U profs create parent project

The program aims to help immigrants with raising children in the United States.

by Cati Vanden Breul

When Blong Xiong came to the United States in 1982,

he had no idea he would become a professor at the University and help fellow Hmong immigrants succeed in the country, he said.

At age 15, Xiong and his family moved to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand.

Xiong and other University professors created a program that aims to help Southeast Asian immigrants deal with the challenges of raising their children in the United States.

It was through struggles with his own parents that, Xiong said, he realized how difficult it was for Southeast Asian immigrants, including the Hmong, to raise their children in a land vastly different from their own.

“My own experiences with my parents and siblings motivated me to start the project,” Xiong said.

The program is geared toward four Southeast Asian ethnic groups, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao and Hmong. All groups began migrating to the United States in large numbers, as refugees following the Vietnam War.

With approximately 5,000 Southeast Asian immigrants from the Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp in Thailand arriving in the Twin Cities area in the coming months, the program could be a beneficial tool for parents, said General College

Associate Dean and co-author Daniel Detzner.

“Immigrants come to the United States knowing how to parent in their home country,” he said. “They don’t know how to operate as a parent here.”

Southeast Asian parents tend to be more restrictive, Detzner said. He said they don’t understand the amount of freedom U.S. teenagers have, and it becomes hard for a child to fit into society and please his or her parents at the same time.

The bicultural parenting program tries to show parents “how to blend their traditional parenting styles with American realities,” Detzner said.

Videos and books used in the program show problems Southeast Asian parents face when raising children in the United States, away from home. They also encourage parents to discuss the issue.

In order to identify common difficulties, such as those presented in the videos and books, creators held focus groups for parents and adolescents from the four ethnic groups. They talked to children and parents separately about what they liked and disliked about their parenting styles. They made a list of issues that came up consistently in families.

Parents attended a session led by trained group leaders and read a series of stories outlining key family problems discovered in the focus groups.

Facilitators led discussion among the parents and made them think critically about what they would do in the situation.

Varying from the clothes children wear to talking on the phone with the opposite sex, Southeast Asian parents “praise the validity of the issues presented,” Xiong said.

Detzner said, “We don’t want to simply show them the American way – we want to help them form their own solutions.”

Xiong is working to get federal funding to make the program more accessible to incoming refugees.

Among other things, the program needs funding to get group leaders and transportation for immigrants who need it, Xiong said.

Marketing is also an important part of the process, Detzner said.

The University’s Office of Continuing Professional Studies has been marketing the program for approximately a year, said administrative fellow and graduate student Aysem Karahan.

Karahan said her office looks for where most Southeast Asians settle in the nation and targets health-care organizations, family resource centers and police.

The efforts are successful, Karahan said.

“We are seeing more activity than we have in the past, and we like that,” she said.

The program has been used in 10 states so far, Detzner said.