While Wichita can appear culturally and ethnically homogenous at the surface, our our city has been comprised of diverse immigrant communities from its very beginnings. Wichita’s immigrant identity is mutually dependent on the Asian community, which has grown substantially over the last few decades. My parents, like several others, immigrated to this country in the hopes of pursuing a better life for themselves and their family. They chose to make Wichita their home and and sculpt their new lives, and in doing so contributed to the cultural fabric of our community that many other families have also shaped.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are comprised of very diverse ethnic groups and face substantial challenges. They’re often labeled as the “model minority,” a damaging misconception surrounding the AAPI community that assumes financial stability, high levels of education, and superior health across the board. This stereotype can lead to systemic constructs that significantly impede the progress and livelihood of our community.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in identifying health disparities among Asian Americans is that data and research frequently focus on this demographic as a monolith. Health data on the AAPI community are often lumped into one category, masking the true differences between the numerous ethnic subgroups. Infrequent medical visits, language and cultural barriers, and the lack of health insurance are all underlying issues. Data indicates that more than 70% of Asian Americans are foreign-born and many have limited English proficiency. Other challenges include differing cultural beliefs and behaviors, and unfamiliarity with the Western health system.
The stigma regarding mental health is another pronounced concern. There are compelling statistics the illustrate how suicide is one of the leading causes of death for the AAPI community. Asian Americans often consider mental illness to be an indication of personal weakness, and are more likely than other minority groups to express emotional distress through physical symptoms. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we break the silence on mental health and recognize that like other ailments to the body, our mental health equally, if not more, deserves attention and care.
It is essential for our community to understand the importance of annual doctor visits, preventative care, early detection, and treatment adherence to reducing health disparities. Although there are many challenging barriers to healthcare, AAPI’s should be encouraged to find healthcare providers who speak the same language, understand specific cultural barriers, utilize on-site or telephone professional interpreter services, or bring a trusted family member or friends to medical visits.
To make a significant difference and truly impact and reduce health inequities in Wichita’s Asian American population, we need to address the lack of language services, develop cultural competencies, support and engage partnerships and collaborations with organizations in the community, such as the Wichita Asian Association and the Wichita National Association of Asian American Professionals, and really be responsive and accountable to all the different Asian American communities that we serve. Beginning and ending with the community in mind is how we can progress together.
Taben Azad, Vice President
Wichita Asian Association