At Haven we have heard and spoken the words “cultural competency” for years. We have had countless discussions and attended training that address cultural competence. We have evaluated our programs and policies and tried to make changes to reflect our deepest desire to be as culturally competent as we can be.
I have to admit something. As much as I value cultural competency, I still struggle to understand exactly what cultural competency is. Over the years I have learned a few things. I have learned that I prefer the term culturally responsive over cultural competence, because it’s really not about being competent but about acknowledging and valuing the cultural needs of all who walk through our doors. It is a journey not a destination. I have had to acknowledge my privilege (which coincidentally, is also a journey, not a destination.) I have realized that I don’t have to know everything. I just have to be willing to learn more, listen more, ask questions and seek to understand each individual sitting in front of me in the context of their own life experiences and culture.
As a white, heterosexual, Christian, I will admit it can be hard for me to see unmet cultural needs. Mine always have been. I have rarely experienced being the other or the exception. My privilege allows me to put cultural responsiveness on the back burner and only become aware of the need in a moment when I can clearly see that I am not cutting it. (Not to mention when I am completely unaware that I am not cutting it.) I remember as a child in elementary school noticing ways that my Southeast Asian friends were different from me. They spoke different languages, their parents were stricter, they weren’t allowed to come over to my house after school. I remember thinking of these as “old ways.” That they were just behind on their journey of becoming like me. It is embarrassing to admit, but it took me many years to recognize that there was something wrong with that picture.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the Next Generation Project to learn with and from my peers, how we can all strive to better serve API survivors and families in our communities. This has been an incredible experience and I have learned many things, but I still struggle to understand, what exactly is cultural responsiveness?
Haven recently hosted our first community panel, “A Gathering of Asian & Pacific Islander Voices.” I was so excited to get to hear from people in our community. I was confident that these 6 people would help me put those final pieces together that would make things click for me. I was prepared for this venture to require some work. I knew that getting people to sit down and talk with us would be work. I knew that expanding our programs to meet the needs of API families would be work. I knew that I would have to be willing to step into some uncomfortable territory.
And then I heard one of the panelists describe the patriarchal family structure that was traditional in her community and she said, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” That statement hit me in a way that’s difficult to describe. I was thinking uncomfortable territory would be going into an Asian market without knowing exactly what I was looking for, mispronouncing words, and allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to not know what I was doing. I was completely unaware that the true struggle would be opening up to belief systems fundamentally different than my own.
I shouldn’t be surprised that not only did I walk away from the panel with little answers but I actually found myself with even more questions:
What does it mean to meet someone where they are, without having any expectation that they desire to leave that place? Whether this means to leave an abuser, a family or community, or cultural values.
Where does education come in to play? How do we come together to denounce domestic violence in cultures where men have sanctioned power over women and their families? Can we really address violence without addressing power and control?
How do we advocate when a survivor values the wellbeing of her community and her family as much as her own safety?
Cultural responsiveness for me is no longer just about learning about other cultures. It’s also about thinking about my own culture differently. How do I reconcile the values engrained in me by my culture, both as a white person of privilege and as a feminist advocate, to truly meet survivors and communities where they are? How do I learn to see others beliefs as whole and valued; different, but not wrong?