The last three years have been generally hard for women, but those who identify as Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) have faced unique challenges: a rising tide of anti-Asian hate, persistent “model minority” stereotyping, and the struggle to deal openly with trauma in the face of cultural norms that may discourage such openness.
American women of all backgrounds are over the way they’ve been living, according to theSkimm’s 2023 State of Women Report, conducted by the Harris Poll. Seventy-four percent of millennial women agreed with the statement, “I am always adjusting my life to accommodate others (e.g., family, co-workers, friends, etc.)” Seventy-six percent said, “Women are largely responsible for unpaid labor and mental load at home,” and 74% attested, “Society treats women like second-class citizens.”
The data also show that women are not resigned. Instead, they are taking action, changing their lives to prioritize their own needs, at work and at home, because they have learned not to expect support from society at large. Seventy-seven percent of women surveyed told us, “It is clear to me that I am the only advocate for my health and well-being.”
For APIDA Heritage Month 2023, we wanted to get a sense of what this change looks like in the lives of our Asian American readers and our friends at Untigering, an Instagram account that explores peaceful parenting, self-directed learning, and mental health from an Asian American perspective. We asked Asian American women to share what steps they’ve taken in the last several years to put their well-being first. Their answers indicate that they are doing what works for them, financially and emotionally — some for the very first time. Or as one respondent put it, “I stopped being ‘Asian polite.’”
What is one thing you've changed in the past three years to prioritize your financial well-being?
Prior to 2020, I only invested in my 401(k) and company stock purchase program. In 2020, when stock prices took a plunge, I decided to start investing in stocks based on some light research and personal insights. I was able to fund a large portion of my wedding and home purchase in subsequent years with those profits!
Raleigh, North Carolina
I started investing in my Roth IRA. Building generational wealth was something I never even considered, but now I am so excited for my future relatives.
Varsha Mathur, 41
Charlotte, North Carolina
My partner and I have quarterly meetings to discuss our finances, get on the same page, and make decisions and choices for the months ahead. This gives us both autonomy, allows us to prioritize things that matter, and [helps us] communicate effectively.
I've started asking myself, "Would a man do it?" For example, I got a new job. The original offer was at the bottom of my asking range, but then I asked myself, "Would a man ask to negotiate?" And the answer was yes. So I negotiated and got a higher bonus.
Lori Ann Kruse, 40
Cape Coral, Florida
Diversifying income streams. As the sole breadwinner of my family … I don't have the luxury of relying on one job that I could be laid off from at any time.
Cecilia Villero, 41
Separating my finances from my value as a human. Being a 1.5 immigrant and Filipina, I was raised to believe that financial security was everything. But it's just not the same as it was when my parents were my age. Having to work multiple jobs in order to pay bills doesn't mean I'm somehow failing or not thriving. It is what it is.
Instead of burying my head in the sand, I took proactive steps and planned out how much I'd need to save yearly for retirement. This led to some re-evaluation of my spending habits, very overdue! I now am less like a grasshopper in summer!
West Caldwell, New Jersey
Committed to educating myself about financial management. I always felt it was "too complicated," so I never had the motivation to dive in. I finally held myself accountable for learning more. As I grow more comfortable, I am finally making financial decisions on my own. It's empowering to [be] an active participant in my own financial journey.
Jency James, 30
I am much more intentional with how I spend my money. The pandemic helped me find joy in the simple (free!) things like going on walks and catching up with friends on the phone.
New York City
Chinese and Burmese
I’ve stopped buying most clothes, shoes, and bags — [it] seemed highly unnecessary. And [I] started saving in a high-yield savings account and contributing to my IRA and HSA. I have a two-year emergency fund.
What is one thing you've changed in the past three years to prioritize your mental health?
Bangladeshi and white
I specifically sought out a therapist who was not only a woman but also South Asian. This way I didn’t waste valuable time in session having to explain the nuances of my culture.
Following finance Insta accounts! Not only is their content great, but it makes my algorithm a little more productive (as opposed to just celebrity gossip…although I still love that too).
Ishani Shah, 35
[I] have had the privilege of taking a very small girls’ trip, which I had not done since college. I’m 35. I always felt like I couldn’t do that sort of thing as a female. My own mental block.
I stopped meal prepping and eating the same boring, healthy breakfast of ½ [cup] of oatmeal. I realized that food is meant to be enjoyed and not used as a punishment. Since making this change, I have been able to make more traditional Filipino dishes and introduce them to my partner. It has made eating and cooking fun again.
New York City
Chinese and Burmese
I get a massage once a week and joined an expensive gym, but I go every day, so it’s worth it. [I] also broke up with a highly toxic friend.
Julie Locker, 28
Indian (Tamil), Irish, and German
Allowing myself to spend money. We had a lot of financial hardship growing up, so I have anxiety about spending money on stuff I don’t need. But, like anything else, doing it has made me have less anxiety about it. And taking classical Indian dance lessons, finally, as an adult, which is helping me overcome my imposter syndrome about being Indian (since I’m half white).
Berlin (American expat)
Taking multiple sober months in a row and generally engaging in drugs and alcohol far, far less, in a more mindful way. Thinking, "Does this meaningfully accentuate the experience I want to have?" and only engaging if the answer is "Yes."
Tina Liang, 36
I grew up in a traditional Chinese household where we rarely talked about our emotions, let alone mental health conditions. I learned by example to push down my emotions or sweep [them] under the rug; that emotions, especially negative ones, were supposed to be quietly endured alone. In the last few years I've push[ed] myself to be more honest with friends and family about how I am feeling in the moment. I allow myself to "fall apart." I've realized it's actually more self-protective to feel the full extent of my emotions, especially the negative ones — grief, sadness, loss, or anger — get through it, and eventually let it go.
For me, my mental health is better if I stick to a lot of different habits like trying to get about eight hours of sleep at night, walking 10,000 steps a day, exercising, putting together a full outfit complete with jewelry and fragrance the night before so I’m not rushing the next morning, and reading books I enjoy.
Jennifer Boyd, 42
Thousand Oaks, California
Spending more time in nature. I love birding, hiking, and nature journaling. Taking the time to pause and notice the beauty and life around me helps me to feel calm and at peace. In nature, I do not feel judged or anxious about my identity. I feel like I can freely exist and be me.
What is one thing you've changed in the past three years to prioritize your well-being as a parent?
Joanna West, 42
Long Beach, California
After being together at home, I didn't want to get back into “normal” routines when the world opened back up. What I remember most from my childhood is spending time with family and not the extracurriculars. Now we have way fewer planned activities and more doing nothing time, just being together and chat[ting] about the little things in our day.
Still sending [the kids] to daycare, even when I hav[e] a day off work.
Jessica Meunier, 36
Redwood City, California
I started rating issues that come up with my kids on a scale of 1 - 10. If they are less than a 7, I try to let them go.
Chinese and Korean
My kids’ wellness and happiness are more important than their grades. I’m raising kids to be kind and compassionate adults, not scholars.
Jennifer Boyd, 42
Thousand Oaks, California
Carving out time for myself at the beginning and end of my day. I have two girls (5 and 8). I wake up [early] so I can journal and process my emotions, anxiety, anything that comes up. I will take a hot bath at the end of the day with rose oil and a candle to decompress. I feel better when I do these things and can be more present for my family.
Cecilia Villero, 41
Recognizing that being a parent is only one part of who I am. I am still my own person who is able to engage in non-child and non-family activities. Taking time for myself is high on my priority list.
What is one thing you've changed in the last three years to prioritize your well-being at work?
Jessica Hyeyoung Lee, 32
I physically hide my email icon from my home screen during PTO to not be tempted to get rid of the red notification bubbles. Also try my hardest to log off when I'm done with my work [and] not work till 5PM just because.
Hapa - Filipino + white (Southern US)
Stop trying to get extra work accomplished during the weekend; no more agonizing over working Sunday, not doing it, then feeling guilty that I didn't.
I work remotely, and I asked for a Zoom phone number so I don't have to give clients my personal cell. It's so much easier to disconnect that way.
Jane Steiger, 42
I changed my perspective to “I get to” so I would see that while I bust my ass every day, I also chose the chaotic schedule to match my children’s school schedule. It was my choice, and I am paid well for it, and I have work-life balance.
Chinese and Jewish
I’ve joined an employee resource group at my company focused around Asian leadership where we hear from other Asian leaders at the company and put on events to celebrate different Asian holidays and cultures. I’ve also shifted my mindset to feel less guilty about taking time off!
Zoe Zhang, 28
I've finally become open to my professors in online grad school about my chronic health condition, in an attempt to be more transparent about the difficulties I faced. This was especially to alleviate my perfectionist tendencies to push through in spite of my health.
Tina Liang, 36
As a first-gen immigrant, getting an education and having a stable 9-5 job at a decent company was a tried and true pathway towards financial and career success. In 2022, I left my job and became an independent consultant, with no company, no boss, and no benefits. It was terrifying but has also given me the "kick in the butt" I needed to find my passion. I now exclusively take on projects working to improve health and social outcomes for under-resourced and marginalized groups. This isn't me "giving back" to communities that are "less fortunate," this is me creating a better future for my communities, my people, my families, and those around us, so that my kids can thrive in a world that's better than what I grew up with.
I was in crisis mode and about to quit my job, so I stopped being "Asian polite" and had an honest conversation with my boss about unsustainable stress levels and burnout. I found that leadership was actually quite supportive and understanding. I didn't need to feel like I had to do everything on my own while at the same time delivering stellar results. It's a very Asian thing to not show when you need help and try to handle everything by "working hard," but it was really taking a toll on my mental health.
As a result of the conversation, I got to choose a different role and I am much less stressed. Even kind of excited for the work I'm doing!
I have taken more personal time and coached myself to let go of guilt. I have also set hard boundaries on when I work (no weekends or on vacations), and have allowed myself to attend meetings with no camera on. My relationship with my manager has continued to be very healthy.
I’ve made myself become more comfortable with silence in conversations. Before, I would feel nervous if there was a pause in a meeting, which usually resulted in me fumbling over words or volunteering for things I didn’t need to. By letting there be some silence, I’ve been able to slow down my thoughts and recognize where I didn’t have to step in/take on too much.
Cecilia Villero, 41
Taking the big leap and leaving a job that no longer aligned with my values. It's been a lean couple of years, but I'm happier overall. I'm a Pleasure and Sexuality Educator, which is a job my parents barely understand. Doing work that fills my heart and soul is more preferable to work that merely pays the bills.
Sharing more about my culture. Not taking crap from people. Teleworking whenever I can.
Chinese and white
I left a career path in engineering that I was deeply unhappy in, despite feeling like it was what I "should" be doing.
I interview for other jobs frequently. This reminds me that there are always other options and that no matter who doesn't like me at my current job, I can make a good living.
Stephanie Satara, 31
Queens, New York
I no longer take on extra work that isn't my responsibility, nor do I stay longer after work hours unless completely necessary.
Some responses have been edited for length.
*All readers self-identified.
Correction: A previous version of this article identified reader Irene's age as 25. She is 35.
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