Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month GUEST BLOG BY CHRISTINE ISANA GARCIA Chief Executive Officer, Side By Side

May 27, 2022

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Guest Blog by Christine Isana Garcia, Chief Executive Officer

Side By Side

Side by Side is proud to celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Generations of AAPI have brought their legacy, strength, and resiliency to create communities that are so vital to us all. We are committed to honoring the AAPI diaspora, and we celebrate the leaders, history-makers, and the myriad contributions that AAPI individuals make each and every day.

Side by Side is painfully aware of the multiplicity of challenges faced by the AAPI community. The twin crises of COVID and the rising mental health needs across all youth have not spared our AAPI youth and their families. An advisory by the Surgeon General in December 2021 details the mental health crisis in children, adolescents, and young adults. AAPI youth have faced unique challenges during COVID lockdowns, where many have had to manage their mental health needs and their normative search for identity amongst cultural conflicts and stigma, the trauma of losing family members to COVID, and the repercussions of lockdown. More than a third of AAPI youth report their mental health declining since the beginning of COVID measures. With schools, work, and normal social activities pared to a bare minimum, youth and families have struggled immensely. And it is not over. Within a portion of the AAPI community, the stigma towards reaching out for support with mental health needs remains. Because of this, much of the mental health struggles among this group remains hidden.

Racism and hostility towards the AAPI diaspora have existed since the beginning of their time on these shores. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 became the first became the first major US law restricting immigration. And now, in more recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that over 2 million AAPI have experienced a hate incident since the onset of the pandemic. This includes name- calling, bullying, and violence that leads to death. The Stop Asian Hate movement was created by Professor Russell Jeong of SF State University to fightback against these incidents. Other non-profits such as LAAUNCH provides data-driven information to eradicate classic Asian-American stereotypes like “the model minority” and “perpetual foreigner.” And, in the mental health realm, the Asian Mental Health Collective provides online access to mental health resources and education to AAPI communities.

Here, at Side by Side, we are committed to helping AAPI youth and families in their journey towards healing and resilience. We value diversity, equity, inclusion, and belongingness in our teams, and within the communities we serve. This is a pivotal time to address the mental health disparities faced by BIPOC communities and the history of oppression that many groups face by providing a menu of services that are trauma-informed and culturally sensitive.

Side by Side staff are multilingual and diverse to create belongingness and connection with clients. Our programs throughout Marin, Sonoma, and Alameda counties in the Bay Area serve historically underserved youth families, including those identifying as AAPI. Side by Side’s Irene M. Hunt Schoolwork with K-12 students with behavioral and emotional challenges. Real Alternatives provides housing, job training, and mental health support to homeless foster youth. You Thrive works with middle and high school students to provide support for youth who are at-risk for juvenile delinquency, gang involvement, and violence as well as offering special college workshops for students of color. TAY Space provides a community center, counseling, psychiatric services, and case management to youth who struggle with acute mental health issues. Our Space focuses on providing much-needed safe space where LGBTQIA youth can experience their authentic and evolving selves in a community center. Furthermore, Our Space staff provide trainings and consultations to schools and professionals working with LGBTQIA youth and their families. Our Community Counseling programs offer individualized therapy services within schools as well as within the family home.

In this AAPI heritage month, let us shine a light on the achievements and contributions of this community while also keeping in mind allyship and support. Let us talk and learn about Derald Wing Sue PhD and Christine Yeh PhD who changed the narrative around Asian American mental health. Ronald Takaki PhD, author of Strangers from a Different Shore, who taught us about the history of the AAPI community beyond the one learned in classrooms. Let us honor the resiliency of the grandparents, great grandparents, mothers and fathers who work to create a better future for us all.

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