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Culturally-Centered Groups Help Asian Americans Heal from Hate

Editorial

A pilot program spearheaded by AAPI Equity Alliance is creating culturally-centered, community-based groups as healing spaces for five distinct Asian American communities (Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean) looking to make sense of their experiences with racism and the rise of hate crimes.

Adapted from Black Liberation psychologists’ “Radical Healing Framework” which helps African Americans deal with generations of racial trauma, the program is called Healing Our People Through Engagement (HOPE). It builds on the strengths of individuals and the cultural practices of their communities to grow a shared understanding and collective response to ongoing racism.

Speakers from the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean community organizations shared their perspectives on the program on this Ethnic Media Services panel.

The AAPI Equity Alliance has announced a groundbreaking new program aimed at addressing the mental and emotional toll of racism on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The “Hope and Healing Our People through Engagement” (HOPE) program was unveiled during a recent event organized by the alliance, featuring prominent community leaders and scholars.

Michelle Sewrathan Wong, Managing Director of Programs at AAPI Equity Alliance, emphasized the urgent need for such an initiative. “At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Asian American community endured episodes of brutality on a scale not seen for generations in this country,” Wong stated. “They were scapegoated by politicians for the transmission of COVID-19, targeted for violent physical attacks, and made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their communities.”

Wong co-founded Stop AAPI Hate to address these issues, and she highlighted the significant emotional and mental suffering within the community. “This exploration led us to the Radical Healing framework, a psychological approach developed by a team of BIPOC scholars that moves beyond individual-level coping mechanisms to harness the strength of communities,” she explained. “The more stories I heard from community members, the more apparent it became that our community was suffering an epidemic of isolation, anxiety, and depression.”

Dr. Anne Saw, Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University and past Vice President of the Asian American Psychological Association, further elaborated on the psychological impact. “The Radical Healing framework is crucial because it recognizes that racism doesn’t just occur on an individual level—it happens to entire communities,” said Dr. Saw. “This innovative pilot program is grounded in a healing and hope framework that encourages ethnic pride and community empowerment.”

The HOPE program is being implemented in the five largest Asian-American communities in Los Angeles County: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Cambodian. Despite being in the initial stages, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “Providing community members with a space where they can feel safe, supported, and heard is essential for healing,” Wong noted.

The HOPE Program is funded by a grant from the California Department of Social Services. Researchers say the program will help heal racial trauma, which can lead to anxiety and depression. This is especially important for Asian American communities that tend to underutilize mental health services, in part due to stigma and the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate resources.

The briefing also featured insights from Dr. Saw and her colleagues, Dr. Grace Chen and Dr. Sherry Wang, who led the development of the HOPE curriculum. They shared their perspectives and on-the-ground experiences, emphasizing the importance of community-led initiatives in fostering resilience.

The program’s launch included a short video from the “Spread AAPI Love” campaign, a project of Stop AAPI Hate, highlighting stories of solidarity and support within the community.

Wong acknowledged the generous support of the California Department of Social Services and the collaboration with community partners such as the Little Tokyo Service Center and Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Centers. “This transformational work would not be possible without our dedicated funders and partners,” she said.

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