Abstract: Japanese Parents' Experiences Supporting Their School-Aged Children's Acculturation to the U.S.: Resisting the Stereotype of Model Minority (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Japanese Parents' Experiences Supporting Their School-Aged Children's Acculturation to the U.S.: Resisting the Stereotype of Model Minority

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Misa Kayama, MSW, PhD, Assistant professor, University of Mississippi, University, MS
Wendy Haight, PhD, Professor and Gamble Skogmo Chair, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN

Despite social work’s historical roots in 19th century social justice movements within immigrant communities, Anti-Asian racism in the U.S. has been a neglected social justice issue (Gover et al., 2020) that can undermine the acculturation of Asian immigrants, the second largest immigrant group in the U.S. Asian immigrant parents report racism as obstacles to their children’s acculturation to public schools (Endo, 2016). Consistent with research indicating that many Asians hesitate to seek formal support for the psychosocial challenges of acculturation (Sakamoto et al., 2009), they also express reluctance to report such incidents to educators (Choi et al., 2013; Endo, 2016). Given stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority” (Zhou & Bankston III, 2020), little research examines the experiences of Asian immigrant parents in supporting their children’s acculturation to the U.S. Guided by the concept of cultural socialization (Hughes et al., 2006), that is, adults’ support of children’s cultural identity development and protection from racism, this study examines Japanese immigrant parents’ experiences supporting their children’s acculturation to U.S. public schools. Japanese immigrants are an important subgroup to examine given their increase in the U.S. population in the past 2 decades, and the relatively few Japanese resources available to them.


We purposively selected 14 Japanese immigrant parents of school-aged children in a southern U.S. state to participate in semi-structured, one-hour individual interviews. All interviews were conducted and analyzed in Japanese. Parents described their socialization practices at home to support children’s acculturation, and children’s experiences at school. Using analytic induction techniques, emic codes capturing parents’ socialization practices were induced through repeated readings of interviews (Schwandt, 2007). Two researchers coded all interviews individually. Any disagreements were resolved through discussion. The credibility of analyses was critiqued by a Japanese educator for the purpose of peer debriefing (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Finally, [both authors] interpreted and contextualized parents’ narratives of Japanese and U.S. cultural socialization practices.


Parents described two major challenges to supporting their children’s acculturation. An underlying challenge was the socialization of a Japanese self that is sensitive to others and flexibly responsive to the social context within the U.S. educational system they perceived as individualistic and competitive. Consequently, they shifted from the implicit guidance offered in Japan that encourages children to “read” others’ emotions and accommodate them to more explicit efforts to ensure their children’s learning and development as Japanese in the U.S. Second, Japanese immigrant families, members of the majority group in their relatively homogenous homeland, had little experience in recognizing and addressing racism. Their children may not directly express their distress to avoid micro aggressions and “fit in” to their new schools. Parents described U.S. teachers’ failure to recognize their children’s implicit expressions of distress at school.


Japanese parents’ narratives challenge the stereotype of Asians as the model minority. Japanese children may be misunderstood by U.S. adults as quiet and passive, and labeled as a model minority. Knowledge of the cultural shaping of children’s self-expression will allow U.S. social workers to provide culturally-sensitive support for Asian immigrant children.