Historically, the Chinese community churches have provided a communal place for people to gather and share their experiences. But as times have changed, some Asian Americans have turned to religion and their faith to understand their cultural identities.
Luzminda Eng’s grandparents are of Chinese ancestry but moved to the Philippines, where her parents grew up in a Roman Catholic atmosphere. She was born and raised in the United States and grew up going to a Protestant Christian church. She said that her church is predominantly made up of first and second-generation Chinese Americans.
“I’ve learned a lot about maintaining my cultural heritage while still staying true to my religious beliefs,” Eng said.
She also said that she struggled with participating in traditional practices such as lighting incenses or bowing down as well as Catholic rituals.
“I didn’t know if I was compromising my own beliefs by doing that but I was also afraid of disrespecting my older relatives. I think that there can be a lot of animosity between parents and their children when the parents think their children are turning away from traditional family practices,” she said.
However, Eng believes that the key is not acting like your own beliefs are superior to your family. She realized that she was able to embrace both religions without compromising.
“By appreciating my cultural background and respecting my elders I am showing and practicing my faith,” she said. Eng added that since one of the main foundations of Christianity is love, she is able to show love and honor to her family.
Ronald Bang used his faith to learn more about his cultural identity by simply being curious of where he came from. He was raised in a Christian household and growing up, he was taught the fundamentals of praying before eating and thanking God for their days and practicing fellowship.
Bang feels that some APIs are drawn to Christianity because it’s accessible in a language they can understand and relate to.
He understood that church played a huge role in the Korean community because it was all they could relate to when they first moved to the United States.
“They didn’t just go for God, they came for the community,” Bang said.
He also thinks that this is especially true for those who don’t feel like they belong due to a cultural gap in society.
Bang believes that the younger generation these days has a very apathetic view on life. He doesn’t feel that it’s because the kids are turning away because of religion but because they just don’t have the same passion as their parents. But he also knows people who attend church while their parents don’t.
“Some of them realize that their kids just don’t have the drive they do to follow the parent’s religion, so they accept the kids going to church, but there’s also plenty of kids who cannot do anything with the church because of the parents,” Bang said.
“It depends on how much the parents have accepted the more liberal and less traditional culture of America,” he said.
Growing up, Bang had been curious about his cultural identity. He thanks God for his parents’ journey from Vietnam to the United States. He understands why his parents brought him up the way they did and his faith further encourages him to see that he is the way he is for a reason.
Like Eng and Bang, growing up in a Christian home has brought Sarah Chung closer to her faith and allowed her to learn more about her cultural identity. She also feels that Asians who are Christians tend to be more conservative about how they express their faith but can still be passionate as well.
Chung feels that some people may be drawn to Christianity because it’s a very common religion. “It’s a really good and easy way to meet people and a good way to have people start coming to church as well,” she said.
Philip Louie, who attends the Chinese International Christian Church of Tacoma, said that his church experience has been valuable in developing a sense of cultural identity for himself.
“Growing up in Tacoma, a city with a rather diverse cultural makeup, I still struggled with grasping the mysterious idea of what it means to identify with a specific culture,” Louie said.
For many Asian American Christians, religion is something that helps them grow individually and teaches them more about their culture.
“We still work to understand each other’s joys, we deal with one another’s struggles, and we celebrate the fact that our desire to grow in our faith has led to a desire to understand our own cultural roots.
“I firmly believe that someone can worship and live out their faith in environments and surroundings not directly related to their cultural identity. I am Christian. I am Chinese-American. I worship with joy and excitement with many of my peers of whom relate to various cultural identities,” Louie added.