BY CHRIS PHAN, APIAVOTE
Asian Services in Action (ASIA) was founded in late 1995 in Ohio when a handful of social and healthcare workers noticed the enormous gaps between newly arrived immigrant and refugee communities and their challenges in integrating in the United States. ASIA first began as an after-school program to assist with cultural integration, led by social workers, and a healthcare screening service, facilitated by healthcare workers. Today, ASIA has been around for nearly 25 years, and to this day, continues their throughline of holistic community health with Asian and immigrant communities through their extensive program support.
Elaine Tso, executive director of ASIA, explains that the organization focuses on providing services to all immigrants and all refugees. Over the years, they have served Chinese, Bhutan, Nepal, Vietnamese, and other communities. ASIA provides comprehensive support for these communities through both community health and social services. She emphasized, “Within those two ‘arms’ — there’s quite a bit of overlap. You can’t look at healthcare without looking at the social determinants of health. These programs go hand in hand. On the social services side, we make sure that the needs of the community are met by helping clients enroll in benefits like insurance as well as working with local employers for job placement, and so on.”
When it comes to social services, ASIA gives a wide variety of support for their clients. ASIA provides legal services for housing, immigration, and victims of crime. They especially help navigate clients with bilingual attorneys due to language barriers being one of the primary ways and causes that individuals can be taken advantage of. They have also provided support and a community network for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. And over the years, they’ve continued to operate their original program, the after school program for children.
On the other hand, Elaine explained that regarding community health services, it takes quite a bit of cultural knowledge and responsiveness to understand how to talk about health. “There’s a lot of knowledge on food that needs to be explained. For instance, certain foods that folks might be eating all the time back in their country of origin might not be the healthiest to be consuming all the time. Or on the opposite side — we also have to know how to talk to them about the consumption of new foods, like soda, and how to consume those in a healthy way.”
“Preventative care isn’t always easy to explain or talk about. For people who were living in a refugee camp previously, they might have only gone to a doctor when something was terribly wrong. So we have to explain to them how to maintain their health.” And on top of everything, sometimes access to foods and cuisines rooted in their culture, while maintaining healthy practices, might not be the easiest in Ohio. “We have to help them figure out how to make these modifications without feeling like they’re losing their culture and history.”
ASIA has taken significant strides, like helping set up a farmer’s market that provides healthy produce and helping some community members sell their own culturally specific produce as a way of making money. Their social enterprise and small business support has continued even more, with a microloan program to help small businesses start and grow (including restaurants, ethnic grocery stores, and clothing stores.)
However, Elaine acknowledges that finding ways to revive and maintain culture and history can be hard in Ohio. She explains that immigrant communities here can be treated differently than they are in enclaves on the coast. “One thing ASIA has been doing is educating the majority white community on our immigrant & refugee needs and their culture. It’s not direct services — but it’s indirect. We’re supporting them because it’s a way of getting the supermajority white community to understand them.” In other words — integration while retaining culture and identity also requires the existing community to meet them halfway.
To read more about ASIA’s mission and support their work, visit their #GiveInMay page.