A Dialogue on Family and Culture

Flyer designed by Jara Montez, a 2009 graduate of Gunn High school in Palo Alto, CA

On Sunday July 17, WOPAC hosted its 4th community dialogue on the theme of “Family and Culture.” We were interested in exploring how family and culture interact with one another and how that relationship intersects with our mental health and well-being.

Through this dialogue, we hoped that participants would recognize cultures as diverse, fluid, and legitimate as well as gain a deeper understanding of how to approach cultural diversity with their family and others’ families.

Some of the questions that guided our planning included:

  1. How do our families’ cultural backgrounds shape our experiences in Palo Alto and the surrounding communities?
  2. How can we acknowledge and respect cultural diversity within and outside our families?

While organizing this dialogue, we focused on reaching out to minority communities. We hoped to open up the space to different cultures, defined by ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, immigration experience, and any other facet of identity. Over 30 people came to the event — many parents attended, along with several alumni and community members.

2 small group dialogues led by alumni moderators outside of Mitchell Park Community Center’s Palo Alto Room

We started the event by listening to a diverse panel of parents, alumni, and community members who shared their stories. The panel included Dr. Rona Hu, a second generation Chinese American parent; Kathrina Onate, the child of Filipino immigrants; Joanna Prabhu and Dr. Mahendra Ramachandran, an Indian and Christian father-daughter duo; and Souleymane Sarr, a half-Arabic and half-African Muslim who serves in the military. Here are their full panelist biographies.

Dr. Rona Hu, Kathrina Onate, Joanna Prabhu, Dr. Mahendra Ramachandran, Souleymane Sarr (left to right)
A typed out list of themes coming soon!

After the panel, we engaged in small group dialogues, each moderated by one or two alumni. At the end of these dialogues, participants jotted their own take-away points on Post-it notes and stuck them on a poster.

One of the notes that I resonated with stated: “It’s interesting to see the many cultures that come together in the U.S. have a lot of similarities”. In my small group for instance, while we came from different backgrounds, we shared similar experiences of being excluded, mislabeled, or misunderstood because of our cultures.

In the last 30 minutes of the event, we had a large group debrief. Participants shared reflections about their dialogue experience and highlighted stories that stood out to them. For example, one participant commended another for his bravery in standing up to an authority figure in defense of his religion. Other participants brought up their appreciation for one family’s communication intervention, in which parents and teens formally sat down with a counselor so they all could talk openly with each other.

While we all came from different families and cultures, it was great to have a space for people to congregate, converse with one another, and hear for themselves what family and culture meant in each others’ lives.

At the very end, we asked everyone 2 reflection questions. Below are some notable responses:

Q1: What is one story you heard today from someone of a different cultural background that yours that you related to?

“How to explore one’s own identity; how to react to the question ‘what are you’, feeling very uncertain about how to react or what would be appropriate to react… One of the people in my group discussed being very close with his family because they were all undergoing the same experience of isolation after moving across the country. With my family, we felt the same, not for being ostracized, but our values often seem at odds with the people outside, so we stick with each other because we understand each other, and the one or two friends we feel understand us.”

Q2: What is something you learned today that you will take into your daily interactions with your family?

“The importance of listening and asking questions and not trying to answer or offer a point of view right away.”
“Culture is a complex, evolving thing and we bring our own experiences into our belief systems. I respect my parent’s beliefs cause they experienced different things than I did.”
“That parents take/deal with conflict very differently than their kids. People need to step back and realize how crucial family values are in creating cultures, identity, and diversity in the world.”
Thumbs up to some of my fellow alumni in WOPAC!

At any dialogue, participants actively shape the content and direction of the conversation. Thus, we are grateful for everyone who participated in our dialogue and helped made our event happen. I would like to personally thank my WOPAC teammates and my co-organizer, Christina Chen, who was a part of creating last summer’s community dialogues. Also, we appreciate Project Safety Net — Palo Alto, Palo Alto University, and the City of Palo Alto — Public Agency for their continuous support and sponsorship of our community dialogues.

For any alumni who would like to be involved with WOPAC planning, please contact wopac.roots@gmail.com! Check out https://goo.gl/n8vdFS for an idea as to what you can do in WOPAC. Furthermore, collaboration and input are key to our organization, so we welcome everyone’s ideas on dialogue themes and community events.