry about it, just take it home, bring it back to the office. So there's something hugely powerful about having diverse workforce that represent the people you're trying to serve. I know Tessa you have thoughts.



Tessa Chu: I agree. Definitely having a workforce that looks like a patient population that you're serving. But also settling to the effect of the power of the voice, of an organized voice, to speak out against journalism that takes us stereotypical bent, or even just awareness and coverage of certain things that are happening. I feel like part of the emotions of anger and frustration I dealt with at the beginning of COVID, when there was a lot of Asian hatred and violence going on, was the fact that wasn't quick coverage about all of the increase in violence against Asians across the nation that was happening. So I think, with more people in the community, whether inside of a healthcare organization or through another type of social organization, the ability to gather people and form a voice for activism, to learn how to navigate, getting more representation in politics or whatnot, is an important thing as well. Ron, I guess I would also ask you what you hope that the future generations can do that hasn't been available or accessible in your generation?.



Ron Chew: In some ways, every generation is the same as the one before. It just rediscovering things, right? I think future generations, they have an opportunity to be more vocal without the type of consequences that ensued in my generation. And for example, running for office, I grew up in an era before where you don't want to run for public office, because within change here, you have to 95% of folks, you know, are like me, they had parents and grandparents who came here illegally. So you don't want to run for office because opens lots of doors. So people didn't vote in my parents' generation. And then almost nobody voted. You know, because they didn't want to register. They just want to lay low, not have immigration come after you and deport your family. Now there's more people out there and to run for office and to vote and to organize, do these things. There's a college-educated generation. I mean, in my family, I'm the first one to go to college because my father he couldn't. He didn't have any Education. He had a middle school education came here when he was 13. My grandfather, you know, no education, non close, no education, you know. So we have an educated generation now that has some power and access to places. And so I think they need to really utilize that. And then hopefully to again, build on a lot of what was created before and and rediscover this history, because I even look back to my grandparents' generation, the hardships that they went through and how they struggled. And I appreciate that. But I came to that by studying it and learning it. My interest in museum work and journalism, and even ICHS story gathering so forth, really arose out of conversations with some of the waiters at the restaurant. Because he realized that fascinating lives. They often had a wife back in China. Then asked them, "How come they're not here?".They said "it's a long story" and in in some case, they didn't really want to share. A lot of them had "paper names", names that weren't really their name, because they basically bought an immigration slot. So there's a lot of silence. And I remember, some of the waiters visited prostitutes after work. So why they got a wife in China, we couldn't bring the wife over. So you had the bachelor generations. Same with the Filipinos, some of the other groups, sustaining that history, I think is really important. Part of why I wrote the book, "My Unforgotten Seattle", was to try to share some stories that would be lost otherwise. In the book, two, and it's a sub-theme, I don't know if two of you picked up on it. You see, a lot of the activism in the civil rights era was multi-ethnic. The folks who formed the United Construction Workers Association, minority advocacy group that pushed open the housing or the construction trades, African American run mostly, but it's changed American staff. And they also help in the housing struggle in the International District, working with Bernie White Bear, united in news for all tribes, and a central data rasa and Roberto Miasta. So a lot of history has been lost. But we worked across boundaries, we can again, particularly with that generation, that's coming of age.



Raj Sundar: Ron, I feel like there's also this feeling of your reluctant fundraiser, being an activist. A lot of people listening to this, I think are just reluctant activists, because of time, or using their voice that way. But if you done, two things that I found really motivating and powerful, was one really focused on amplifying other people's stories, like the exhibition that you had on if tired hands could talk and capturing the stories of the Asian Pacific American garment workers. And the second part is how you became a prolific fundraiser. I think people get like a weird feeling when we talk about money, especially when you're doing mission-driven work. I don't know if you have any advice for folks who are listening.



Ron Chew: I realized earlier in my career that if you don't have money to do stuff, it's harder to do stuff. So when I started at the Wing Luke Museum, it was a small historical society really, without resources to fund their programs. And in order to do programs, ambitious programs, like the exhibit on the Japanese-American incarceration, which we did 50 years after the executive order that authorized incarceration, Japanese-Americans, I need to raise money for that stuff. So you believe in programs, you end up becoming a fundraiser, and you learn as you go along. And then you realize, money comes from people who support a mission and a passion and a cost that you can convincingly argue for it. And I've never raised money for anything I don't absolutely believe in. And so, learn that skill and  then pretty soon, you're not doing program anymore. You're pushed out front and you're doing the fundraising. But I believe strongly hit again, because somebody's got to go out there and raise the dollars. And it's a skill, but a lot of the mentoring I do also encourage folks, if you have a dream, go after it. Find some allies who are willing to put some money down. And I fortunately, had some good mentors along the way, who taught me those skills, and I'm grateful to all of them for their support along the way.



Raj Sundar: Okay, last question for both, you and Tessa. Which I ask all my guests, is there a story of you or your family member going to receive health care, and you really felt seen and heard and connected to that provider? Or the flip side you went and it was just a horrible experience? And you want to tell people how not to do things or give you care?



Ron Chew: What I don't really have anything that relates directly to me on this, but just to reiterate that my mother going to ICHS to have her blood pressure checked every week. The power of That experience was really transformative. I could see that in her. She looked forward to stuff in her purse with all those forms from the government and going over to ICHS and I dropped her off. And like the providers, caretakers at ICHS would smile, because they know that there she comes again. But they took care of her. And I'm grateful that it took care of her. And until she died. I remember to, I'll just share this, you know, when I was working at the restaurant with my father, who was a waiter. I saw the impact of not having access to health care, because none of those waiters went to visit a doctor. They work until they died. And I remember, there was someone who worked in the kitchen, who developed cancer, and I watched him wither away. You know, there was a waiter also who got sick, and you saw him fade away. And as a child watching that, it's terrible, because he's the people you consider your uncles. So, having ICHS which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, by the way, being around to serve more people, to me, I'm grateful.



Raj Sundar: Thans Ron. Tessa?



Tessa Chu: I guess since I had the privilege of being in Taiwan as a kid, and most of it was accompanying my grandparents to wherever they wanted to go, which was often markets and then their doctor appointments. I got to see what healthcare is like in Taiwan, and it's the single-payer system. So healthcare is affordable, and it's really accessible. But I think what stuck out to me the most is also this concept of treating patients with dignity, even when they're at their most vulnerable. And I saw that often, I saw that trust that my grandmother developed with her providers, that would just not have been accessible in the United States. And that still, in some way, isn't accessible where my parents live, because they don't have in Santa Barbara, for example, Chinese-speaking doctors in the clinics that they go to. I think it might be available in Los Angeles. But I guess I would just reiterate what Ron said about having providers who may not just be there for your clinical care, but who may be there to help you in other small ways. Like translating whatever documents the patient may bring in. Being there as another person for your patient.



Ron Chew: If I could add one detail to what Tessa mentioned, Raj. I remember the era also where if you're able to go to a doctor, dentist or some care provider, as a child, you went with your parents to translate, right? It's a terrible position to put a child in. Because number one, you may not even have the vocabulary for this stuff, you certainly don't some of the medical terminologies. But then you're also in a weird position, as a child of the person getting the service to see and to hear some of that stuff. And then to see your parent being vulnerable is not a place you should put a child and so fortunately, evolved to a place where, yeah, professional interpretation is something that's a necessity needs to be bundled in. Not a negotiable. Need good interpretation, and good interpretation also could mean difference between life and death, between accurate assessment of what's going on. And the people with some culture that appropriate awareness is a lot of the Eastern practices and beliefs about the body and the system, how you heal it. You have to have some knowledge of that. Because often patients are migrating between different healthcare belief systems. And you got to take into account all of what's gone into the equation.



Raj Sundar: Yeah, I just want to highlight it's always more than just blood pressure. It's not only about that people go away. Right. Thank you, Ron, and Tessa, for joining us today.



Tessa Chu: Thank you so much, Ron and Raj.



Ron Chew: Yeah.



Raj Sundar: Sure. Thank you for joining us on another episode of the healthcare for humans podcast. And if you'd liked this episode, go to Amazon music and share it with one other person and sign up at healthcare for humans.org to join our community. See you soon.



Speaker 4: This podcast is intended for educational and entertainment purposes only. Views and opinions expressed in this podcast do not represent any of the participants past, current or future employers unless explicitly expressed so, always seek advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with regards to your own personal questions about what medical conditions you may be experiencing. This Healthcare for Humans project is based on Duwamish land that makes a regular commitment to Real Rental Duwamish.


The transcript ends here.

Ron ChewProfile Photo

Ron Chew

Ron Chew is a community organizer and nationally recognized leader. He served 17 years as executive director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. He led the museum through a $23 million campaign and the acquisition and renovation of a historical building in the International District, which became the Wing’s permanent home. He has also served as executive director of the International Community Health Services (ICHS) Foundation.

He founded Chew Communications, which specializes in helping cultural organizations collect stories and oral histories that contribute to a more tolerant and just world.