BOSTON, Massachusetts—Vietnamese Americans definitely suffer from depression.
At least this was my thought prior to attending the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Conference on Aging in Boston from 18 November 2011 to 22 November 2011.
As a MetLife Foundation Journalist fellow, I was required to prepare a proposal reflecting a project I will complete and disseminate through the Viễn Đông early next year. In an effort to relate my experiences as an African American to the Vietnamese American community, I chose to write about depression.
More specifically, my topic was depression in ethnic minority communities with a focus on the Vietnamese American community.
I had assumed that all ethnic minority communities suffer from some level of depression, having had to give up parts of their original cultures when attempting to assimilate into U.S. culture. Part of that assimilation required and still requires ethnic minority community members to focus on survival of their physical bodies rather than survival of their original cultures.
To some extent, while the body thrives, the culture dies. This, I thought, was reason enough to be depressed.
However, my ideas for the article series shifted upon my receiving feedback from expert responders like director of the Institute of Gerontology in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia Dr. Toni P. Miles, Cleveland based freelance journalist Ms. Eileen Beal, and Boston based freelance writer and editor Ms. Sally Abrahms.
Dr. Miles, in particular, asked me what depression is and why I wanted to write about it. Unable to answer her with an exact definition, I realized I need to have a clear definition for depression if I am going to write about the topic.
Yet, given the Vietnamese American community is a combination of Vietnamese and American cultures, the definition of depression is different between the cultures. In fact, there is no word in the Vietnamese language for depression, revealing to me that the illness is relatively new to the Vietnamese American community.
In the session following feedback from the expert responders, I connected with Dr. Theodore Marmor of Yale University when he said that reporters need to know about the background information and context of what they are reporting.
Although Dr. Marmor was speaking specifically about the U.S. health care system, I applied his advice to my reporting on depression and the Vietnamese American community.
Rather than directly place my Western-influenced perceived ideas of depression onto the Vietnamese American community, as well as other ethnic minority communities, I have chosen instead to look at depressive symptoms from the perspectives of various Vietnamese American community members.
This approach for my project was deepened as a result of a poster session meeting I had with researcher Mr. Grant Harris, as we spoke about some of the pros and cons involved with qualitative research, or research that is more “one on one” and less statistical.
Our talk was so inspirational, I decided to attend an afternoon session called: The Art of Interviewing: Exploring the Qualitative. There, I learned more about techniques, benefits, and difficulties involved in qualitative interviewing.
This session, ultimately led to my decision to focus my interviews more narrowly on specific individuals within the Vietnamese American community while capturing a broad range of perspectives.
For example, taking advice from Ms. Beal, the Cleveland based freelancer, I need to remember that there were different waves of immigrants coming into the United States from Vietnam beginning in 1975. An influential Vietnamese American who arrived in the United States during the first wave could have a very different reality than a more recently arrived Vietnamese American.
The differing realities will produce differing views on depression.
Also, I will take into account the various generations within the Vietnamese American community, from the first arrivals in the United States in 1975, to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren born in the United States. I need to recognize that varying levels of assimilation also account for varying definitions of depression.
Overall, the GSA Conference on Aging has given me more passion for pursuing this project, enhancing my eagerness to discover and reveal views that I have often overlooked.