Asian/Pacific Islanders

Asian/Pacific Islanders consist of more than 60 culturally distinct groups, practice several types of religion, and speak more than 100 languages and dialects. Their degree of acculturation and assimilation varies. The Asian/Pacific Islander cultures have few characteristics in common. For some Asian/Pacific Islander groups, “the traditional Asian/Pacific Islander approach to health and illness centers around balance and harmony. The ultimate goal is to attain a perfect balance among systems of the individual, society, and the universe at large” (Wong et al.1998).

Cohesiveness of the group is an important value, and because of this, shame is a frequently used social constraint to control or deter expressions of homosexual behavior (Wong et al., 1998). Some Asian/Pacific Islander cultures believe that if one is vigilant in maintaining balance in one’s relationships, then one cannot become ill. It is only when one is out of balance that disease occurs. In addition, prevention as conceptualized by most Asian/Pacific Islanders dictates that, as long as primary prevention behaviors are practiced, there is no reason for secondary prevention efforts, such as making regular visits to a physician (Wong et al., 1998). Providers need to understand this cultural value and adapt their prevention and treatment efforts accordingly.

Values. This culture is heavily based on interdependence, and family is central. The individual is expected to subsume his or her needs to those of the larger group—family, community, or other groups. Varying from one’s prescribed role can cause shame and loss of face for the family. Authority and age are highly respected and honored; thus, there may be discomfort in addressing providers, particularly older ones, by their first names.

Language. Some of the languages spoken by Asian/Pacific Islanders do not have words for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Without descriptive words, the formation of an LGBT identity may be precluded and an ambiguous social role for LGBT individuals may result. In other words, the behaviors may be practices that lack social legitimacy and may not be discussed. Thus, communication may be indirect, particularly about personal issues or sexual behavior. Initial communication during treatment may need to be indirect with a gradual increase in directness about the issue.

Nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal behaviors are as varied as the communities themselves. In some groups, bowing is important, as are related behaviors such as using both hands to present a business card to a colleague, the elderly, and people in authority. Same-sex touching (e.g., holding hands) is not uncommon in most Asian/Pacific Islander cultures; it is a gesture of affection, not sexual feeling.

Learning styles. Hierarchical societies support deference to authority (e.g., physicians, health care providers, teachers, the elderly). The learning style is likely to be traditional; information is disseminated or transmitted in one direction, from teacher to student. one traditional way to confront personal issues and increase self-knowledge. Ethics, as outlined by philosophers such as Lao Tzu and Confucius, provide standards for human behavior and regaining a healthy balance. Asian Americans who are Muslim, Christian, or Hindu may have very different beliefs. Eastern medicine is complex, and many recently arrived Asian Americans may still use traditional cures.