Hui Feng Hometown: West Roxbury, Massachusetts and China
School/Major: Harvard University/B.A. in Urban Studies | Ethnicity: Chinese-American | Other Language(s): Mandarin Chinese
Mental illness among Asian-American women - A very personal issue: As an Asian American woman, I am all too aware of the, at times, ridiculous pressures which face us as the model minority. We are expected to excel academically and process math with perfection. If not, if one does not fit this stereotype, not only does the family question the character of the individual, but so do her peers and sometimes even the individual herself. The pressures and negative responses to unfilled expectations have led to so many cases of mental illness, of which many, too many, are ignored. Many Asian families still consider mental illness an illegitimate concern, a shameful excuse for one's lack of success. Of course, this does not apply to all, but is certainly pertinent to a considerable portion of the Asian population. As a teen, I witnessed the hurt of such pressure and the incurable consequences of the stigma. At age fifteen, I lost a friend in a car accident when she ran away from a fight with her parents. She was fourteen years old, and had been a chronic cutter. She was an Asian girl, but not one who fit the stereotype-a lover of death metal and a below-average student. For that, she fought with her parents and with herself constantly. Although she had openly discussed death for months, she had only begun to see a doctor a few weeks before the tragedy. I could only hope that her death was accidental.
Advocating for teen mental health resources: In high school, I joined Teens Leading the Way (TLTW), entering the fight against mental illness, the issue which I and so many of my peers had observed to be the real root of many teen problems, health concerns included. We initiated the Statewide Teens Initiating Greater Mental Health Awareness, or S.T.I.G.M.A., campaign to acknowledge the need to overcome stigma and to improve youth mental health. Our self-authored bill was entitled “An Act Providing for Teen Mental Health Drop-In Centers.” We asked the state to allocate resources towards teen mental health services, and more specifically, to the establishment of a pilot program that offered psychiatric help and promote greater awareness as a means to prevent and treat this illness affecting one in five teenagers. STIGMA became my passion. After two years of fighting, the campaign failed despite gaining over forty legislative cosponsors. TLTW shifted to a new campaign, and I graduated from high school. I was discouraged and, sadly, more realistic: the battle I had poured my heart and soul into appeared to be lost. I stayed away from advocacy organizations and decided I would try other paths. But, my long and strenuous relationship with advocacy brought me to apply for this fellowship and re-engage. I wanted to learn more about the political system, valued an opportunity to work with a legislator and wanted to have a better idea of how to effectively usher in change.
What I gained from my fellowship experience: Ultimately, political knowledge was only part of what I have gained. I learned about how the political system worked, how a bill becomes law, and even began to understand how to navigate a building such as the State House, but I also learned so much about myself as an Asian-American woman. Through this eye-opening opportunity, I walked through the halls of the State House to see no faces that reflected my own, except that of the other fellows in the program. I realized that my presence may have been a source of surprise, if not discomfort, for many. At times I felt that my political identity was characterized by my ethnicity and by my gender. I realized that I was a representative of my community in the State House, and my internship was a small step towards breaking down barriers. The fellowship was a life-changing experience.
What I'm doing now: I'm a consultant with Public Financial Management, which works with and advises local, state and regional governments as well as non-profits in financial and asset management.
Placement: State Representative Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain),
Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse