As a Chinese-American boy growing up in a mostly white neighborhood in Portland, Ore., Derald Wing Sue, PhD, still remembers the taunts that he and his younger brother Stanley endured every day in elementary school. One of four brothers born in America to a father who emigrated from China, the family first lived in Portland's Chinatown. But the family moved to a suburb in search of more room and a quieter neighborhood.
There, the Sue brothers were ostracized by the other kids at Abernethy elementary school, because of their Asian heritage. That early experience puzzled the brothers and sparked their fascination with human behavior, says Sue, now a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University. Questions of why people do what they do prompted hours of discussion between the brothers.
As adults, Derald Wing Sue and Stanley Sue, PhD, both became psychologists during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when racial and ethnic identity movements flourished. The example set by African Americans and Hispanic Americans in demanding attention to their communities' concerns inspired them to try to do the same for Asian Americans, Derald Sue says.
However, identity politics had not trickled into mainstream psychology, he notes. As a psychology student, Sue recalls feeling uncomfortable with psychology's emphasis on the autonomy of the individual over the collective good of the family or group.
His own parents had taught him about the value of the family, and the interdependence of family members to one another, says Sue, but he didn't find any appreciation for those values in his training.
"I always felt the curriculum and the type of information taught to me did not represent my racial-ethnic background and experience," Sue says.
As a young psychologist, Sue said his first experiences as a counselor made him aware of the need to push for changes in the way psychology handled cultural issues. Looking to the example set by other groups, Sue helped form the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) in 1972. In fact, he served as its first president.
From a small beginning nurtured in family ties, AAPA grew into a national organization whose members successfully pushed for attention and research on Asian-American psychology, helped win recognition for the need for culturally competent care for Asian Americans, and cultivated the firstgeneration of well-known Asian-American psychologists.
Such advocacy was necessary, Derald Sue says, because traditional psychological training did not prepare the psychologists of his generation to adequately counsel fellow Asian Americans. For example, as a counselor at the University of California, Berkeley, he encountered one Asian-American student who wanted to change his major from engineering, but felt he needed to talk to his mom about it. Such a student would be labeled as having unhealthy attachment issues given traditional psychology values, but Sue understood the student's need to think about his family's concerns, and seek their advice about his educational future.
"There was a need to create an organization to contribute to understanding the Asian-American experience," he says.
The same family unity the Sues showed as brothers in grade school laid the foundations for the AAPA. In 1972, the brothers teamed up with a handful of friends and formed AAPA in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Initially, the group was so small that Derald Wing Sue was picked as the first president, because he was the older brother.
The group started with about 10 regular members, often meeting in each other's homes for potluck dinners, talking about Asian-American issues, and their own experiences. Early on, those founding members learned from groups such as the Association of Black Psychologists about building their own organization and winning influence.
One of the first efforts to increase the ranks of the AAPA involved combing through APA's membership directory and contacting anyone with an Asian-sounding last name, says Stanley Sue, now a distinguished professor of psychology and Asian-American studies at the University of California, Davis.
Using a $300 grant from APA's Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), Stanley Sue organized an association newsletter, "grinding out" all the articles with his brother Derald for several years.
During its early years, the group concentrated on getting more funding for Asian-American research studies from federal agencies. They also aimed to help Asian-American psychologists be elected to APA's governing structure and appointed to journal editorial boards, says Stanley Sue, as a way of developing leadership and bringing attention to Asian-American issues. Among those issues are Asian Americans' underutilization of psychological services and the high dropout rates among those who do, Stanley Sue says.
During those first decades, funding for Asian-American-focused studies increased, and the National Institute of Mental Health funded a research center for Asian-American psychology, Stanley Sue says.
"We achieved a lot more than we ever anticipated," says Sue, who served as the research center's director from 1988 to 2001.
The group became a permanent fixture and its membership grew and stabilized in the 1980s, when it began holding an annual convention in tandem with APA's, says former AAPA president Fred Leong, PhD, a professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
In the 1990s, the association was involved in the developing of guidelines for culturally competent care. In 1998, the "Handbook of Asian American Psychology" (Sage Publications), edited by Lee C. Lee, PhD, and Nolan W. Zane, PhD, was published. The second edition of the handbook is scheduled for publication this summer by Sage.
To give scholars and researchers a forum for discussing Asian-American psychology, the association published a journal from 1979 to 1989. The AAPA's newsletter still comes out three times a year, and a proposal to revive the journal-perhaps in an electronic format-is being discussed, Leong says.
Perhaps one way to judge AAPA's influence is by examining the number of psychology studies focused on Asians listed in the scientific literature, Leong says. From 1967 to 1991, there were 1,834 entries listing Asians as a subject. By 2005, that number had increased to 6,045 entries, he says.
Looking to the future
As the AAPA moves into its fourth decade, the group continues to serve as an "incubator" for the careers of young psychologists, says current president Alvin Alvarez, PhD.
"It's a place that allows people to begin developing their skills as leaders and use that as a stepping-stone," says Alvarez, a professor and counselor at San Francisco State University.
The group is still small enough that new members can spend time talking with pioneers such as Stanley Sue at conventions, Alvarez says.
Besides the annual convention, AAPA keeps members interacting in a number of ways, he says. For instance, members use a listserv to communicate via e-mail, doing everything from discussing current issues in psychology to looking for job openings, says Alvarez. Additionally, regional AAPA associations host social events, getting together for movies and talks on professional subjects.
This year, Alvarez will expand the activities of AAPA's online community, and use the listserv to host a series of moderated discussions about topics such as how AAPA members can advocate for social justice.
AAPA, which originally grew with members of mainly Chinese and Japanese heritage, now ties together a broader Asian-American community, including Vietnamese, Korean, South Asian and Filipino Americans, Alvarez says.
"AAPA has to think about, 'Well, how are we representing those groups, and could we do a better job?'"