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Asian Pacific American youth ministry

Ng, D. (ed.). (1988). Asian Pacific American youth ministry: Planning, helps, programs. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.


This article stands between our categories of Book Review and Model of Program. The editor of this book describes its perspective:

The term ‘Asian Pacific Americans’...refers to people whose heritage is primarily rooted along the Asian continent bordering the Pacific Ocean or in the Pacific islands. This is obviously not an exact description of this growing group of Americans. Some...have been in the United States for generations....In addition there are new Asian groups today who are fleeing war, poverty, and political unrest in search of a better life. Therefore, ‘Asian Pacific Americans’ is an umbrella term to represent the great diversity of Asian groups in America. (p. 7)

This is a practical book of ideas and helps, but it also deals with special cultural issues:

Growing up in a high-tech society, Asian Pacific youth face tough decisions: How do we respond to aspects of American culture that contrast sharply with the traditional Asian cultural values of our parents and grandparents? What elements of our heritage should we retain?…How do we achieve personal identity when confronted with the stereotype image used to depict all Asians? (back cover)

From different Asian cultures the contributors to this resource answer these questions and provide ways to work them out with young people.

Part 1 covers "Foundations for Ministry with Asian Pacific American Youth." Wesley Woo discusses "Theological Dimensions" in the book’s first chapter. Leaning toward a theology that is holistic and dynamic—rather than static and flat—this writer suggests a theology that sees "faith and action go hand in hand," that addresses "the sinful and oppressive condition of the world (James 2:1-7)," and realizes how our context can affect our theology positively and negatively. Such theology can relate to Asian Pacific American experience in general and to young Asian Americans working out their identities in particular. This informative chapter also provides reasons for ethnic churches, the importance of community, and the nature of vocational choice.

Joan May Cordova offers this glimpse into problems faced by Asian American youth:

Sedatives are the drug of choice among many Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese Americans. According to a recent study initiated by the Asian American Substance Abuse Task Force, Asian teens are experimenting with these drugs at such early ages as 11 or 12. (Choy, K. [1986, August 15]. Voices...give teens a chance. Asian Week, Section 1, p. 26.)

Stereotypes of Asians in the minds and institutions of the American people are indeed insulting, but for many Asian youth they are also debilitating, separating and isolating. Institutionalized racism in the educational system has denied the history and culture of Asian people in America but for some Asian youth, it has also denied them self-confidence in the validity of their existence. (Wing, L. Asian american studies at berkeley high. In Gee, E. [Ed.]. [1976]. Counterpoint perspectives on asian america. Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, UCLA, p. 227.)

Cordova cautions that a definition like "Asian Pacific American"

must emphasize the great diversity among its growing number of distinct national ancestry groups, which include Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Pacific Islanders, Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, and others. (pp. 23-24)

Each of these groups has its own language, history and culture. And there are also important differences in the experiences of people within each national ancestry group based on geography, socio-economic status, family distinctives, and the generation of their immigration:

The first generation includes family members who have emigrated to the United States; (1.5 those who came as young children); the second generation, American-born children of immigrants; and the third, American-born grandchildren of immigrants. (p. 24)

Most Americans may not even distinguish among various national groups, but even that is not enough. It is therefore misleading to stereotype a given national group when their perceptions of themselves may be so different.

Some Asian Pacific Americans may chose to identify themselves as: Chinese. Chinese American. Japanese American. Issei. Nisei. Sansei. Yonsei. Kibei. Neither. In-between. Filipino American. Pinoy. Korean. Korean American. Vietnamese. Laotian. Hmong. American born. Immigrant. First, second, third, or fourth generation. ‘Of Asian descent.’ ‘Not into labels.’ ‘Just a human being.’ Oriental. Asian American. (p. 24)

After showing the importance of Asian Pacific American history to Asian youth, the writer discusses the Chinese American experience, the Japanese American experience, the Korean American experience, and Filipino American experience. She emphasizes that Asian Pacific American culture is far more than the popular conception of "dragons and fireworks, dances with bamboo sticks and fans, martial arts, curious artifacts, exotic costumes, and delicious food" (p. 31). Culture includes memories of difficult experiences, racism, and discrimination in America through which the cultural strength of "family, community, language, religion, values, traditions, recreation, art" all helped sustain them and enabled them to survive.

Elaine Kim describes how, in the absence of women in a hostile environment, Chinese immigrants created social structures to make up for the loss of family life:

...Bound together by their social status as a despised minority, tied by tradition and common beliefs and interests, the Chinese immigrants constructed a world based on social solidarity between families and clans to protect themselves in a cold or hostile environment. This social network provided them with a sense of belonging they could derive nowhere else. (Kim, E.H. [1982]. Asian american literature, 102, Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press).

Cordova emphasizes the importance of Asian families:

In traditional Asian cultures, the family is the primary unit of social structure...One’s family is of primary importance...Roles, relationships, values, and traditions often stem from the family structure. Through family relationships, parents model and interpret cultural values for members are obligated not to "bring shame" upon the family through negative actions or failure... (pp. 32-33)

Cordova concludes: "Youth should be encouraged to learn about the attitudes, values, and traditions of their families and national ancestry groups" (p. 33). A second-generation Filipino American mother attributed the success of her children to the fact their father’s dreams for them, that "the children had good examples as they were being raised" (p. 33). But a Chinese American student complained of his frustration in never being able to please his father: "If I got a B+ my father’s response was, ‘Why not an A?’ When I got an A, he didn’t say anything about it. I still feel frustrated—like I’m on a treadmill running as fast as I can, but the treadmill will never stop" (p. 33).

Professor Bongyoun Choy adds the perspective of a first-generation immigrant: "The family centered, traditional Korean immigrant finds the free-style aggressive, individualistic American way of life incompatible with what he (or she) was accustomed to in his homeland" (p. 33).

Many Asian Pacific American young people "have learned to live in a difficult balance between two cultures." Others have pulled away from their cultural roots and lost respect for their parents.

Vietnamese parents reported that their children were losing respect for them because of their continued difficulties with learning the English language, making an adequate living, and adapting to American life. Parents were found to have maintained many of the traditional expectations...Children, however, were found to be increasingly reluctant to abide by many of these traditional expectations, and in a number of cases wanted greater independence from the family. (p. 33)

Although reflecting on the pain of internment during WWII, Japanese researcher Nelson Nagai points to a continuing dilemma of Asian Americans:

The Asian in us tells us to feel shame and bear it and the American in us tells us to feel anger and to fight. The dissonance can be emotionally painful, but fortunately most Asian Americans have learned from those who have preceded us to alternate bearing indignities with fighting back in the constant struggle to live in America. (Nagaim, N. [1983]. The other side of infamy. Stockton: Association of Asian American Educators).

Cordova’s chapter concludes with voices of Asian American young people that are worth hearing and pondering.

In Rodger Y. Nishioka writes "Developmental Characteristics of Youth" (Chapter 3). Three profiles, of Jin, a 1.5 Korean living outside the Beltway of Washington D.C.; of Ruby, a second generation Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown; and of Brandon, gives special life to this chapter. Brandon, who is thirteen, has a Caucasian father and sansei (third generation Japanese) mother. He looks Japanese to his American friends and more white to his Japanese friends.

Part 2 of this book deals with "Ministry with Asian Pacific American Youth." David Ng discusses "How Youth Learn" (Chapter 4), and "Planning to Meet Specific (educational) Needs" (Chapter 5). You will find helpful principles and ideas in his chapter (with John Stevens Kerr) in Chapter 6, "Effective Methods in Youth Ministry."

Part 3 is richer than many may expect; each chapter presents creative ways for dealing with important themes. "Identity and Culture" provides stories (of Wah-Kiu, Cantonese for Chinese people living overseas, of a Chinese girl) and exercises (visit to a cemetery in order to discuss respect for ancestors)—"Relationships and Community," "Beliefs and the Christian Faith," "Vocation and the World." Sessions on "Self-Image and Self-Esteem," "Naming," "Family Expectations," "Dating and Marriage," "Racism and Me," and "Being Socially Adaptive" are relevant issues to be discussed among Asian American youth. This book balances personal faith commitment and issues of social justice.


  1. What is dangerous and misleading about Asian American stereotypes?
  2. In general, how are the pressures on Asian American young people different from those experienced by African Americans and Latino Americans?
  3. Why, do you think, so much less has been written about and for Asian American youth than many other ethnic groups?
  4. What from this article would you most like to discuss further? Do you have any specific concerns about what has been written above?


  1. Asian American youth are the fastest growing minority in the U.S. They are not one but a complex variety of rich cultures. As always, there is some truth in common generalizations, but realities often contradict such generalizations in important, if not painful, ways.
  2. Asian American young people face unique pressures and problems that should be addressed within their context.
  3. Asian Americans and Asian American youth have much to contribute to American culture. To benefit most from their contributions, we need to understand more of their cultures and perspectives.
Dean Borgman cCYS