Immigrants often face prejudice. As an immigrant from Taiwan, Chien-Juh Gu, an associate professor of sociology at Western Michigan University, knows this first-hand. She's explored the immigrant experience of middle-class, professional Taiwanese women in the U.S. Her latest book is The Resilient Self: Gender, Immigration, and Taiwanese Americans (Rutgers University Press, 2017).
Gu says it was often a challenge getting these women to talk about their silent suffering.
“The stigma associated with mental illness, as with any mental problems, is very strong in immigrant communities, especially Asian immigrants,” Gu says. “The tradition is not to tell other people because it could bring stigma to not only on the individual but also the family. Psychologists and sociologists have had a very difficult time understanding what factors lead to their psychological struggles and how do they cope with everyday stress.”
Gu overcame that reluctance by avoiding direct questions about the issue. Instead, she put out the call to Asian immigrant communities for interviews about the general immigrant experience. The response was great. Gu interviewed 45 women. She says many found it difficult to stop once they did starting talking.
“Once the women opened up, they talked non-stop, so I spent from two hours to 12 hours with each informant in my study.”
Gu heard stories about depression, boredom, loneliness, and feelings of isolation. Many were frustrated about not being able to work in their professions (most of the women came to the U.S. on dependent visas that don't allow them to work outside the home).
“Many of my subjects told me it was therapeutic to talk with me,” Gu says. “They said they didn’t realize their stories matter. That was very rewarding to me as a researcher.”
Gu immigrated from Taiwan to attend Michigan State University, where she earned her doctorate in sociology. Despite being in the U.S. for decades, Gu recounts stories about being treated with prejudice based on her appearance or her accent. She hopes her work will raise awareness of the immigrant experience of Taiwanese and other immigrant women.
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