College of Humanities

Asian American Studies

Edith Chen

Mentor Bio

Edith Wen-Chu Chen joined the Asian American Studies department in 2001. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from UCLA, and undergraduate degree from University of Texas at Austin. Trained as a sociologist, her teaching and research interests include Chinese Americans, Asian Americans, immigration, and health, with a focus on type II diabetes and obesity. She has published a number of chapters and articles on the struggles and challenges of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in their assimilation and adjustment in the U.S. She has collaborated on publications such as “Physical Activity in Asian American Populations,” in Physical Activity in Diverse Populations, edited by Melissa Jean Bopp, (Taylor and Francis, 2018) and “Festival Foods in the Immigrant Diet,” Journal of Immigrant Minority Health (2013 Oct). Her family was one of the few Chinese American families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area suburb. Her family’s home served as the gathering place for father’s graduate students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. She also spent six months in Shanghai in 2009 teaching Chinese university students. She has previously taught classes on Asian Americans, Food, Culture, and Health at CSUN and UCLA. You can find her regularly teaching AAS 100 (Intro to Asian American Studies) and AAS 340 (Asian American Women). She was a visiting scholar at Asian American Research Center on Health, University of California, San Francisco in 2015.

Title of Research Project

Is Assimilation Costing Asian Americans their Health?: Type 2 Diabetes in Asian American Populations, Funded by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institute of Health, Grant Number: 1R15MD011666-01.

Background &Purpose

The diabetes rates for Asian Americans has been increasing over the last twenty years, with over 1 out of 5 Asian Americans having diabetes, almost twice the rates to their White counterparts (Lee et al., 2011; Menke et al., 2015). More worrisome is that about fifty percent of Asian Americans with diabetes are not aware they have the disease (Menke et al., 2015). Studies have shown that Japanese in Hawai’i, Los Angeles, and Seattle were more likely to have diabetes than their counterparts in Japan (Fujimoto, 1995). A more recent study that collected blood samples from Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hmong living in Sacramento found that all had significantly higher diabetes rates than those in their country of origin (Stewart et al., 2016). Additionally, those that had spent more than 50% of their life in the U.S. were more likely to have diabetes than those that spent less time, although the results were not statistically significant. We know little about what are the causes of these health disparities, and why the rates of the immigrants and the growing second generation segment are more at risk than in their respective Asian countries. Together, these observations suggest that assimilation, or the process of becoming American, may put immigrant minority groups at risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases (Oza-Frank et al 2011; Popkin & Udry, 1998). This project is interested in understanding the specific social processes underlying the growing rates of Type 2 diabetes in Asian American subpopulations-Chinese American, Japanese, American, Filipino American, Korean American, Vietnamese American, and South Asian.


This summer, the research team conducted focus groups (via Zoom) with Chinese, Filipino and Korean American who live in Los Angeles and Orange County to understand how living in the U.S., culture impacts food habits and health.

The focus group study compares the dietary food habits of three Asian American groups - Filipino Americans, who have the highest diabetes rates among all Asian American groups; Korean Americans who have concerning growing rates of diabetes in the last 10 years; and Chinese Americans, whose diabetes rates are the lowest among all the Asian American groups and hence provides for a useful comparison group. Collectively, the current project will achieve a better understanding of the social processes that contribute to poorer or better health in California’s diverse Asian American populations.

Student Roles

Students can play a role by conducting literature review and helping to conduct qualitative analysis. Students will receive training in qualitative data analysis using a cultural insider-outsider approach. Students who speak Cantonese, Tagalog, and Korean are especially encouraged to apply.


Students with strong writing skills and interest in learning about Asian American research methods are encouraged to apply. Familiarity with Chinese, Filipino, and Korean populations is highly desirable. Coursework in any of the areas of study is helpful: social sciences, Asian American Studies, ethnic studies, public health, epidemiology, and/or health education. Other important qualities include good work ethic, able to meet deadlines, and an ability to collaborate with others. Students will gain training in conducting health research with Asian American populations.

Conferences Typically Attended — Association for Asian American Studies; American Public Health Association; American Sociological Association

Selected Publications

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu; Yoo, Grace; Musselman, Elaine; Jih, Jane; “Physical Activity in Asian American Populations,” in Physical Activity in Diverse Populations, edited by Melissa Jean Bopp, (Taylor and Francis, 2017), pp. 84-101.

Azar, Kristen; Chen, Edith; Holland, Ariel, & Palaniappan, Latha; “Festival Foods in the Immigrant Diet,” Journal of Immigrant Minority Health, Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, volume 15 issue 5 (30 September 2013), pages 953-960.

Chen, Edith &Arguelles, Dennis, "Bamboo Ceilings, the Working Poor, and the Unemployed: The Mixed Economic Realities of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders " in Asian Pacific Americans: Past, Present, and Future (Eunai Shrake and Edith Wen-Chu Chen (eds.) (Kendall-Hunt Publishers, 2012), pp. 69-77.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu & Hune Shirley, “Asian American Women Faculty in the Pipeline,” in Women of Color in Higher Education: Changing Directions and New Perspectives, Gaetane Jean-Marie Brenda Lloyd-Jones (eds.), (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2011), 163-190.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, “Transforming Racism: Asian Pacific American Women in African American Sororities,” in Black Greek-Letter Organizations, 2.0: New Directions in the Study of African American Fraternities and Sororities, Matthew W. Hughey and Gregory S. Parks (eds.) (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), pp. 139-159.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu and Kwong, Peter, “Chinese Americans,” Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today, eds. Edith Wen-Chu Chen and Grace J. Yoo, (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2010), pp. 15-23.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu “’You are like us, you eat platanos’: Chinese Dominicans, Race, Ethnicity, and Identity.” Afro-Hispanic Review vol. 27, no. 1, Spring 2008, (pp. 23-40). Special Issue “Afro-Asia” of Afro-Hispanic Review, Editors: Evelyn Hu-Dehart and Kathleen López.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, “Asian Americans in Sororities and Fraternities: In Search of a Home and Place.” in Brothers and Sisters: Diversity in College Fraternities and Sororities, (edited by Craig L. Torbenson and Gregory Parks.). Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, “Reclaiming a Forgotten Past: The San Fernando Valley Japanese American Oral History Project,” in Promoting Social Justice: How Service-Learning Can Shape Positive Social Change, edited by Dr. Gerald Eisman, Stylus Publishers. 2007, pp. 225-241.

Chen, Edith Wen-Chu, “Deconstructing the Model Minority Thesis: Asian Pacific Americans, Race, Class, Gender, and Work,” in Teaching about Asian Pacific Americans: Effective Activities, Strategies, and Assignments for Classrooms and Workshops, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

Key Words

Asian Americans, health disparities, immigrant health paradox, social determinants of health, immigrant and minority health, race, gender and class