Podcast: Bi-cultural Identity


Lindsey and Wellspring therapist, Chris discuss the unique challenges and strengths of those who have a bi-cultural identity. He shares some of his research and own life experience.


Host: Lindsey Steffen, LMHC
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Guest: Christopher Cheung PhD, RMFT
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Welcome to wellspring on the air where professional Christian counselors share practical life and Bible insights. Why? Because hearts and minds matter. We're glad you joined our show today to hear from our hosts, Tova Kreps, president of wellspring counseling in Miami. Tova is a licensed therapist with many years of experience as a Christian counselor who teaches, writes, and consults and LifeFM is pleased to have wellspring counseling, restoring hearts and minds in our community. Hi there. I'm Lindsay Stephan, a licensed mental health counselor at wellspring and cohost for wellspring on the air. Tova is out today, but I'm excited to talk with Christopher Cheung. Hi, welcome today. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me here. Yes. So Christopher is one of our therapists at wellspring and it's his first time on the radio with us. So why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Speaker 2: (00:48)
Absolutely. And thank you again for inviting me to talk today. So my name is Dr Chris Cheung. It's always a long story when I tell people where I'm from. I'm from a small country in South America called Suriname, but I'm, most of the time I just introduced myself as someone from Miami. I've been here since my college days, completed my degree in psychology at FIU, then my marriage and family therapy degree at University of Miami, completed my doctorate at University of Florida and then traveled a little bit. I went to Birmingham, Alabama to work a little bit. And now I'm back here in Miami. So I still consider this home.

Speaker 1: (01:22)
Okay. Yeah. Coming back to your roots. So, all right, well today we're gonna be talking with Chris about bi cultural identity. So let's just start out by defining that. What is by cultural identity?

Speaker 2: (01:34)
Yeah, absolutely. And this is, um, a major focus of mine, an interest of mine. It's basically a, from my own experience as someone living in different cultures and also interacting with people of my community, the Chinese community, we've always had this idea that we're living in two different worlds. We're living in a, our Chinese kind of culture. Our family wants us to hold onto some of those values. And then there's the American culture that we have to interact in. We do our schooling, we do our work in, and it's at times we feel like we're caught in a conflict of values. But the idea that that perpetuates that it has to be conflicting or is incompatible seems to be mostly false because as I work with other people, as I've interacted with other people, we found a way to blend in two cultures. So by culture we're able to blend in the world. That is from the experience of myself in the Chinese culture. But I also see it in other different cultures as I talk with other people, my friends, coworkers,

Speaker 1: (02:35)
that's so relevant here in Miami too because I know a lot of my clients, that's what we talk about. There may be first or second generation here and they feel this conflict between having the values, the language, the cultural aspects, you know, of whatever country I came from, but also being very Americanized. And sometimes there are conflicts in families because they feel I have to choose one or the other. But I kind of, I want things from both. And I think that's a, a process a lot of people in this area specifically go through. So that's great. I'm glad you can talk about that today. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2: (03:09)
A little and you're right. It's a lot to do more so than my work with families, parents, children, and no matter how old the children get, there's always this idea that I'm caught up in two worlds. How do I navigate this? And for those who are able to navigate, they found themselves feeling very pretty at home. Right.

Speaker 1: (03:25)
Both cultures in both worlds. That's awesome. Yeah. And it's good because maybe some of our listeners, they have their struggle going on for themselves. Cause a lot of my clients, they actually will experience depression and anxiety and other mental health issues because they feel like they don't fit in or they don't have a place. So I think we'll touch on that later in the show today. Absolutely. Okay. Well, how is by cultural identity related to mental health?

Speaker 2: (03:51)
You touched on that a little bit when you talked about seeing clients experiencing some form of depression or anxiety and it's related to many things. And to simplify it when clients don't feel like they live up to a certain standards, certain message, certain social expectations, they may experience the self doubt about who they are and understanding of where they're going and identity crises in a form in a way so that could impact their wealth and being, how they interact, where do they see themselves fit in and what social circles do they belong to in the extreme form. And most of the cases individuals are able to adapt. But in the extreme cases they may feel isolated. No one understands me, my own people from my community don't understand me. The people where I'm living in that culture don't understand me. And that can be a very lonely place to be.

Speaker 1: (04:41)
Yeah, I've heard that even from some clients in particular who are African American and white and they will say, you know, I'm not black enough. I'm not white enough. So yes, it's like I don't, where do I fit in? And I feel like I have to act more one way to fit in and, but maybe they feel like I am this blend of both and where's my place in the world? Yeah,

Speaker 2: (05:01)
absolutely. And I'm glad today's world, we're more open and accepting to new experiences and encouraging people to explore their own culture or even explore other cultures. So even by culture is a misnomer. It's more like a multicultural identity. Yeah. But the coming from different places in Gainesville, in Birmingham, I CLC this dichotomy of I need to choose one or the other. And that leads to a lot of struggles or conflicts, whether it's been by the end themselves or with their families or with their community.

Speaker 1: (05:32)
Yeah. I was reading an article in psychology today and it was talking about that exactly. It feels like they often see it as choice a or B, this culture, this instead of see the blend of both. And I wonder how would you walk someone through that process? Maybe you could even speak your own experience. What was your process blending?

Speaker 2: (05:51)
Um, honestly I can only talk from my experience and hopefully there's some commonalities. Others can share. One of the main thing is the language. Even though I'm able to go back and forth between my, um, Cantonese and English, sometimes the nuances is missing. As a kid. You don't understand that and you think you're translating well between what you're thinking about what you're saying to your parents, to your peers. But as I get older, I understand that there are small nuances in the languages that sometimes don't translate well. So having even understanding that I will try to be as clear as possible and then exploring my own heritage culture. There's not a lot of opportunity in the environment as when I grew up to understand what being Chinese mean, what, where my family's coming from, and they don't even talk too much about their past life as well.

Speaker 2: (06:42)
So I took the opportunity in college to just explore a little bit and now I come to understand the values, why they have a certain understanding of life, how they have an understanding of education and work. But having that understanding just helps me appreciate my family, more appreciated what they were trying to say. And then coming back to knowing where I am, knowing where I'm situated in in the United States, I am able to walk them through what my thinking is, what my experiences and they're far more understanding. I mean, counseling psychology is not something that they understand. I'm the first one in my family to head in this direction and I constantly have to face those questions. So early on I just didn't know how to answer that. But as time progresses, they begin to see the value of mental health. They became more understanding and they began seeing other people's in their community maybe having some form of mental health and they can go there and tell them, hey, maybe you need some counseling.

Speaker 2: (07:41)
And counseling is nothing to do with, you know, more weakness, a personal weakness. It is something that we all experienced and that we, it is helpful to talk to someone, especially someone who know, understands where you're coming from. Yeah. Well, it sounds like you made a lot of your own effort then, so it wasn't something even that your family necessarily helped you with, that you became educated and then even went back to them and even open their mindset. Kind of brought it to some things that may be culturally weren't normal. Absolutely. And that's been the one of the, part of my hope is to branch mental health out to the Chinese community or the Asian community. I know that has been one of the bigger battles in our mental health field. Yeah, I've seen that a lot with my Hispanic clients here in Miami. I know a lot of the first generation, they're the first to go to counseling, but then it's really neat to see a lot of their parents, cousins, whoever then are more open to it when they see, wow, you know, so-and-so used to be so anxious, didn't even leave that house.

Speaker 2: (08:41)
And I'll look at her, she has a job, all these things. So I think they start to see, okay, maybe there's some value in this. So it does. It sounds like for people and you know, coming from your type of situation, it takes more effort to really break through. Yes.

Speaker 1: (08:56)
But it's worth,

Speaker 2: (08:57)
it is worth it. It's absolutely as, and now we even can just give basic education and they are able to just tell the community and the best way to spread word about how effective mental health is through personal experience or personal connection. Okay.

Speaker 1: (09:13)
So what do you think maybe are, you can speak personally to this, but what are some strengths you think you or other people have coming with a bicultural identity?

Speaker 2: (09:21)
Oh, absolutely. I'm, and this is the fun part. I think it is a process or a ability, yet I've hear people talking more about this code switching. They're able to go back and forth between understanding how do I communicate effectively? And I'm not saying that I have mastered that ability yet, but certainly in a way that, uh, lowers conflict, lowers misunderstanding and making the effort and understanding the other person. So we grow in our empathy, we grow in our ability to just be mindful of the differences. That doesn't mean that they're trying to be offensive or that someone is trying to undermine me, but it is a certainly worth exploring where they're coming from. So that helped me in my work from others that I see. They are more able to just think about problems and come up with creative solutions because they blend both worlds. It's a, it really opens up their ability to look into things from different angles.

Speaker 1: (10:18)
Yeah. Well, it sounds like by understanding yourself more, you're able to understand other people better and reach them and even have a broader perspective. And I here empathy, understanding that this isn't necessarily a flaw, but this is how they were raised and this is what they know, their worldview as of now. Yeah. All right, well, we'll go ahead and take a break now. So I'm Lindsey Stephan with wellspring on the air and we'll be right back.

Speaker 3: (10:43)
Wellspring now offers professional Christian counseling at six locations in Dade County. Therapist are now taking clients at Tuni locations, one at Crossbridge, Miami Springs and Kiva Skein for more information, (786) 573-7010 or wellspring miami.org for more information.

Speaker 1: (11:03)
Welcome back to wellspring on the air. I'm Lindsay Stephin and I'm here today with Christopher Chung. And we've been talking about by cultural identity. So if you missed the first part of our show, we talked about what by cultural identity is how it relates to mental health and the efforts that it takes for someone coming from two cultures to blend and really find a place of being centered in both cultures at the same time. So go ahead and go back and listen on our podcast app if you miss the first part of this show. And for the second part we'll continue by talking about cross cultural relationships. Um, we were discussing here in the studio that it's common, especially living somewhere here like in Miami, that you might date or marry someone who, or even in friendship who are coming from very different cultures. And we're going to hear from Chris how

Speaker 2: (11:54)
to do that. Well. Thank you. You're absolutely right. Here in the United States, we are a blended and multicultural country, so it is often that you'll have friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even falling in love with someone of a different cultural background and depending on how long your family's been here, if you're an immigrant person like myself, you may sometimes experience very explicit or obvious push pushback from family or you'll experience some subtleties more hinting that maybe you should just associate with people of your own culture or marry people from your own culture. I fortunately did marry someone from my own culture, but I know that my friends, even my brother had a relationships before that were from people that don't speak the Chinese language or understand the values and there are certainly whispers in the family if nothing else, but to talk about the person themselves, how to navigate those.

Speaker 2: (12:51)
It is important to understand what the family's concern is. Oftentimes it has to do with WHO's going to take care of me from the parent's perspective later life, do they, will they understand me? Are you going to pick someone that's going to value the same things that we value and that in it of itself is not problematic, but it does require a conversation to have with them. Even though I know from my parents, they will not come out and say what their concerns are, but being able to sense it to read it and being able to take that position to take the first step to talk to them about their concerns. This helpful in that in that aspect, and it doesn't have to be conflictual. Just sit and listen to what the heart of the issue is. Is has offered very little do with the choice of food.

Speaker 2: (13:37)
Ut Eads is has very little do with the language, but if your partner, if the person that you want to build your life with is able to present with a cultural humility to learn from your culture as you also maybe you are in also in that position to need to learn from his or hers culture and showing that that opens up the door that hey, you are not like what we have pictured. Understanding that my parents have very little interaction in the beginning with other cultures. Uh, but now they're more open to it. So that's, that's always a great first step to understand their concern. Getting into relationships, you have to think about what the community also thinks you are. You're not going to answer to everyone. You're not going to tell everyone or justify that's not your job. But to be able to be having that open conversation with your family, and it might have happened the first time in the, might not happen the second time, but when your family sees that you are committed in this relationship, then that the person that you are committed to is willing to learn and love on your family.

Speaker 2: (14:40)
That's, that's a great first step of the foundation to build on. So it takes some perseverance. Yes. A little bit. First or second time solutely yeah. And even initiation, it sounds like probably the adult children are the ones who

Speaker 1: (14:52)
will initiate those conversations. Yes. Okay. Or maybe depending on the culture, if it's more, you know, an outspoken culture or one that is maybe more reserved with their opinions. But it sounds like in your case you had to Kinda cross that line and

Speaker 2: (15:05)
it'll be helpful, especially when your family sees the maturity aspect and depth, this know that your decision making is sound. Yeah. So I understand that young people fall in love too and sometimes they may not have understand how to communicate that to their parents. I think what would be helpful for the younger is find a role model. Find someone who is older and talk to them about their experience and learn from it. And maybe even fine if we're talking in church, a member to help talk to the parents and understand at least Wally any anxiety or distress that might happen. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (15:39)
Okay. So it sounds like from what you were saying too, it's not so much the cultural components necessarily of food or dress or language, but more of the value system. Yeah. That is probably what the family is worried about being broken or being veered from. Correct. All right. Okay.

Speaker 2: (15:55)
And once they understand that you're not adept, the person is not there to change you, to take away your value, to go against the things that your parents brought you up with. It really alleviates a lot of concerns and they will, at least from my experience or what I've observed, that they will make the attempt to open the communication with the other person. Yeah,

Speaker 1: (16:18)
especially it sounds like as you were saying, if it's someone who is loving and humble to try and learn. Yeah. I think that's, unless maybe it's a very unhealthy family system, but it's hard to be mean to someone who's coming and saying, please, I want to be invited into your culture. Absolutely.

Speaker 2: (16:34)
Yeah, and we'll talk also, we'll touch on a little bit about grandparents who don't speak the language at all. Still don't speak the English language at all. Yeah. If you're showing kindness, love and preservations especially even if they give you the cultural there. If you preserve your and show that you love their grandchild, you'll love them. They are going to at one point your mouth hearts. I think this is biblical.

Speaker 1: (16:58)
Yeah. You can go into that. What do you see biblically that supports what you're saying?

Speaker 2: (17:03)
Sure. There's, um, the first thought that came to mind is to, uh, love your neighbors as yourself, but also the story where Jesus kind of talked about someone who's preserving, knocking on the door, dean in dead middle of the night. It has applicability in our lives as well that we do the both. We preserve up in love. Yeah. And it's, it's nothing new that we need to discover. It's not a new concept. It's there. So by having the biblical principles, it can help us in all aspects of our lives. It's not just our church life.

Speaker 1: (17:36)
I even think of Jesus as an example, crossing cultural boundaries, speaking to women in that time, which wasn't common, talking to Samaritans or people who were maybe, you know, not revered in the culture and, or people who sick with leper. See, so you're right, I think what we're talking about today is so important, even from our faith background because it is, it's biblical and we're called to get out of our comfort zone and really meet people where they're at. And love them.

Speaker 2: (18:03)
Absolutely. I think I'm glad you brought that up. And because Jesus is a perfect example of someone who is that fast in his understanding of God's word is his steadfast in his own values and cultures. He didn't then, but he is able to still be able to reach out to different people of different backgrounds and that I think can be achievable when we are present with that humility present with that love and presence urines to others.

Speaker 1: (18:30)
Very good. Well what do you think, just speaking to maybe family systems who are listening, how can families promote this by cultural acceptance and really, yeah. Promoted, not just tolerate it, but kind of pushed these values of being open in their families? Absolutely.

Speaker 2: (18:47)
So I'll speak on both. Um, sizable speak with first with the parents aside or the older generation, they've experienced some level of needing to adapt, adjust being coming by cultural themselves. And so they are able to talk to their kids about their growing up experience. How is it different? Compare and contrast, not talking about which one's better or worse, but how Dave been raised, how Howard Day thinking take your kids to learn about different cultures. If you have the capacity or capability of even Google search, you know, and talk about the differences because I don't think that even though you identify as yeah know Cuban American or African American, you're fully living a life because you're here in the United States or that your experience, there are some differences between family members between the way they understand value and be able to communicate to the kids why they're thinking in such a way or why did they value a certain way, but also be not pushing the kids to adopt every single value but lady and porn stuff, which values we want you to continue on.

Speaker 2: (19:56)
Yeah, I'll bring with yourself. For Adolescents, I would say that they have the greatest capacity to learn. You know they have a lot of potential and I I'll enjoy working with them and because of that and that is also a time for them to craft an identity, to set a foundation for their identity. So that is a time to explore different cultures, explore things that are outside your comfort zone. I know it's scary. Then you want to fit in, you know, you don't want to stand out too much, but find yourself taking as many different experiences as you can. Learn from your friends, learn from your classmates, be open to it and don't take things as weird. Everyone is weird, everyone is weird and um, and where we're together. So that makes it even better. Right? Yeah. For adolescents you're also can approach your parents as well to tell them, this is what I'm experiencing as a conflict. Can you tell me it is about, you know, your culture, how your understanding of this issue and what I'm learning from school or what I'm learning from my own community or social group. And then they can take some time and sit down and consider all the different factors and come to their own conclusion.

Speaker 1: (21:03)
I love that you're just talking about simply having conversations about it, not pretending it doesn't exist. Yeah. And I think too, as you're talking, I'm thinking of the parents just modeling this by not being maybe so monocultural, but really opening up themselves to value where they come from and where they are now. And so then their children are more comfortable to do the same. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (21:27)
And that makes great sense because um, children will watch you parents.

Speaker 1: (21:32)
Yeah. Well that's all for today. Um, any last thoughts, Christopher, before we wrap up?

Speaker 2: (21:38)
Thank you so much for just inviting me here to talk about this topic. I feel that I haven't been able to think about it since my dissertation on this is a still something that I live and I see and so I'm hoping to branch out and make this a helpful experience for everyone else. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (21:55)
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here today and I know our listeners will enjoy this show. So, all right. Well for today, I'm Lindsay with wellspring on the air because hearts and minds matter