Intergenerational Conflicts: Asian Immigrant Families in Transition
David Cheng & Susan Chan

[Fall 2001]

The lecture on Intergenerational Conflicts: Asian Immigrant Families in Transition drew a variety of audience from CUNY, including student representatives. Three Asian newspapers sent reporters to cover the event, as it marked an important step in bridge building between academia and the community. 

The seriousness of the problem was illustrated by the many newspaper headlines cited by Ms. Susan Chan, a thirty years veteran clinician in Asian American mental health services, and Prof. David Cheng, a practicing clinical psychologist and director of counseling at Baruch College.

A 15 years old Asian girl, with divorced parents, slashed her own wrist and burned herself with cigarette butts. 

A 16 years old Asian girl, with her African boyfriend, strangled her parents and dumped their bodies in East River. 

An Asian father, in a dispute with his sons, critically injured them when he shot them with a pistol. 

Two Asian female students, both from Baruch College, recently committed suicide.

These tragic incidents involved different issues: some are about money, some are about parental pressure, others are about racial intolerance. They are shocking revelations of the troubles festering in a community that has long been considered a model minority. 

The source of intergenerational conflict within the immigrant family can be traced to the different rates of acculturation between the parents and the children. Their difference in the adjustment process when settling in a new social environment include languages, customs, habits, lifestyle, values, family and peer relations. Conflicts may stem from dual expectations of the two generations. The greater the acculturation gap between parent and children, the greater the conflict. 

Conflict between people is a part of everyday life, however, its resolution need not end in violence, or running away, or going against one's own feelings and beliefs. The key to successful conflict resolution is open communication, which begins with good listening skills, and honest depiction of what one hears and what one thinks. 

To solve problems peacefully, it is important to calm down, be specific, think of solution, consider opposing ideas and their consequences. It is best if the two parties can negotiate among themselves. When that is not possible, it is always a good idea to get, as a mediator, someone who can maintain objectivity. Finally, in handling really difficult people, it is important not to take it personally, to provide oneself with an escape route, in case of violence, and to get help from friends or professionals. It also helps to take time off to calm down. 

Questions raised by the audience include the adequacy of counseling services for Asian students at CUNY, to which Prof. Cheng indicated that there is room for improvement. There are more than twenty thousand Asian students in CUNY, he said. Baruch College, with more than thirty percent of its students being Asian, has only three psychologists working there. He praised AAHEC's effort to promote mental health among Asian students, and promised that he would help. 

Ms. Susan Chan reassured the audience that referral services are available at her Chinatown Family Consultation Center (212-966-3414). She also commended AAHEC for promoting the training of bilingual mental health workers at CUNY. References to the lecture topic were given out at the end of the talk. They include an article written by Ms. Susan Chan, on Chinese Families in Transition: Cultural Conflicts and Adjustment Problems, published by the Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, Vol. 3. No. 3, 1994.

Synopsis by Thomas Tam






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