Cross Cultural Mores and Values: Middle-Eastern Americans, South Asian-Americans and Native Americans
No longer a melting pot but more like a salad bowl, the United States has always been a land of immigrants and its diverse demographic composition today is a reflection of this process. In fact, just one group, Native Americans, can be regarded as being the original inhabitants, but anthropologists argue that even these people likely migrated from other continents tens of thousands of years ago, making them immigrants in a sense as well. Three groups in particular stand out in the American demographic mix as being in need of thoughtful attention in cross-cultural counseling situations, namely Middle-Eastern Americans, South Asian-Americans and Native Americans. To determine what counselors need to know in order to develop effective interventions for members from these three groups, this paper provides a review of the literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings concerning cross-cultural counseling of Middle-Eastern Americans, South Asian-Americans and Native Americans in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned group of "hyphenated-Americans" in recent years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In this regard, Rogers (2009) emphasizes that one of the most significant effects of the 9/11 attacks was the groundswell of negative reactions that emerged across the country. According to Rogers, "Among the most significant reactions that resulted were dramatic increases in feelings of anger toward, and workplace discrimination against, Muslims and those perceived to be from Middle Eastern cultures" (2009, p. 25). Moreover, these feelings of anger have been further reinforced in recent weeks as the beheadings of American and British citizens have been widely publicized in the global media by ISIS.
These events have had significant implications for Middle-Eastern Americans in the workplace as these gruesome incidents have been matched by a new air strike campaign that continues to create havoc in the region. When mainstream Americans witness these ongoing events on television or other media, they further reinforce existing fears and fuel new ones about people from the Middle East. In this regard, Rogers (2009) reports that, "Employers began implementing more visible corporate security precautions and background and security checks. Underlying all these actions and emotions was an unspoken understanding that a potential employee who fit the stereotypical description of a Muslim could harbor terrorist intentions" (p. 27).
Middle-Eastern Americans are defined as the collective group of 22 Arab League States: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Sjibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritainia, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen (Nassar-McMillan & Zagzebski-Tovar, 2012). The fundamental differences between the Western world and the Arab world did not spring into full bloom on 9/11, though, but have rather been the source of divisiveness for 1,400 years. For instance, according to Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012), "Conflicts between the United States and the Arab Middle East have been characterized as rifts between east and west, capitalizing on differences rather than similarities among people and overlooking the common human elements in individuals' hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values" (p. 72). Despite the enormous amount of media coverage of the Arab world in recent years, a number of significant misconceptions concerning Middle Eastern-Americans remain firmly in place in the minds of tens of millions of Americans today. In this regard, Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012) emphasize that, "It is important for culturally sensitive career counselors to be aware of distinctions, subtle as they may seem, in order to best understand clients who are of Arab-American descent" (p. 73).
The first distinction is the important difference between the terms "Middle Eastern" and Arab" which are not synonymous. The term "Middle East" as popularly conceptualized in the West is used to refer to an enormous geographic area that is larger than the League of Arab States but which does not fully subsume all of the states of the Arab League which includes countries in Asia as well as countries in northern and sub-Saharan Africa (Nassar-McMillan & Zagzebski-Tovar, 2012). As Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012) point out, "The Middle East, in fact, includes countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, to mention a few, that are not Arab countries by any definition" (p. 74). The term "Middle East," though, has been used by the U.S. Census Bureau and other organizations since September 11, 2001 to refer to people from and with ancestry from the Middle East as well as the Arab States (Nassar-McMillan & Zagzebski-Tovar, 2012).
Another important distinction concerns the differences between the terms "Muslim" and "Arab" which are frequently used interchangeably but which, again, nor not synonymous (Nassar-McMillan & Zagzebski-Tovar, 2012). The rationale in support of the introduction of these terms was largely the same as for the Middle East and which can also introduce constraints to counseling unless these distinctions are understood. According to Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012), "The motivation at times for the lack of differentiation of these two groups is again, political, which at times can be either detrimental or beneficial to the Americans of Arab decent (AAD) population" (p. 73).
Consequently, it is important for counselors to avoid assigning all clients from Arab nations with a Muslim, Middle-Eastern American label. In this regard, Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012) conclude that, "In counseling, it is critical to distinguish Muslim and Arab clients" (p. 74). Therefore, rather than making erroneous assumptions concerning the religious, cultural, social and political views of clients who may appear to be of Arab descent, it is important for counselors to develop a comprehensive understanding of the facts about their clients. As Nassar-McMillan and Zagzebski-Tovar (2012) point out, "Some may be Muslim Arabs (or Arab-Americans, or AAD), but others may be AAD but be non-Muslim, while many others still might be Muslim with countries of origin in the greater Middle East or elsewhere entirely" (p. 74).
According to the World Bank, South Asia is comprised of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and, with 1.4 billion people, contains half of the world's population (South Asia countries, 2014). Like the term, "Middle-Eastern Americans," South-Asians comprise a separate group from other Asians, and it is important for counselors to avoid grouping all Asians together under an umbrella term. As the authors of "Culturally Alert Counseling" emphasize, "It is particularly important that counselors, while being culturally sensitive and aware of different cultural norms and expectations, do not use these similarities among South Asians to stereotype their clients" (p. 318).
Some indication of the current status of South Asian-Americans can be discerned from how this group is perceived compared to other immigrant groups. In general, Burke and Chauvin (2005) suggest that in contrast to other "hyphenated-American" groups, "Asian immigrants have not been welcome in the United States" (p. 171). As examples, Burke and Chauvin describe the current perceptions of other demographic groups in comparison:
European-Americans have been accepted as conquerors;
African-Americans are accepted as people who were severely wronged;
Native Americans are accepted as the original people of the land;
Most Latino-Americans are accepted as colonized people; but,
Asian-Americans have not been accepted because of cultural and certain racial differences (2005, p. 171).
In fact, among all immigrant groups, South-Asians have especially been singled out as the target of exclusionary tactics by the U.S. government for more than 150 years (Burke & Chauvin, 2005). According to Burke and Chauvin, "Some authors believe that these injustices may live in the psyche of South Asian-Americans and influence their trust of mainstream American society" (p. 171). Although the Asian Exclusionary Act of 1924 that outlawed Asian immigration to the United States is no longer in effect, it is reasonable to suggest that the patterns of treatment have a residual effect in the consciousness of South Asian-Americans in ways that will have an inevitable effect on the counseling relationship. In this regard, Burke and Chauvin point out that, "Counselors and mental health professionals must have some knowledge of the history of this cultural group in order to be able to walk with their clients on the journey toward wholeness" (2005, p. 172).
Unfortunately, there remains a profound dearth of relevant and timely literature concerning South Asian-Americans and counseling (Dasgupta, 2007). The research that has been conducted to date has largely focused on two separate issues: (a) South Asian-American community attitudes toward mental illness and (b) South Asian-American community attitudes toward mental health services (Dasgupta, 2007). According to Dasgupta, "A few recently published works have attempted to develop theoretical frameworks on these topics, presumably to assist in developing culturally competent therapeutic practices, and reflects themes of silence and shame in the community discourse on mental health issues" (2007, p. 82). For instance, studies have shown that stigma and shame are linked with mental health problems in India, and because many Indians have immigrated to the United States during recent decades, counselors are likely to "have retained some traditional Indian beliefs about mental illness" during their professional careers (Dasgupta, 2007, p. 83.