I know that this Chinese-American family's respect for elders in terms of the advice they can give regarding health is also very important. Of course, my grandparents often took care of me when I was sick as a young child but my Chinese-American friend was often placed in the 'care' of his grandmother and her wisdom in the arena of health was trusted on the level of a doctor for minor complaints. However, for any major illnesses like a very high fever, he said he was always taken to the doctor for treatment with conventional medicine. His grandparents do tend to be very reluctant to go to doctors and often try to self-medicate with herbs, rest, and Tai Chi before eventually capitulating and going to the doctor.

Exercise and fresh air were always emphasized in his household, along with healthy eating. Although not specifically lectured about his food intake, he did note that sweets were seldom served, and if they were, they tended to be fruit rather than heavy desserts. Dairy products are also fairly rare in his household, although a mix of Chinese and American dishes are served at mealtimes.

Another friend of mine comes from a Mexican-American family. The advice of older relatives, particularly her maternal grandmother, was very important in her upbringing, including matters related to health. Like my Chinese-American friend, herbal teas and chest rubs were often applied to her when she had mild childhood illnesses. The relationship of health and food was complex, given the fact that diabetes ran in her family yet many traditional foods were very sweet or full of carbohydrates like corn. On one hand, she remembers having a very warm chocolate drink on frequent occasions at night when her grandmother was babysitting her and making many traditional desserts and rich foods with her grandmother. But there was also a certain amount of anxiety attached to consuming those items, given that technically her grandmother was not supposed to be eating them at all.

Religion was a very important part of the family's state of social and mental health. When one of the uncles of the family had cancer, prayer was a very important part of the coping mechanisms used to deal with the inevitable fears that arose over the course of his treatment. He eventually recovered, and the power of prayer, not simply the power of doctors, was considered to be a factor in his survival.

However, while religion was an important psychological tool for the family, traditional psychology was not looked upon very favorably. When my friend asked to see a psychologist at one point in high school because she felt she was depressed, her concerns were dismissed and she was told that someone her age 'didn't have anything to be depressed about.' No one in the family has ever sought formal psychological counseling for any reason, so far as she was aware (which is fairly unusual in contemporary life), although several members had talked with a priest during stressful life events.

Sexuality was not openly discussed in the family and my friend said that she had to independently seek out birth control and would not have felt comfortable discussing it frankly with her parents. This shows how while traditional values can be supportive of some positive health practices, they can also thwart them in other respects.


Heritage assessment tool. (2013). Prentice Hall. Retrieved: