(From left to right): Kamalii Yeh Garcia (with daughter, Naia), Jenny Woo (with son, Wilson), Amy Pak (with son, Asa), Lucia Armenta (with daughter, Lulu), Enoka Herat (with daughter, Semra), Aileen Balahadia (with son, Diwa). Photo credit: Meron Menghistab Photography.
It’s the best of both worlds: living a dream career that provides financial stability and also coming home to well-cared-for children. The ideal of perfect balance that many Asian-American families strive for can become quixotic when other weights are added to the balancing scale: cultural identity, specific values, gender, cross-generational issues and other overlapping considerations.
Generally, “balancing a career while having a family life is very important,” says Rhoda Berlin, an Asian-American marriage and family therapist in Seattle that specializes in multicultural issues. “Both careers and hard work are important values. It’s a high priority, and that’s what often brings someone in for therapy to figure out strategies on how to find that balance.”
Achieving the balance that Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) seek can run into complications when personal expectations are influenced by the model minority myth, the popular notion that APAs exhibit positive social behaviors such as “being well-educated, financially stable; valuing hard work and family ties,” that allow people to overlook the difficulties APAs face, as defined in the book, “Asian American and Pacific Islander Families: Resiliency and Life-Span Socialization in a Cultural Context.”
This phenomenon was reinforced last spring when Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends reported that Asian Americans in the U.S. tend to be more satisfied than the general American public with their lives and finances and also place a greater value on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success. Whether these values are representative or not, raising children in a more complex world with specific minority cultural values can be daunting.
Before leaving work to become a full-time mother in 2011, Amy HyunAh Pak, dedicated her life to nonprofit community programs for more than 15 years. Running youth development curriculum at the Service Board, coordinating a girls’ health education program at Powerful Voices and training youth in undoing institutionalized racism are among the many accomplishments that Pak — a Korean-American adoptee — achieved in her career against pervasive “model minority” expectations.
“It has been this idea of narrowly squeezing you into certain positions that are corporate, white collar and middle class,” Pak explains. “Unfortunately, that gets you farther away from the community. And that’s the constant struggle that people of color have because there’s the assimilation and community responsibility versus family.”
After transitioning out of work and into full-time motherhood in 2011 when her eldest son, Jahyoo was 2, “I found myself not having a large community for our son. There was a definite void and feeling of disconnectedness,” remembers Pak.
In addition, parenting resources compatible with Pak’s worldview and values just weren’t available.
“There’s an innate emotion and political need to raise our family, especially in the arts and education and [among] other families of color,” says Pak.
With 12 other families of color in South Seattle, she began to build a community and dialogue space for how to raise their children in socially responsible ways where concepts of multiracial identity, spiritually and the arts are discussed. They started meeting informally in 2010 with monthly potlucks. This spring, Families of Color in Seattle (FOCS) became an official network and intentional community, with affinity groups for parents raising newborns and “waddlers” — babies six months to older than 2 years old.
Evening group hours allow mothers transitioning back into work to stay connected, says Pak. “[Parents in the “waddler” group] can all relate to each other about balancing work, family life, partnering or cooking,” she says. “FOCS allows parents to have a space to dialogue about how to talk to supervisors as they transition back to work or share child care resources that [aligns] with their values.”
Pak is proud of what all the FOCS parents have done together.
“It’s revolutionary to mobilize as a community and fill a void for our own community’s well-being, health and happiness,” she says. “It’s revolutionary when we provide the counter-narrative within our own resources and we define what that service and resource will be on our own terms. And it’s done with love and community as the foundation.”
To learn more about FOCS, visit www.focseattle.com.