Radical Healing – Culturally-Centered Groups Help Asian Americans Heal from Hate

The AAPI Equity Alliance’s pilot program, “Healing Our People Through Engagement” (HOPE), is creating culturally-centered, community-based groups to help five distinct Asian American communities (Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean) heal from the impact of racism and the rise in hate crimes. This initiative, rooted in the “Radical Healing Framework” developed by Black Liberation psychologists, builds on individuals’ strengths and cultural practices to foster a shared understanding and collective response to ongoing racism.

Speakers from various community organizations, including Michelle Sewrathan Wong, Managing Director of Programs at AAPI Equity Alliance, Anne Saw, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at DePaul University, and past Vice President of the Asian American Psychological Association, Xueyou Wang, HOPE Program Facilitator at Little Tokyo Service Center, Yu Wang, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center, and Joann Won, Program Facilitator at the Korean Youth Community Center, shared their insights at an Ethnic Media Services (EMS) briefing.

Michelle Sewrathan Wong emphasized the program’s importance by recounting the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained that the Radical Healing Framework, developed by diverse scholars, moves beyond individual coping mechanisms and harnesses community strength and collective experiences to foster resilience. This approach validates the deep emotional and mental suffering caused by racism, promoting healing through community empowerment and ethnic pride.

Anne Saw, Ph.D., elaborated on the psychological impact of racism, highlighting how it leads to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD among Asian Americans. She emphasized the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate care, noting that Asian Americans often underutilize Western-based mental health services due to stigma and lack of suitable support. The HOPE program aims to bridge these gaps by creating safe spaces for community members to share their experiences and feel affirmed.

Xueyou Wang, a HOPE Program Facilitator at the Little Tokyo Service Center, shared her experiences facilitating the program. Initially, there were doubts about the program’s necessity within the Japanese and Japanese American communities. However, as participants began sharing their experiences, it became evident that the program was crucial. Participants discussed microaggressions and the heightened visibility and vulnerability they felt during the pandemic. Wang highlighted how these small incidents accumulate, underscoring the importance of addressing even minor experiences of racism to prevent long-term mental health issues.

Wang also noted the unique generational experiences within the Japanese American community, from new immigrants to fourth and fifth-generation Japanese Americans. New immigrants feared the loss of culture, while long-established community members worried about losing historical narratives, such as those related to the internment camps. The program provided a space for these different generations to connect and support each other.

The most empowering aspect of the program was the call to action. Participants identified gentrification as a significant issue in Little Tokyo, linking it to their broader fears of losing culture and history. Through discussions on combatting gentrification, participants felt empowered to take collective action, drawing inspiration from historical figures like Yuri Kochiyama. Although from a different time, Kochiyama’s activism resonated with the participants, helping them see the connections between their struggles and her legacy.

Yu Wang, HOPE Program Facilitator and Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Asian Pacific Counseling and Treatment Center, shared her perspective on leading a group for the Chinese and Chinese American community. Wang emphasized the significant trauma and discrimination faced during the pandemic, which created a critical need for a healing space. She noted the cultural challenges in discussing feelings and vulnerabilities, exacerbated by a lack of language to express emotions related to racism.

The small group size in Wang’s sessions fostered a genuine and intimate environment where participants felt safe sharing their experiences. The group included a diverse mix of individuals, from long-term residents to recent international students and those who grew up in predominantly white communities. One participant, initially distrustful and feeling disconnected from her Chinese identity, found encouragement through the open sharing of others’ stories. This transformation highlighted the importance of community and support in addressing internalized trauma and building resilience.

The experience of facilitating the group reinforced Wang’s understanding of radical healing, demonstrating that community contributions can happen at different levels. By learning to support each other and work together, participants began to see the potential for positive change in their lives and communities. This realization made the concept of radical healing more tangible and empowering for both Wang and her clients.

Joann Won, Program Facilitator at the Korean Youth Community Center, provided insights into her experiences leading the program for Korean Americans. Won, a psychology graduate from UCLA, recounted how the pandemic brought a sudden and unexpected increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, changing the focus from worrying about an invisible threat like COVID-19 to a very real physical danger. Won emphasized the importance of the HOPE program in providing a space for participants to share their stories and experiences, fostering a sense of connectedness and understanding.

Won shared a poignant story of a first-generation immigrant who had a cathartic moment during one of the sessions, revealing the depth of pain caused by microaggressions and racism. The supportive, non-judgmental environment allowed participants to express their emotions freely, creating a powerful sense of community and acceptance. By the end of the program, the participants, initially strangers, had formed a strong bond, underscoring the program’s success in promoting healing and solidarity.

The HOPE program, by fostering these connections and providing a platform for collective action, exemplifies how culturally-centered, community-based initiatives can address the mental health impacts of racism and empower communities to heal and thrive.

Read more at The Immigrant Magazine