Bay Area Asian American Immigrant Women more likely to get Breast Cancer

We have written how some doctors would not believe that Asian American women could get breast cancer, but in the past few years, I know a number of Asian American women who were diagnosed with the disease.   Previous studies of women in Asia show a lower occurrence of breast cancer outside of the United States and higher incidence in US born Asian Americans.  In contrast, a recently released study of Asian American women in the San Francisco Bay Area suggests what I have seen anecdotally – immigrant Asian Americans are more likely to get breast cancer than native born Asian Americans.

Of the Asian American women that I know personally that have had breast cancer, all were immigrants and most were in the Bay Area.  The Wife knows even more women who had breast cancer – all are Asian American immigrants too.  Tim’s mother also died of breast cancer,  The only Asian American woman who had breast cancer who was born in the US that I can think of is Ken Jeong’s wife. Is this some acculturation factor, like with South Asian Heart disease?  The authors tried to control for that, looking at BMI and length of time in the US, but controlling those factors left the same result.

Then again, the majority of the Asian American women that The Wife and I know are immigrants in the Bay Area, so my anecdotal sample is biased.  Similarly, the study’s authors mention that one possible shortcoming of the study is that it was limited to the Bay Area population.  One risk factor for breast cancer is higher socioeconomic (measured by income and education) status – this is borne out in studies of populations all over the world and is seen in the rise of breast cancer in parts of Asia and with Asian American women in the Bay Area.   Given the large numbers of affluent Asian immigrants in the Bay area and in certain cases, where the native born children of immigrants earn less than parents, this study might simply be showing the socioeconomic risk factor.

So what to take away from this study?   Given the limits on sample size, the authors suggestion that further cross national studies be done to confirm the results and to narrow down the particular risk factors that generate this result.  If the discrepancy is caused by mainly be income/education differentials, then some of the known breast cancer risk factors that come with affluence, such as a sedentary lifestyle, should be publicized in the affected communities and should be avoided.  The authors suggest that from a public health perspective, doctors should recognize immigrant status as a breast cancer risk factor with Asian American women and increase screenings, which have been low in the past.

(h/t:  John)

Jeremy Lin on Adjusting to Toronto, D-League Experiences, and Kobe Bryant’s Disrespect

Toronto Raptors player Danny Green hosts a show called “Inside the Green Room,” and he recently had on Jeremy Lin, who moved last month to the Raptors from the Atlanta HawksYahoo Sports Canada has posted some of the more interesting sections of that 1 hour session, such as the one above where Danny Green and Jeremy Lin talk about their experiences together on the D League (now called the G League), the NBA’s minor league.  This made me respect Lin and other D League products like Green much much more, as they made little money and had not so great working conditions (as an example – practice getting delayed as a 7th grade volleyball team was still using the court) while they improved enough to make it to the NBA.

I also liked the “behind the scenes” type conversations about life in the NBA described in this segment – little tidbits about how different levels of players have to deal with practice jerseys, adjusting to a new team, and tricks that other players use to their advantage (e.g. Vince Carter chatting up players on the court to distract).   Other interesting parts of the conversation include why Lin has a video production team and Youtube channel – he felt that if he didn’t get his own voice out, other voices which had stereotypical attitudes about Asian Americans would dominate.  I particularly enjoyed him making fun of Cornell University, mocking it as a lower tier Ivy and comparing it to a younger sibling who is jealous of everything (sorry John!).

Here are some pointers to the more interesting parts published in smaller segments:

 

Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease

Silicon Valley resident Mahendra Agrawal exercised regularly, maintained a health weight, and followed a vegetarian diet.  When he went to the hospital with shortness of breath, doctors found that the 63 year old had obstructed coronary arteries.  His reaction:

“I’m a pretty active guy and I eat very healthy, my wife makes sure of that.  It makes me wonder why this happened to me.”

Agrawal’s predicament is detailed in this New York Times article (also here if you ran out of free articles) that talks about another Asian American Medical Hazard – South Asian Heart Disease.  It also describes one potential benefit of being Asian American – how adopting a blend of Asian and American practices can lead to better health than either alone.

Continue reading “Asian American Medical Hazard: South Asian Heart Disease”

Asian American Commercial Watch: This is the Avery’s


Asian Americans are in more and more TV commercials these days, but when I saw this Wells Fargo ad, it immediately caught my attention.  Rather than the familiar white man Asian woman couple commonly portrayed in commercials, it has an Asian guy married to a non-Asian woman of color (either African American or Latina or both – hard to really tell here).  There have been a few commercials with an Asian male in an interracial relationship like this one of Asian male and white female, but I personally don’t recall any commercials with this particular pairing.  I also like the fact that the Asian American guy isn’t a nerd or martial artist and seems pretty outgoing and worldly.

While Wells Fargo has been in the news lately for a variety of problems and lapses in  judgment, I would have to agree with the commercial that eating out a lot can really strain a budget.  This ad was part of Wells Fargo’s rebranding efforts called This is Wells Fargo.

Asian American Medical Hazard: Somatic Symptom Disorder

When she was 14, Diana Chao began experiencing severe pain in her eyes.  The pressure buildup in her eyes was diagnosed as uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that caused her to go temporarily blind.  For the next four years, she repeatedly visited doctors to find the cause of her uveitis, which would recur every few months.   When an ophthamologist mentioned that she had seen the same symptoms in patients with mental illness, it dawned on Chao, who had been experienced depression as a child and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as teenager, that her mind might be affecting her body.  This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about Diana Chao and how somatic symptom disorder, a form of mental illness that manifests itself as bodily symptoms, is actually common in Asians and Asian Americans.

How does mental illness manifest physically in Asian Americans?  The article mentions that how chest pain, headaches, and stomach problems with no known physical causes are common in Cambodian refugees, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also talks about a Filipina American who experienced daily stomach pains which an organic cause could not be found.  This Filipina traced back the source of her problems to being sexually abused as a child.  These kind of stories are very familiar to me.  I have a relative who had persistent stomach pains for which no physical source could be found.  Alleviating anxiety and depression were key to making her pain go away.  One explanation for why somatic symptom disorder occurs in Asians and Asian Americans is that many Asian cultures stigmatize mental illness and tend to repress talk about feelings, causing mental problems and issues to manifest themselves in other ways.

As for Diana Chao, she attributes fewer episodes of uveitis to better mental health treatments.  Her own story is remarkable.  Despite suffering from uveitis symptoms and dealing with bi-polar disorder, she is a photographer who has placed work in prominent places and is currently a sophomore  at Princeton University.   She advocates for mental health treatment, giving a TedxTeen talk on the subject and founding a nonprofit called Letters to Strangers, which aims to destigmatize mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for people aged 13 through 24.   I had previously written about Wendell Tang, who suffered from mental illness but did not receive treatment.  Diana Chao shows that students with mental illness can thrive, even at intense Ivy league institutions, when they receive treatment.

(h/t:  akj)

Asian American Family Sues Harvard, but not for what you might think

Lawsuits against Harvard and well-known selective universities contending discrimination against Asian Americans have happened over the years, with the lawsuit sponsored by Edward Blum still in play and actively opposed by Harvard.  In late 2018, another kind of lawsuit against Harvard was filed. The family of Luke Tang filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Harvard contending that the University was negligent in caring in for Luke, who committed suicide in 2015.

After a suicide attempt his freshman year, Luke Tang was hospitalized.  While he was there, he signed a contract with Harvard saying he could return if he received mental health counseling.  He was able to return for his sophomore year even though, the lawsuit alleges, Harvard personnel knew that he had not received the required mental health counseling.

Since his death, his parents have set up a foundation in his name to raise awareness of signs of depression and other mental health issues, especially as it affects Asian Americans.  In addition, a short documentary called Looking for Luke was produced by the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds to educate and to destigmatize seeking help for mental health problems.  In the trailer above, the fact that Luke committed suicide is hidden for a long time and only told to one of his friends six months after his death.   My personal experience with the issue of mental health in Asian American families is that any problems are hushed up, considered a shame on the family that is not to be discussed openly, and likely not to be dealt with directly.  In particular, this article on Filipino Americans and mental health really resonated with me and other family members.  Our family, like many others in Silicon Valley, have known Asian American students who have committed suicide.

Harvard was required to respond to the lawsuit by January 9.  I haven’t been able to find the actual lawsuit text or any response since then (if someone has link to any of those, please include it in the comments). At the same time, the Luke Tang foundation is granting scholarships to students who have overcome psychiatric problems and welcomes donations.

Having a Hard to Pronounce Name: Does it Make a Difference?

When I was an undergraduate, a Filipino American classmate once asked me why I was pronouncing my last name wrong.  What?  I was pronouncing my name wrong for the first 20 or so years of my life?  Apparently so, and my parents never bothered to correct me, leaving our last name constantly mispronounced.  But what’s in a name really?  According to this article and others, quite a lot, especially if names are “hard” to pronounce.

Continue reading “Having a Hard to Pronounce Name: Does it Make a Difference?”

Remembering Asian and Pacific Islander Veterans: US Army Profiles

Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans.  It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.

A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included.  Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War.  I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota.  Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War.  That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war!  He went on to serve in the army for 30 years.  Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.

Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba.  Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004.  He was asked to retire in 2007.  Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.

Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War).  For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.

Some People Just Don’t get Pixar’s Bao

I wrote a review about how I really liked the Pixar Short Bao that appears with The Incredibles 2, but apparently not everyone one likes as much as I did or even gets it.  A number of articles (some spoilers) like this one, this one, and this one, mention how some non-Asian Americans just don’t get it.  Some were confused or even laughed.  Leaving in the Asian American bubble where I live, I initially thought “WTF!” but on further thought, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised.

One niece of mine said she was bawling at the end, and the Daughter said she was about to cry.  I think if you have never faced the tension of having to deal with conflicting cultures in your household tearing at you in different directions, its much easier to not understand.  I first saw Bao at Pixar, and I don’t recall any one really laughing at the points mentioned in the articles.  Then again, there were a lot of Asians Americans there and also a lot of people who knew about Bao since many of them helped make it.  When I saw it with The Wife in a commercial theatre with a mostly non-Asian audience, there definitely were some annoying laughs.

I still think Bao has some universal themes such as the tension between generations, but other parts resonate strongly with many Asian Americans.   I did find it sad that many people just didn’t get it, but again, as I mentioned, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

(h/t:  Mike)

Filipino Kinship Terms and their Confusing Translation into English

Number One Son has a “nephew” who is also a college student in Boston. When I mentioned this to my brother, he couldn’t understand how Number One Son could be the “uncle” of someone who is the same age and who is neither his son nor the son of The Wife’s siblings.  I told him “uncle” is the English translation of a Filipino term for a male who is one less generation away from a common ancestor than the other person being referenced.  My explanation, while totally correct, totally failed to make him understand.   If you are curious how my son can be an “uncle” or are wondering why Filipinos sometimes call each other by weird names like “kuya,” “manong,” or “ading” instead of their regular names, this article by Myles Garcia can explain.

Continue reading “Filipino Kinship Terms and their Confusing Translation into English”

A Short Review: Bao

Accompanying the Pixar movie The Incredibles 2 is a short called Bao.  It starts, as you can see from the trailer above, when a woman who has just cooked some bao is shocked when one of them comes to life.  While we have talked about Russell from Up being Asian American, this short was striking in that in deals directly with issues that Asian Americans and Asian Canadians face.

Bao was created by Domee Shi, who moved from China to Canada when she was two.  She joined Pixar as an intern, and eventually pitched the Bao concept and got it made.  The mom in Bao was inspired by her own mom and other Chinese women in her life.

I really liked Bao.  While I am not of Chinese origin, it spoke to me of my own experiences with food and family.   A bao becomes more than just a bun – it becomes a metaphor for many things.   I am also around the same age as the mom, making her not just Asian American/Canadian but universal concerns very meaningful to me.  So if you go to see The Incredibles 2 (also recommended) and are thinking about getting popcorn when you see Bao come up on the screen, don’t.  It will be worth your time, whether you are Asian American, American Canadian, or not.

Asian and Asian American influences in ‘Black Panther’ (minor spoilers)

One of the many impressive aspects of the Black Panther movie is its costume design.  The look of the Dora Milaje, the elite Wakanda guard, is particularly striking. 

That said, I was surprised to found out from The Wife about this article about Anthony Francisco, a developmental illustrator for Marvel Comics, where he says that apart from the obvious influence from different African cultures, that there are Asian influences in the Dora Milaje costumes.  In this Buzzfeed article, Francisco details influences as disparate as Filipino tribesman and Japanese Samurai.

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Francisco grew up in the Philippines, where the Igorot people of Ifugao are well known for their UNESCO heritage rice terraces.  Some of their traditional garb influenced his design.  In addition, the table runner from Francisco’s Aunt’s house became part of General Okoye’s uniform.  Other Asian influences include Samurai style boots.

You can see these and other influences on costume design in the Buzzfeed article

For a better look at Francisco’s work (which includes Baby Groot), check out his Instagram.