Assumptions of Asian American Similarity: The Case of Filipino and Chinese American Students

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Assumptions of Asian American Similarity: The Case of Filipino and Chinese American Students.

The conventional research model of clustering ethnic groups into four broad categories risks perpetuating a pedagogy of stereotypes in social work policies and practice methods. Using an elaborated research model, this study tested the assumption of cultural similarity of Filipino and Chinese American college students by examining attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs related to dating violence. The sample included Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic, and white undergraduate students from a large urban university. Findings suggest that Filipino students are more similar to white students than to Chinese students. Regardless of ethnic group, women had more similarities with one another than men in their attitudes toward women. The findings were mixed regarding definitions and justifications of violence.

Key words: dating; ethnic differences; Filipino Americans; violence; Asian Americans

In social work, the cultural beliefs and values of a group are believed to have significant implications for service delivery. The perception of culture as a critical factor in social work practice emerged in the 1970s. Most of the early literature on ethnic and racial minority culture was anecdotal. And the profession has continued to rely on nonempirical literature to understand and guide its practice with ethnic and racial minority clients.

When empirical research on ethnic minority groups has been conducted, it has tended to follow a conventional model of race that subsumes numerous ethnic groups into one of four racial categories: Asian, black, Hispanic, and white. For example, culturally distinct ethnic groups such as Cambodians, Filipinos, Japanese, and Pakistanis are lumped into one racial category, Asian Americans.

A conventional model assumes that membership in a racial group is analogous with shared cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes. For example, when differences in social services utilization are found among racial categories, they are attributed to culture rather than race. Thus, a direct empirical examination of cultural beliefs and attitudes often uses racial categories that serve as proxies for cultural factors (Agbayani-Siewert, Takeuchi, & Pangan, 1999). For example, mental health agencies might associate low rates of Asian American service utilization with cultural concepts such as loss of face, but the validity of this assumption has not been empirically tested. Each racial category has within-group cultural differences that may conceal more than they inform (Takeuchi, Uehara, & Maramba, 1999). For example, Asian American groups are distinguished from one another by such characteristics as language, cultural values and beliefs, history, acculturation, place of birth, socioeconomic status, and age.

An alternative to the conventional approach is an elaborated model that examines the values, beliefs, and attitudes shaped by culture and includes social factors such as race. An elaborated model is well-suited for studying the Asian American population, which includes 25 subgroups (Uba, 1994) and is the fastest growing racial population in the United States. Between 1980 and 1990 the Asian American population increased by 95 percent compared with a 53 percent increase among Hispanics (Hing, 1996)). Between 1990 and 2000 the rage of growth of Asian Americans was 71.9 percent (Ong, 2003). The National Committee for Research on Census Data concluded that "practically or theoretically, it makes little sense to lump together Americans of Asian origin ... as if they were a single entity" (Barringer, Gardner, & Levin, 1993, p. 2).

This study postulates that important ethnic cultural differences exist within racial categories by comparing the gender attitudes of white, Hispanic, Filipino, and Chinese college students. A conventional model would predict differences between white students and students in the three other ethnic groups. Conversely, an elaborated model permits a study of differences and similarities among students in the two Asian ethnic groups and among white students and ethnic minority students.

Filipino and Chinese Americans

Filipino and Chinese Americans are the two largest ethnic groups in the Asian American racial category. Both groups are largely new immigrant communities acculturating to a new society, but cultural and historical differences exist that affect acculturation. Filipino culture and society is an admixture of numerous influences, most notably American, Spanish, and Chinese. The history of the Philippines is characterized by almost 400 years of colonized rule under the Spanish, followed by American occupation that began in 1899 (Agoncillo, 1990). In contrast, although China has experienced invasions and attempts at domination, there has never been a sustained period of Western rule. Euro-American colonialism has had and continues to have a profound effect on Filipinos, including children in the Philippines and the United States (Lott, 1980; Rimonte, 1997; Santos, 1983).

Filipinos have been inculcated with the U.S. political and cultural ideals of individualism, self-reliance, and equality. In the Philippines, the education system portrays American democracy as an ideal to be achieved. Some schools still begin their day with a pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag and require English as part of the elementary curriculum. Unlike Chinese immigrants, the majority of Filipinos come to the United States with the ability to speak, read, and write English. It has been said that Filipinos in the Philippines begin the acculturation process before immigration to the United States (Santos, 1997).

Chinese and Filipino Americans also differ across other social characteristics. Filipinos are predominately Catholic (more than 80 percent), whereas Chinese are generally Buddhist or Confucian (Chan, 1992). In contrast to Filipino immigrants, who represent a relatively homogenous background of professionals, Chinese immigrants include both professional and unskilled workers.

Filipino and Chinese gender attitudes seem to be in opposition to one another. Laws in the Philippines reflect egalitarian rather than patriarchal politics: It is illegal to publicly denigrate women (Ho, 1987), and women have the same legal rights to inherit, sell, and own property as men (Veloso, 1997). Relatives are traced bilaterally, and folklore portrays male and female individuals created as equals (Agbayani-Siewert, 1994). Conversely, Chinese ancestry is patrilineal, and cultural norms emphasize women's lower status (Gilmartin, 1990; Watson & Ebrey, 1991). A patriarchal structure places men at the top of society and de-emphasizes egalitarianism. In the Confucian framework a woman obeys her father, follows her husband, and later, her oldest son (Shon & Ja, 1982).

Considering the 400 years of historical interventions by Spain and the United States that brought changes in religion, education, politics, and ideology to the Philippines, we would not expect Filipino culture to be an archetype of Asian culture. We might expect Filipino gender attitudes to be more similar to those of white than Chinese Americans. Likewise, Hispanics and Filipinos should exhibit similar characteristics as a result of shared Spanish colonial influences (for example, Catholicism).

Culture is shaped by environmental and situational factors that subsequently shape individual attitudes and beliefs and influence goals and behaviors. Cultures differ in their worldviews and concepts of the human condition (Devore & Schlesinger, 1987). Thus, it would be expected that different cultures would result in a variety of values, beliefs, and behaviors regarding gender. This perspective on culture is consistent with social work's person-in-environment approach.

This study used an elaborated model to examine cultural differences in gender attitudes and perceptions of intimate violence between white students and minority groups (that is, Hispanic and Asian students), as well as between two Asian ethnic groups (that is, Filipino and Chinese students). We hypothesized that Filipino gender role attitudes and perceptions of intimate violence would differ significantly from those of Chinese students, that white and Filipino students would have more similarities than white and other minority group students, and based on the common influence of Spanish colonialism, Hispanic and Filipino students would have more similarities to one another than they have to Chinese students.

Review of the Literature

Triandis's (1980) definition of culture includes material manifestations and subjective attributes, such as values and beliefs, that are socially constructed. Literature suggests that cultural orientations and values shape definitions of intimate violence, justifications for abuse, attitudes toward women, and gender role orientation (Brookins, 1994; Carlson, 1996; Rouse, 1988; Sorenson & Telles, 1991; Torres, 1991), which may affect the prevalence of intimate violence. It is acknowledged that domestic and dating violence cuts across ethnic groups (Ashbury, 1993). Although there is a growing body of research, the majority of these works focus on white Americans; as a result, little is known about how well these findings fit other racial and ethnic groups, especially Asian Americans. A review of social science and psychology data bases uncovered only a few empirical studies on Asian American intimate violence during the past 25 years. This gap in research can be attributable to three factors: (1) the women's movement in this country that has involved predominately white American women (Rimonte, 1991; Schecter, 1982); (2) the Asian American communities' tendency to deny that intimate violence is a problem (Ho, 1990; Rimonte, 1991); and (3) the model minority myth that few, if any, social problems exist in the Asian American community (Crystal, 1989).

Notwithstanding the important contributions of anecdotal (Agtuca, 1994) and conceptual literature (Agbayani-Siewert, 1994; Santos, 1997), an empirical understanding of Filipino American intimate violence and gender roles is needed. An extensive review of the literature uncovered only one empirical work, which was conducted in Australia (Tan & Davidson, 1994). It has generally been assumed that Filipino American attitudes toward intimate violence are similar to that of other Asian Americans--that is, patriarchal. Descriptive, conceptual, and anecdotal literature provide inconsistent information on Filipino American gender roles, which have been described as egalitarian (Aquino, 1994), patriarchal (Agtuca), and based on a matriarchal sex role structure (Pido, 1986). This inconsistency is not unique to literature on Filipino Americans in the United States, but is found in literature from the Philippines as well.

Attitudes, Beliefs, and Definitions

Research on ethnic and racial minority populations supports the contention that beliefs about definitions of abuse and violence are shaped by culture. Torres's (1991) descriptive research showed that white American women, compared with Mexican American women, perceived more incidents to be abusive. Incidences of psychological abuse were perceived to be less abusive by Mexican American women than by white American women. Torres surmised that Mexican American women's definitions of domestic violence were shaped by Hispanic cultural beliefs about the roles of men and women. Findings from Ho's (1990) qualitative study on Southeast Asian American domestic violence suggests that traditional Asian values may not discourage abuse but instead foster a degree of personal and social acceptance of physical violence toward women.

Numerous studies have examined white college students' attitudes toward women and the relationship of those attitudes to violence and abuse and have generally concluded that conservative attitudes are related to the perpetration and experience of violence (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Dutton, 1994; Szymanski, Devlin, Chrisler, & Vyse, 1993). The focus on white Americans offers minimal understanding of what these attitudes are or how, if at all, they are related to ethnic and racial minority groups. Findings on the relationship between a group's culture and its attitudes toward women have been mixed. Some research supports an etic viewpoint that, when examined separately, gender is a more significant predictor of attitudes than race; other studies indicate clear ethnic differences between cultural groups in attitudes toward women (see Williams & Best, 1990, for a review of the literature).

One study of four ethnic/racial groups (Ullman, Freedland, & Warmsun, 1977) found that white men and women were the most favorable and Hawaiian men and women were least favorable in their attitudes toward women. Most research, however, has shown a significant gender--ethnic interaction. Braun and Chao (1978) found that white men and Chinese women were more conservative in their attitudes toward women than white women and Chinese men. Blee and Tickameyer (1995) reported that African American men were more liberal than white American men in their attitudes about working wives. In the Ullman and colleagues' study, Japanese American women were more favorable than Japanese American men in their attitudes toward women, whereas Chinese American men were more favorable toward women than were the Chinese American women. In a study by Chia, Moore, Lam, Chuang, & Cheng (1994), both Chinese and white American female college students expressed a preference for more equal and liberal attitudes toward women and sex roles in general. Overall, Chinese students expressed a more conservative view than their white American counterparts. In a study comparing college students from the United States and India, Rao and Rao (1985) found that the college men of both countries expressed more traditional sex-role attitudes than the college women, and gender explained more variance in the sex-role attitudes of both student groups than did any other predictor.

Justifications of Violence

Dating violence literature has identified contextual justifications as an important concept in understanding the causes of date rape. Tontodonato and Crew (1992) found that women who accepted the belief that violence between intimate partners is justified were three times more likely to experience violence. Zellman and colleagues (cited in Muehlenhard, Friedman, & Thomas, 1985) showed that high school student date rape is considered more justifiable if the girl demonstrated behavior that the boy interpreted as "suggestive." Students who endorsed traditional attitudes on the Attitude Toward Women Scale (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1973) were more likely than others to regard rape as justifiable, especially if they could blame the woman for committing some potentially suggestive behavior such as asking a man out, going to his apartment, or letting him pay her dating expenses (Muehlenhard et al.).

Variations in culture most likely contribute to variations in the contextual justifications of violence. For example, U.S. society generally accepts the practice of women contributing to dates. Muehlenhard and colleagues (1985) found that when a woman does not contribute, it may be interpreted as suggestive behavior. In traditional patriarchal Hispanic and Asian cultures, it is often expected that the man will pay for the date; therefore, a woman's not sharing expenses may be accepted as meeting cultural gender-role expectations.

In a study of Chinese Americans, Yick and Agbayani-Siewert (2000) found that one-third of the sample justified hitting if one's spouse was screaming hysterically. They concluded that Chinese norms emphasizing emotional restraint and inhibition of strong feelings may explain the justification of a violent response to an outburst. Foo and Margolin (1995) included an Asian American subsample in their study of college students' attitudes about the circumstances that might justify the use of violence. Results did not indicate any differences between Asian and white American dating violence. However, Asian students were more likely than white students to rate humiliation as a justification for dating violence. Foo and Margolin used a conventional model of research and did not examine for Asian ethnic group variations.



The research used a cross-sectional survey design. The purposive sample was a subset (n = 713) of a larger study (N = 1,356) of undergraduate students from a large urban university during the 1996-97 academic year. The sample included 230 Chinese, 171 Filipino, 182 nonwhite Hispanic, and 130 white students. Ethnic/racial identity was self-selected--respondents were provided with four racial categories and a blank line under each category to write in their ethnic identity. Respondents had to be 18 years or older and full-time university students.


Because the purpose of the original study was to gain an understanding of ethnic and racial minority group perceptions of and experiences with dating violence, classes known to have large numbers of such students were targeted. Instructors were contacted by letter for permission to distribute the self-administered questionnaire during class sessions. A total of 26 classes in the humanities, ethnic studies, history, language, and social sciences were surveyed. Graduate students monitored the data collection process.


A questionnaire that measures perceptions of and attitudes toward spouse abuse, Perceptions of and Attitudes Toward Intimate Violence (Yick & Agbayani-Siewert, 1997), was modified for use in this study. The original questionnaire was based on a review of the literature and in-depth interviews with service providers knowledgeable about domestic violence in the Asian American community. It was piloted with a community sample (n = 30), and its psychometric properties were established. The modifications for this study included questions about dating violence. The revised version was piloted with 128 college students of various racial/ethnic backgrounds.

The instrument has two scales--Definitions of Dating Violence and Contextual Justification. The Definition of Dating Violence scale has three subscales that measure perceptions of dating violence: verbal and emotional abuse (five items), physical violence (four items), and sexual violence (one item). Respondents were asked to indicate on a six-point Likert scale how much they agree or disagree that a particular behavior is dating violence. A high score indicated agreement that a particular behavior is violent. Cronbach's alpha was .80. The Contextual Justification Scale assesses the extent to which respondents agree or disagree whether certain situations warrant the use of dating violence by men. Statements described such situations as a woman being unfaithful, flirting, disobeying, drunk, nagging, and unwilling to have sex. The scale comprises nine items with a six-point Likert scale response format ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. A high score indicated agreement that a particular situation justifies the use of physical violence. Cronbach's alpha for this scale was .89.

The Attitude Toward Women Scale--Simplified Version (ATWS-S) (Spence et al., 1973) was used to measure beliefs about women's roles. The measure is a 15-item scale presented in a five-point Likert response format with a neutral anchor point, where 1 = disagree strongly and 5 = agree strongly. It consists of statements about the rights and roles of women in areas such as vocation, education, intellectual activities, sexual behavior, and marital relationships. The overall Cronbach's alpha is .84.

Sociodemographic data were collected, included age, gender, education level, membership in fraternities and sororities, and where the respondent was born.

Data Analysis

To test the hypothesis that Filipino American students have more similarities in attitudes with Hispanic and white American students than with Chinese American students, a nested analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed. The nested model examined the main effect of ethnicity on gender role orientation, attitudes toward women, justification for violence, and perceptions of what violence is. Tukey's post hoc test was used to examine differences in mean scores among the ethnic groups. The nested model allowed for the differential effect of dichotomous variables (gender [1 = male, 2 = female] and immigrant status [1 = yes, 2 = no]) to be examined within each ethnic group. We used chi-square and ANOVAs to describe the demographic characteristics of the sample.


White students tended to be older than Chinese, Filipino, and Hispanic students, and Chinese students were younger than Hispanic students (Table 1). The majority of Chinese students were immigrants; most Filipino and Hispanic students and almost all white students were born in the United States. The sample had more women than men across all of the groups. This is most likely a consequence of the sampling design that targeted ethnic minority students who were largely concentrated in social science and humanities courses. White students belonged to a sorority or fraternity more often than the other groups.

Mean scaled scores were computed for the outcome variables by ethnicity, gender, and place of birth. The mean Attitude Toward Women Scale scores show all four ethnic groups within the egalitarian range (Table 2). Overall, both men and women were egalitarian across groups, with women scoring slightly higher than men. Immigrant and native-born respondents showed similar egalitarian attitudes toward women. Justification of violence was not endorsed by any group. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, or place of birth, students tended to define emotional, physical, and sexual acts of aggression as violence. There was, however, a slight difference in the level of agreement by ethnicity in the definition of physical violence--Chinese students agreed somewhat that most aggressive behaviors were violent, whereas the other ethnic groups strongly agreed.

The goal of this article was to go beyond a conventional model of research and examine cultural perceptions and attitudes of intimate violence. The findings indicate that all three hypothesis were supported.

The main effect of ethnicity was significant for all of the outcome variables, suggesting differences in beliefs and attitudes between groups (Table 3). Tukey's post hoc tests revealed that Filipinos were similar to Hispanic and white students across all of the outcome variables. However, Chinese students were significantly different from the other three groups. Regarding attitudes toward women and justifications for violence, Chinese students were less egalitarian and tended to justify abusive behavior more than the other three groups. This finding is consistent with research that found Chinese people to be more conservative than U.S. society in their attitudes toward women (Chia et al., 1994; Nelson, 1988). Chinese students also were less like the other groups in their definitions of violence. They defined physically aggressive behavior as violent less often than the other three groups, perceived emotional violence less often than Hispanic students, and sexual violence less often than white students. With the exception of emotional violence, an interaction effect among place of birth, gender, and ethnicity was found for all other outcome variables.

To examine the nested effects, pairwise comparisons were performed on gender and immigrant status in all groups for each of the cultural outcome variables (see Table 4). Findings suggest that regardless of race and ethnicity, differences in attitudes toward women between male and female students were similar. Women were significantly more egalitarian than men across all groups. They also significantly defined emotional mistreatment as violent more often than men. Definitions of physical abuse showed no gender differences in any of the four groups. Within-group gender differences emerged with justifications of violence and definitions of sexual violence. Chinese and Hispanic men more often justified the occurrence of dating violence than their female cohorts. No significant differences were found between men and women among Filipino and white students. A similar pattern was found in the definition of sexual abuse. Chinese and Hispanic women more often defined sexual aggression as violence than their male counterparts. Again, no gender differences were found among the Filipino or white students. Only the justification of violence scale was significantly affected by place of birth--Chinese and Hispanic immigrants justified dating violence more than native-born Chinese and Hispanic students.

Overall, all students were egalitarian in their attitudes toward women, did not tend to justify acts of violence, and defined abusive behaviors as dating violence regardless of place of birth, gender, or ethnicity.

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