Authentic conversations about substance use in AANHPI multigenerational communities.

Topic: The Role of Cultural & Intergenerational Values in Substance Use in the Asian American Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander community
Host: Jasmine Chao, APICAT Community Engagement Intern
Guest: Mae Seng Chao, Certified Addiction Medicine Counselor

Understanding Cultural and Intergenerational Values in the AAPI Community

  • Discuss the diverse cultural and intergenerational values within the AAPI community and
    how they may impact substance use
  • Examine the role of stigma and shame in discussing substance use
  • Highlight the importance of understanding and respecting cultural and intergenerational values in addressing substance use and related issues


[00:00:42] Jasmine: Hi everyone. My name is Jasmine Chao. I am a finished freshman right now at the University of Washington, and I’m currently majoring in medical anthropology and global health. Right now I’m working as an APICAT community engagement intern, and I’m here interviewing my grandmother for this podcast.

[00:01:00] Jasmine: So, My grandma, her name is Mei Seng Chao. She’s a certified addiction medicine counselor. I’ll be referring to her as my Kuma because in me grandma is Gu, but I grew up calling her Kuma. So Hi Kuma.

[00:01:15] Mae Seng Chao: Thank you very much, Jasmine. Yes. My name is Mae Seng Chao. I am refugee from Laos. I came to United States in 1978.

[00:01:26] Mae Seng Chao: And my first job I working in international Rescue committee. I think you people usually hear I R C. And when I worked there I the agency is receiving a lot of Southeast Asian co refugee to United States. And some of the refugee that came here and they are former. Drug user and at that time lots of those arrivals usually serve in Vietnam and Lao and Cambodia War at that time.

[00:02:00] Mae Seng Chao: So they are former drug users, so when they got here, they use drug and, and they got into a law issue. Then the agency, the executive director found the place with that called, I think now it’s called T Hs Therapeutic Health Services, but back then it’s called c a s Center Addiction Services back then that name.

[00:02:28] Mae Seng Chao: And we found the executive director Norman Johnson. Hire me as a contractor as interpreter. Worked for the agency, worked for CAS at that time. How do I the question here is how do I, why do I get into this one? Does drug a counselor industry. Why do I want to go in there? Because many people came in and then got into the law.

[00:02:55] Mae Seng Chao: They got into trouble, got into a drug addiction. I said, Ooh, I like to learn about law. I like to learn about a drug addiction. I learn, I wanna learn about the law. How, why they’re not legal in here, and where did they get the drug from? So got me interest in there, but Norman Johnson, who is the executive director have a, a very generous heart for this population.

[00:03:25] Mae Seng Chao: This is a most unique pation in Seattle at that time. Very few people well more people in here, but few people come out with the addiction when they get hooked with the law. Then they come out. So I said, let me learn about law and addiction, law and drug. So that’s got in, let, let me got into that.

[00:03:50] Mae Seng Chao: I’m really thankful and I’m really grateful that I am here today because that Therapeutic Health Services, Norman Johnson was supporting me to go through my education to be certified for C D P. And as well as my sociology in social work track because him, otherwise I wouldn’t be able be able to achieve that today.

[00:04:16] Jasmine: So the reason you became interested in drug addiction and the law is because you saw it happening, so then you wanted to do work in there.

[00:04:24] Mae Seng Chao: Yes, I saw it. It is happening. I want to know how I can prevent it, how I can educate my community not to get there, get help, go get help. You don’t have to use opium to treat your own medical or emotional pain.

[00:04:41] Mae Seng Chao: Because we have medical now. We have medical facility. We have technology. We have medicine. Mm-hmm.

[00:04:48] Jasmine: But why did you decide to do that when you came as a refugee? Right? Because other, Other moms and stuff were not doing education. They weren’t going to get those types of jobs. So why did you decide to do that?

[00:05:01] Mae Seng Chao: I’m just want to know, want to learn, want to know how the drug affect addiction, affect the family, affect the individual, and affect the community. So and I, I, I really to be honestly, I really want to know about the law, how the law is different from oversee our, our Homeland and United States. And and drug, and I really want to know about that.

[00:05:29] Jasmine: So grandma, how does cultural and intergenerational values influence your approach in addressing substance prevention and use in our community?

[00:05:40] Mae Seng Chao: Well, I think the culture and the integrational value influenced my approach because I think I.

[00:05:51] Mae Seng Chao: I educate my community a lot. Mm-hmm. I educate my community about how the drug affects the community drug affects their lives in this country, how they view the addiction. Because in our country, people use addicted to drug is because their illnesses, but in here they’re addicted to drug will affect.

[00:06:15] Mae Seng Chao: AV aspect of their lives. Mm-hmm. And I want to teach them, I want to let them know that I want to prevent that. And I taught them in their own language. Fortunately, I spoke quite few other Asian language. You may know, you may not know. I speak min. I speak, I speak Thai Brokenly, but I, I get by very, okay.

[00:06:38] Mae Seng Chao: So, When I, I teach my clients and, and if I have an opportunity in community meetings, I always educate the adult young adult parents about the generation gap, how to approach the young youth, how to communicate with the youth. And then at again, I also teach my community and my clients.

[00:07:06] Mae Seng Chao: The perception of the life in the United States because they have this ship from self-medicate to treatment and going to the doctor medical doctor to treat the medic medical condition instead of using drug to be self using opium to be self-medicate. So I taught them that because I told them.

[00:07:31] Mae Seng Chao: How grateful now we are here and I want them to ship the perception to see, because back home you have stomach pain, you have ulcer, you have your infection. What do you do opium? What do you do? Fever. What do you do opium? But in here we have Tylenol, we have doctor in infection week. They can treat.

[00:07:56] Mae Seng Chao: The infection with antibiotic. You don’t need to use opium for yourself. And I do know this is not really many people talk about, but I think that people need to know this piece and shift the perception and beliefs.

[00:08:11] Jasmine: So how have you provided support for Armenian or A N H B I community Grandma?

[00:08:17] Mae Seng Chao: I support my community. At first, you have to educate them. The education is the key. Education is the key, but I have to be in your own language, own culture, and you have to deliver the education level that you understand your your own people. They can. Grasp the idea, the intention, what your message is about.

[00:08:42] Mae Seng Chao: If you use a solely medical techno technology or formal language, they will not be understand. So you have to use a formal language, but it have to be in your language. You have to be able to Educate them and tell them in your own language and own culture how we have to make the, have to bridge them from their culture to the United State culture.

[00:09:08] Mae Seng Chao: Otherwise they will not we’ll get them lost. We have to educate them about mental health, physical health and treatment option by by all being in the United States. You can. Do all the treatment you want to the individual. Individual wanted to make change when their life back. We have all things that are available.

[00:09:32] Mae Seng Chao: I educate them about methadone. I educate them about Suboxone and I educate them inpatient treatment. And we have believe me, Most of my clients use them all and it work. And again, I cannot take this discredit myself, but therapeutic health services has saved lots of lives. Southeast Asian people’s life lives in the united, in the king County region.

[00:10:07] Mae Seng Chao: They say that not just the addiction. Addicts lives, but they also saved the family. Saved their family. I remember when the client came back and, and during the Christmas time, he said, you know, normally people in the during the Christmas term, people buying people a gift, but I don’t have anything to give you.

[00:10:29] Mae Seng Chao: I’m handmade this. For you. So they use the straw, making some flour for me. Then I said, your best, biggest gift for me is that you save your family. That’s my gift. I love that. And that’s biggest gift for me. I don’t need anything besides that. And he’s in tears and I feel that he able to make change.

[00:10:56] Mae Seng Chao: I’m really. Please with that. And I told him, I think it’s a little handmade thing to hang on my wall, I appreciate, but I more appreciate you save your own family. You be able to stay with your family. And that’s the biggest gift that I got from him.

[00:11:12] Mae Seng Chao: Hmm.

[00:11:13] Jasmine: With all this knowledge and stuff that you have in our community, do you think that a lot of people in our Mien community receive The education that you’re giving them?

[00:11:21] Mae Seng Chao: I work in Asian Counseling and Referral Service as well, and I run a lot in, at Therapeutic Health Services, I run solely with drug Recovery Group.

[00:11:32] Mae Seng Chao: I provide a lot of information about. Recovery as well as mental health recovery. So mental health and the physical health and drug recovery, they are vice versa. You cannot leave one of them behind. You have to do it together with your own culture, your own language.

[00:11:50] Mae Seng Chao: Make sure that you down to, to your client’s level, make them really comfortable learning. From you asking question from you. I also educate my clients that do not feel bad about the addiction. Taking medication, not beyond the street using the drug, illegal drug is better than receiving suboxone, methadone, and inpatient treatment because it’s suboxone, methadone.

[00:12:20] Mae Seng Chao: It’s just like every daily thing, just like someone taking blood pressure medication. Just like that. Tell them to, they still have their normal life. They don’t have to be on the street. They can have their family and they are free and clear. They live wonderful life just to have a little few milligrams of methadone daily. That’s all he needs. And I don’t gain any methadone. I don’t get any compensation from methadone, but I mean, based on my experience, it works. It works, it works really well. Methadone is one of the substance that replaced the opiates. Take methadone on time, on a therapeutic dose. They are not relapsed on the drugs.

[00:13:06] Jasmine: So what are the biggest challenges facing the Asian-American native Hawaiian Pacific Islander community related to cannabis? Other drugs including the opioid crisis.

[00:13:15] Mae Seng Chao: Right now it’s a trend I think you all know that older folks they still using they still using opiates, but the younger generation is more like methamphetamine, cocaine. And nowadays it’s fentanyl. Fentanyl is really danger in the community, mostly youth. And cannabis is so easy.

[00:13:40] Mae Seng Chao: I see that. Even we cross by, like passing by someone on the street. Young people, you can smell the cannabis use smoke. You can hear that. And I, I think to my own opinion,

[00:13:56] Mae Seng Chao: I think eventually we will have more problem with youth achieving higher education because cannabis helped somewhat affected individuals learning and affected their lifestyle and as well as financial. Financial is also affected. So because it’s expensive and even it’s legal, but it’s quite expensive.

[00:14:24] Jasmine: What advice would you give to parents of teens?

[00:14:28] Mae Seng Chao: Well let’s see. I still believe that quality time is, is the key to spend, to get to know your kids better. Once you are honest to your children, you respect them, they respect you back, and they will tell you when they need help. But if you do not communicate with the children, the youth openly, then when they have issue, they will not come to you.

[00:14:58] Mae Seng Chao: And also when they, you have the quality time, make sure that, do you know the media, talk about the sub certain drug? Did your school talk about that? Do you know about that? How this affecting youth? Do you have someone ac come across the offer to you? And please say, no. I teach my kid to say no to drug.

[00:15:21] Mae Seng Chao: I I did that earlier. On, and again, like I said, you have to know the school schedule after school activity schedule and who they with and which parent to pick them up and which. I pick up the kids, I drop off the kids on time, or I let them know I have both parents contact number. So that’s, I usually do when I when your parents grow growing up when your mom grow up.

[00:15:47] Mae Seng Chao: So yeah. When they in trouble, you be honest with them. They will respect you. You respect them. They in trouble. They come to see you.

[00:15:55] Jasmine: So is it important for the kids to know what’s going on in their community so they can educate themselves?

[00:16:00] Mae Seng Chao: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. They can avoid, they can choose the what is good, what is bad. They can make a more informed decision if they know what’s going on. I think a lot of youth, I don’t know other people’s youth, but my youth at that this time and back then they don’t watch the news.

[00:16:19] Mae Seng Chao: That’s why we have to make sure that they understand what’s going on in the community. What might the kids that I learned from school in general, or from the community in general when they know so and so. Got overdosed, so and so gone, so and so in jail. That’s all I know from the kids.

[00:16:43] Jasmine: But even sometimes when parents are involved in their kids’ life, really like really involved. But the kid can still make bad decision though.

[00:16:51] Mae Seng Chao: They can do, but we do, we are as parent, we don’t want to miss our chance. We don’t want to later on blame ourselves that we don’t deliver the information to them. And we are not expecting a hundred percent, but do this, you will get better outcome than you don’t do it.

[00:17:09] Mae Seng Chao: When you become a medical provider, learning about drug and alcohol addiction physical health, emotional health. You will, will help you a lot. Make the patient’s life. You serve patient more effectively. Patient and their family more effectively.

[00:17:26] Jasmine: So you know that I’m going school so that I can become a doctor cuz when I was young, actually.

[00:17:32] Jasmine: My grandma would take me to preschool because both of my parents would work. So my grand, my grandma would take me to preschool in kindergarten, and we had career day. And ever since I was young, they said that they didn’t put it into my head. But I’ve always wanted to become a doctor. So she got me a little lab coat and like stethoscope and I went at in kindergarten as Dr. Chau, and she prays for me every year that I’ll become a doctor. And so since then, my dream has never changed. I’ve always wanted to become a doctor and I’m pursuing that right now in college. But in terms of like community work, I think I see a lot of you and my mom. Because as mom’s working at the Department of Neighborhoods now, I just think that growing up I just saw you guys do a lot of community work in our community for the Asian community in Seattle and things like that.

[00:18:18] Jasmine: So it always made me want to like, or it made me see the importance of it. It made me see the value of it, you know? I think just seeing my mom, seeing my grandma allowed me to really look at how important the work of working in community is. And it wanted me to have a contribution to that.

[00:18:36] Jasmine: It wanted me to do it because I just feel like if it’s something important, then I want to be able to, to allocate my, and invest my energy into it if it’s something to better myself, my family, and my community. I just thought it was really important and it’s something that I enjoy and that I’m passionate about.

[00:18:52] Jasmine: So something that I wanted to build more of myself on.

[00:18:57] Jasmine: I think that’s also important of why I changed my major, cuz originally I was a biology major, right. So that I could finish the medical track faster, but I changed it to medical anthropology and global health because it focuses on more of a holistic view. Of, of health and medical. Health and my medical profession.

[00:19:14] Jasmine: And so I wanted to look at how health faces, like disparity in communities and things like that and, and how it’s just holistic. Like, like you said, I had. Everything’s connected, right? Like physical, mental and drug recovery. All of that is interconnected together. 

[00:19:33] (Outro)

[00:19:50] Jasmine: Thank you for tuning in to our Together Our Voices podcast. We hope that you found this episode informative and that you learn something new about the issue of episode one. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to explore, please feel free to reach out to us on our website or social media channels. Thanks once again for listening to together our Voices. We’ll see you on our next episode.