Because most Filipinos have racially diverse family roots-like Spanish, Malay and Chinese-they often struggle to find a place within the Asian-American community, says Maria P.P. Root, a Filipino-American and former president of the Washington State Psychological Association (WSPA).
To bring prominence to the unique needs of racially mixed people, in 1992 Root wrote the Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, which appeared four years later in "The Multiracial Experience" (Sage Publications, 1996), as well as two later books on multiracial people. The U.S. Census cited Root's work in 2000, when it allowed people to identify themselves by more than one race for the first time.
"Many people's ethnic backgrounds are not homogenous," she says, emphasizing that without recognizing the cultures that influence a person's behavior and thinking, psychologists' work won't be effective.
Root applies that idea in her work as a clinical psychologist who treats adults and adolescents. She also works as a consultant to law enforcement departments, helping them increase their awareness of cultural issues, racism and ethnocentrism.
"My knowledge of cultural issues informs me in every phase of my career," she says. "And it helps me think about how I ask questions that accommodate cultural frames of reference and what conclusions I make."
Root says that her cultural roots even spill over into her leadership style during her tenure as WSPA president, as well as within APA as a former chair of APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and as a member-at-large on the Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues) board.
"Filipinos generally do not like the limelight for themselves," she says. "For myself, I prefer to do work behind the scenes-there's an incredible amount of influence that you can make without dominating the platform."