Connection and Resilience in the Asian American Community

The Asian American community in Southeastern Pennsylvania is diverse. The Asian diaspora includes people with roots in countries like China, Korea, the Philippines, India, and Cambodia, just to name a few.

Whether they were born in the United States or immigrated, many in the Asian American community feel pressure to create an identity that is acceptable to both their family and this country. This issue has gotten more attention as violence against Asian American people has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, more people are in need of mental health support, says Dr. Noel Ramirez, psychotherapist and director of The Mango Tree in Philadelphia.

A Filipino-American, Dr. Ramirez works with a broad mix of clients, including multi-racial individuals, transracial adoptees, and people from across the Asian diaspora. Some are recovering from conflicts in their home countries. Some have internalized racial oppression. And others are addressing intergenerational tensions that often arise when cultural norms and expectations differ between parents and children. This usually happens when younger generations embrace modern American values that conflict with traditional Asian culture.

According to Dr. Ramirez, “We get folks who are struggling with navigating collectivism in a culture of individuality when the family is the focus. We get career changers who were told the only pathway to wealth was to be a doctor or engineer and that wasn’t their passion.”

Asian American: A Complicated Concept

According to the 2020 census, nearly 24 million people in the U.S. identify as Asian. “The concept of Asian American is complicated,” Dr. Ramirez says. “The first step is helping people develop language around their ethnicity. What does it mean to be Asian American? Korean-American actor Steven Yeun says that to be Asian American is not just having your foot in two different places; it’s a third space of identity.”

“Being labeled Asian American,” says Dr. Ramirez, “I’ve come to learn and appreciate all forms of Asian cultures in the U.S. because I’m lumped together with all of them. Even at The Mango Tree, the staff speak five languages. It’s a uniquely validating experience growing up in a pan–Asian community.”

Connecting with the Community

Being an active part of your community is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health, especially if you belong to a minority group, says Dr. Esther Hio-Tong Castillo. Dr. Castillo is the founder and former program director of the Chinese Immigrant Families Wellness Initiative at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

“With Asian Americans, there is a lot of invisibility,” she adds. “We’re seeing more Asian representation in different fields today, but it’s still lagging. As a mom of a 7-year-old, I have to go out of my way for my daughter to see herself represented in children’s books.”

According to Dr. Castillo, this lack of visibility makes it even more important to seek out culturally specific activities within your community. Creating strong connections builds resilience within the Asian American community.

“Some people feel they’re not Asian enough or American enough. The Asian community is so diverse ― immigrants, people who speak different languages, eat different kinds of food, have different immigration stories. Sometimes it’s hard to find out what it means to be Asian American. But the process of discovery and exploration will help individuals to improve their mental health.”

For information on local resources and events in the Asian community, visit:

For information on national resources in the Asian community, visit:

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

Men’s Mental Health: Building Connections at the Barbershop

In many neighborhoods, the barbershop doubles as a place of healing, where people ― particularly men of color ― can find support, perspective, and maybe a boost for their mental health.

“Barbershops have always been safe places to meet, vent, share personal experiences, and get a respite from the issues in their lives,” said Gabriel Bryant, coordinator of the Engaging Males of Color Initiative, managed through the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Disability Services. “You have a captive audience in one space, and they help you figure out solutions to your problems.”

A Place of Wisdom and Caring

Bryant tells the story of a man whose teenage son was having issues with another teen. The father was worried the conflict would lead to violence, and he decided to take his son to the barbershop. The men in the chairs talked for an hour, encouraging the boy to find other ways to resolve the issue. The father trusted the men at the shop to provide guidance, and it worked.

Building connections at the barbershop is important. In many communities, the barbershop is also a place where values and life lessons are shared across generations.

“It’s a place where men can trust their barbers with things near and dear to them and trust them to hold it close and not share it on the street,” said Will “Latif” Little, a barber for 18 years at the Jazz-U-Up barbershop in South Philadelphia. “It’s a hub. It’s a safe place. It’s a familiar place where [boys and men] get education on personal development.”

Little served 10 years in prison before finding his purpose. Now, as a life coach, he hosts Monday night classes at the barbershop for men and women on topics like financial literacy, careers in the trades, the importance of going to college, and conflict resolution.

To his satisfaction, Little sees that a lot of the young men he once mentored now have their own children. And those fathers are using the same tools they learned in his barbershop to help their children make better life choices.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Bryant recalls watching a basketball game at a crowded barbershop a few years ago. When someone shouted, “The Sixers stink!”, an older gentleman started sharing his memories of watching players like Dr. J (Julius Erving) hold court at the Spectrum. The shop fell quiet. The men listened and showed respect, as this older man owned the moment.

Many seniors go to the barbershop to avoid loneliness, Bryant says. Barbershops are important community support systems. “Men of color are socialized not to ask for help or seek care. The barbershop is a place where they know they can find support from other men. It’s a healthy move,” he said.

“Barbers have served as community counselors, comedians, and faith leaders,” Bryant added. “A trusted barber is a strong force in the community.”

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.