By MICHELLE TIO, Rafu Digital Team

Kayla Asato is a 23-year-old fourth-generation Japanese American who lives in Orange County. She took the time to talk with me in a Facebook video call recently (a sign of the times!) about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected her. She expressed her own personal struggles, the anxiety she and her community are feeling as a result of the pandemic, and information about COVID Community Care: a group Kayla formed to help address collective emotional anxiety during COVID-19. 

Michelle: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected you and the people around you?

Kayla: Existentially, the coronavirus pandemic sits hard because of health and economic issues. I’m worried about how it’s hurting people throughout the country. It makes me sad.

Those around me are very stressed and concerned, but I think there’s also a growing awareness that we need to take care of our emotional well-being. For example, once my dad asked me recently, “How are you doing?” 

I answered by saying, “I’m doing better! Checking in with my mental health.” 

When I asked him how he was doing, he responded by saying, “I’m all right. How do you check in with your mental health?” 

Michelle: I identify as Filipino American, and I do know that being Filipino affects intergenerational conversations about mental health within the community. I’m wondering if there are parallels to that here. How do you think being Japanese American affects conversations about emotional well-being?

Kayla: In the Japanese American culture, there’s a stigma against mental health treatment 100%. We don’t like to talk about it. Sometimes we think that seeking treatment makes us seem weak, and there can be shameful silence at times.  

There is definitely love and deep care, but it’s not explicitly, “How are you doing?” A lot of Japanese American culture around mental health is deep care but not knowing how to direct that. Conversations with my immediate group have been in directing those things, like in the mental health mutual aid group we’re forming.

Michelle: What is mutual aid?

Kayla: Mutual aid is typically people getting together to meet each other’s basic survival needs through creating a sense of community on the volunteer side, and providing a service with their fellow community members in need. To help cope with these times, we need to place our wellness front and center so that we can ground ourselves and do the things we need to do. If we can break down those barriers of feelings of isolation and helplessness and define the problems that we are going through individually, it can help us to figure out what sort of help we need, and lay the foundation of how we can get through it together! 

Michelle: Tell us about the group that you formed and why you started it.

Kayla: I started a group called COVID Community Care recently. I wanted to start this group because I knew that a lot of people have been struggling mental health-wise. I wanted to create a space for people to talk to each other more, to check in with each other. Sometimes when people ask each other how they’re doing, people will respond with, “I’m okay,” but we’re lying.

Michelle: What does COVID Community Care do?

Kayla: The goals of COVID Community Care are to create community and provide mutual aid for emotional well-being. Currently, we’re based in Los Angeles and Orange County, are volunteer-led, and have weekly meetings. We started this through a Facebook group, and we’re compiling resources for wellness, focusing on giving folks the tools to connect with each other on a deeper level. We are finding individuals who do group therapy and organizations that do mental health-based social work to try to integrate some of their strategies into our Community Care model.  We’re also connecting people to resources for unemployment, food stamps, and housing. We want to help people gain a sense of community during this time of physical distancing. Essentially, we’re answering these questions: how can we care for each other? How can we build community in these times?

Michelle: That’s really beautiful! It’s definitely important for us to prioritize our emotional well-being, especially with what’s going on currently worldwide. Thank you for sharing your story with me, Kayla! 

Kayla: You’re welcome, and thank you!

To learn more about COVID Community Care and to join their Facebook group, click here.

Additionally, click here to access COVID Community Care’s carefully curated compilation of wellness resources to start prioritizing your mental wellness today!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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