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How does your cultural identity affect your approach to infant and early childhood infant mental health?

Using principles of diversity-informed practice helps early childhood professionals approach their work with curiosity and recognize they cannot filter the experience of children and families through just their own singular lens.

These IECMH leaders discuss their Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander cultural identity and how it informs their work.

Haruko studied under the mentorship of Dr. Kathryn Barnard and has worked with families with young children within various systems since 2003. Her clinical perspective and consultation/mentoring practices have been informed by her personal experiences as an immigrant and having lived in three different countries.

How I show up in my clinical, consultation and advocacy work with and on behalf of young children and families is deeply rooted in who I am, where I come from, and what my relationships past and present have taught me. Growing up, I was taught that often we only know pieces of the story in any given moment but that wisdom can be found on the outside, inside and between people (i.e., wisdom that can be generated when people get together). I learned not only to listen to people’s stories to find wisdom in their truths but also to respect their silence and its meaning. Given this, I often find myself holding reverence for the unspoken truths of those that I support, and at the same time seeking ways to hopefully earn the right to hear their stories so that I can better understand where they are coming from. In clinical IECMH work, I am aware that systems can often influence whose voices are valued or scrutinized more than others and that this can shape major outcomes for families. 

Born in Japan, I grew up with interdependence as a way of being; we all need to do whatever we can, whenever we can and wherever we can, in order to contribute to the wellbeing of the group and in return being supported by the community. I am aware of what my ancestors have done for my generation, and I have been modeled to consider what kind of ancestors I want to strive to be for my children and their children and grandchildren. With this upbringing, I hold value in history of places, peoples and programs, and I strive everyday to pay forward what my personal and professional ancestors have gifted me and more.

I strive to work against the internalized and external expectations for someone that looks like me, an Asian female immigrant, to ‘not take up space’ and instead bring forth critical issues that need to be recognized.

As a leader of a team of IECMH clinicians, I hold in mind that every member of the team (from a brand new intern to seasoned clinicians and supervisors) plays a unique and crucial role in making the whole team stronger and better able to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

I work to promote a culture of team members supporting one another, no matter what their designated work-related roles may be. I get excited when creative ideas are generated from our team discussions and work to facilitate a “work in progress” team culture that values ongoing learning, curiosity and critical thinking that helps us all challenge assumptions and improve client care. 

Nucha’s work engages in efforts towards systems change by influencing multi-level systems integration of diversity-informed principles practice in the IECMH field. He is a member of the ZERO TO THREE academy of Fellows Coordinating Committee and the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children and Families Initiative.

For the sake of clarity and transparency, this reflection is contextualized within a dominant culture that identifies racialized identities (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) in conversations about cultural heritage during a (well-meaning) designated month (AANHPI Month) that has the impact of perpetuating the othering of historically marginalized and minoritized groups in U.S. society – inclusion without belonging. This brief reflection will speak to the influence of culture on my approach to infant and early childhood mental health as it pertains to my racialized, minoritized cultural identity and to my ethnic cultural identity, both of which are intersectional and complex. 

My racialized, minoritized cultural identity as a queer, male-identified Asian American influences how I engage children, families, and other professionals based on the many possible ways that I perceive myself and my role and how the people I am engaging perceive me and my role. I hold as my responsibility to be curious about and come to better understand their past and present relationships and encounters (or lack thereof) with others who share my racialized physical features and characteristics.

Concurrently, my intersectional identity requires me to be aware of my past and present relationships and encounters (or lack thereof) with others who share racialized features and characteristics with the people with whom I am engaging. This means that, depending on who I am interacting with, I consider the ways in which people and communities racialized as Asian/Asian American, the identity I am associated with, have either acted in solidarity with, been at odds with or been complicit in the privileging or suffering of other racialized communities (e.g., Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Arabic, White, Jewish, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) as evidenced in social and political events throughout local, regional, national, and international history (e.g., the L.A. riots, Black Lives Matter, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese-American internment, the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, refugee and asylee politics, immigration politics, affirmative action and other education & employment politics, housing politics). Whether I like it or not, these historical dynamics and their resulting present-day legacies are part of my racialized, minoritized cultural inheritance as a person categorized as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander. 

I am reminded from my ethnic cultural core that humanity is family. Our beliefs and values include gratitude for the wisdom of those who come before – our elders and ancestors – while recognizing that our children are our future. So thus we, as a society, will harvest from the seeds we sow and the ways we tend.

My ethnic cultural heritage and identity are rooted in the land currently identified as Southeast Asia (SEA) and more specifically in the country of Thailand. I hold ancestral origins that connect the first peoples of SEA with people who later migrated from what is now China. The specificity of these origins have been lost through conflict, colonization, nationalization, capitalism and time. This ethnic cultural identity with which I identify for myself influences my approach as an IECMH professional on the most fundamental level through my relational orientation to others around me, regardless of closeness and familiarity, as my children, siblings and relatives. This extends familial reverence and respect to everyone I meet, because by virtue of their humanity, they are family.

For me this resonates strongly with Dr. Jeree Pawl’s Platinum Rule wisdom about the parallel process: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto others.” How might our world be different if we live in a world where “humanity is family” and that each of us live the change we want to see in the world. 

Mental health is formed in our earliest days, even before birth.

Aditi works at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) leading a statewide workforce development partnership between MSPCC and the Massachusetts Association for Infant Mental Health (MassAIMH) focused on enhancing, diversifying and supporting the infant and early childhood mental health workforce with the goal of improving access to services for children age birth–6 and their families. 

“I am because we are,” the interconnectedness of humanity, and leaning into the value that everyone needs a village of support to be seen, to thrive, to connect, to make meaning is foundational to my lens as an IECMH professional.

I grew up in India and identify as a South Asian, cis-gendered, heterosexual woman, mother, daughter, partner, sister, friend, dancer and social justice warrior. I was raised by a large and very close-knit family. I identify as an immigrant in this country raising my child biculturally, holding cultural ways of being from home, in India, and discovering new ones here.

The spirit of the collective and that the “I” exists as part of a “we” was very central to how I was raised and has impacted my work and ways of knowing, being and doing in my role as an infant and early childhood mental health reflective practitioner and systems leader.

Oral storytelling was and is a big part of cultural upbringing. Storytelling to weave meaning, to connect, to deeply listen and to discover and wonder about another’s experience.

As a dancer and movement psychotherapist, embodied ways of knowing and being in relationship and reflection influence my approach too. The power of the arts as expression are woven into my professional lens. To care and hold the experience of babies while also nurturing the mother, the family surrounding the baby is a lived feeling I identify with that carries into my professional lens. Birthing a baby and caring for the wellbeing of the mother, the birthing parent and family is not only meant to be an individual responsibility of the nuclear family unit – the community, family, friends are all a part of this caregiving process. This value is deeply embedded in my frame. Justice and advocacy are inextricably woven at my core from how I was raised, to keep digging critically inward to do better outward and be intentional in ways to dismantle.

I believe that cultural competence as a concept is not what we strive for, but striving for cultural respect and humility through deep listening and holding a “not knowing” stance is key to show up as human alongside another. As a person and professional, my journey is engagement in ongoing critical self reflection as a pathway to uphold culturally responsive and respectful practice and systems implementation.

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