Engaging Diversity's Underbelly: A Story
from an Immigrant Parish Community

Mark B. Borg, Jr. PhD

Borg, Jr., M. B. (2006). Engaging Diversity's Underbelly:
A Story From an Immigrant Parish Community.
American Journal of Community Psychology, 37 (3/4): 191-202.


This story explores an intervention conducted in a Catholic parish community in New York City. The intervention, conducted by the author and a Jesuit priest, focused on issues of unity and diversity among the various Chinese immigrant subgroups in the parish (primarily Cantonese- and Mandarin-speakers). Issues of class, power, and a history of colonialism in the Catholic Church are explored as central to the relations among culturally diverse Chinese American community members and between the members and the practitioners and the church authority. The author especially focuses on how the dynamics that played out in the intervention reflected wider issues of economics, labor practices, and political elitism in the wider Chinatown community. A central part of the author's argument is about power relationships between this parish community and Chinatown and how these power relationships are embedded within broader racial and economic oppression within the United States.

WHEN THE PASTOR OF A LARGE CATHOLIC PARISH serving newly arrived Chinese immigrants and more established Chinese Americans [1] in New York City felt a need to address issues tied to the changing demographics of the parish population, he asked the author and his consultation partner to conduct an intervention aimed at diversity issues in his parish. The pastor was keenly aware that the community was in transition. As had happened before, the focus of pastoral care and service was shifting from an older immigrant group to a new group of arrivals, making new demands on the parish structure. The parish structure was geared toward the care of a more prosperous, educated, and acculturated immigrant group of Cantonese- and English-speaking Chinese Americans, and needed to shift to meet the needs of a newer, less acculturated and more impoverished Mandarin-speaking population [2]. Representatives of the different Chinese American subgroups within the parish community participated in an intervention designed to elaborate and address these issues, and to work with the consultants to implement an action plan based on the way unity and diversity issues were acknowledged, addressed, and enacted in the parish [3]. Little did we know how deeply these issues would tap into entrenched power and authority dynamics within the Catholic Church and the Chinese American communities that attended this church, nor how we ourselves would become caught up in these dynamics.


Ascension Church [4] has a 175-year history of service to New York City immigrants. Located in Lower Manhattan, where newcomers once arrived from Ellis Island, Ascension is a bastion of diversity in the diversity capital of the world, with a record of service to the Irish, Italian, and Chinese populations that have moved through it since the nineteenth century. Ascension has made possible a well-documented series of success stories as immigrant populations have come, acclimated, and moved on over its many years.

Given Ascension's history, we were excited to engage this community in an intervention. Dr. Borg is a partner in a multidisciplinary consultation group that conducts community empowerment and revitalization interventions. He also is a psychologist who was trained in community and clinical psychology and maintains an active psychotherapy private practice in New York City consisting primarily of individuals receiving disability benefits for "chronic mental illness." Dr. Borg is a thirty-seven year old, middle-class, Caucasian male raised in Southern California with no religious affiliations. Father Gately is an ordained priest in the Jesuit order who has a Masters in Divinity and is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese. He has spent most of his life, including his childhood, in various parts of the world including the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Father Gately has spent six years in Taiwan in language and theology studies, and another four years studying Cantonese and as the director of a Jesuit retreat house. He is a fifty year old, Caucasian male [5].

Dr. Borg and Father Gately met during a two-year training program in organizational dynamics. The Ascension intervention was conducted as a part of their training, though it was not assigned to them by the training program. Rather, the intervention was solicited by Ascension's pastor as he knew that Father Gately was in training for such consultations. The intervention was conducted under a formal contract that authorized an evaluation of unity and diversity issues in Ascension parish, and paid a nominal fee to the training organization. In the previous year Father Gately had conducted Mass at Ascension, provided consultation to one of the parish schools, heard confession, and provided some pastoral counseling for parishioners. Dr. Borg had no previous contact with Ascension parish. After developing a friendship during training, Father Gately and Dr. Borg thought that with their respective backgrounds they might make a good team to work with Ascension. While this was true in many respects, it also served to complicate the intervention in unforeseen ways.

The pastor of Ascension, Father DeLillo, was a member of an order of Catholic priests whose special calling is missionary work outside of North America. He was the son of Italian immigrants who was born and grew up in New York City's Lower East Side in the 1940s and grew up there amidst impoverished conditions. He had spent the majority of his career as a missionary worker in Hong Kong, where he spent six years in a major leadership role. Father DeLillo's administrative and fundraising skills had turned Ascension around after a ten-year period of financial instability and infighting among the parish staff. A major cost of this recovery was his implementation of a very centralized power structure. The pastor had absolute and unilateral authority, but the parish was now considered one of the jewels of the New York Archdiocese.

Father DeLillo told us that Ascension's very success had bred a tenacious problem. It had seen many of the cycles by which the American dream is realized: immigrants move into the cities, prosper, and move on. As they begin to flourish in their new country, there is a process of psychological and physical separation from the parish and from their immigrant identity. As they acclimate, they move to the suburbs, taking with them the voluntary church leadership they built which had enabled the community's survival in the city. Therefore, at the time of greatest need-when a new wave of seekers are knocking at the door of the church-the established immigrants who administer the church support apparatus are on their way out, leaving the parish short-handed and unprepared to meet the needs of the new immigrant population. Was it possible to anticipate these tides so that the parish might better respond to each new challenge? The practitioners developed the notion that this challenge might be met by having the different church subgroups identify with each other through their common experience of immigration which might lead to greater solidarity. Father DeLillo agreed with this sentiment.

The parish had been stretched thin. The New York Archdiocese was preoccupied with the unimaginable catastrophe of the sex scandals, a chronic shortage of priests, and major financial difficulties. The resulting administrative paralysis within the wider Church left parishes like Ascension unsupported and isolated; there was a feeling of scarcity both among the parish clergy and in the surrounding Catholic communities. At first the pastor shared with us the wish that we find ways to help departing parishioners maintain their support structures long enough to help the newcomers learn the ropes. At the end of our initial meeting, however, he repeatedly joked around, in a way that didn't make much sense to us at the time, his critical need was for more space, but he stated that "You guys can't help me with that."

The Challenge

For the last several decades, Ascension had been serving newly arrived Chinese. The cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic differences among Chinese of various regions and classes go back many centuries, and they tend to be even more acute and complex in the highly stressed urban immigrant context (Kwong, 1996). According to yearly surveys conducted by the church (2000, 2001), of the approximately 500 families who regularly attended Ascension's five weekend masses, 50 were families whose first language was English (mostly American-born Chinese), 150 were families whose first language was Cantonese and most of whom also spoke English (the majority from Hong Kong), and 300 were families whose first language was Mandarin and most of whom did not speak English (mostly from China's Fujian and Zhejiang provinces). The English and Cantonese speakers represented the established church community, while the Mandarin speakers were recent immigrants still struggling with the trauma of dislocation. The Hong Kong immigrants were much wealthier and better educated than the mainland Chinese who followed them; many arrived speaking English. Most of the new members, on the other hand, were very poor and less educated. Many were illegal aliens, and some owed enormous amounts of money to the "snakeheads" who smuggled them into the United States (see Chin, 1999). The most recent immigrants have the greatest needs for assistance. The older Cantonese-speaking parishioners, now largely successful and established, were moving out to the suburbs, their children mainstreaming into U.S. culture, and the system that had been built to address their needs was finding it difficult to accommodate the significantly different needs of the new arrivals.

A fuller examination of the class issues at play among these subgroups of the church and a broader picture of the parishioners is important to consider. According to Peter Kwong (1996), the New York Chinatown community is segregated along political, economic, and class lines. The older immigrants, the elite of the Chinese American community, maintain economic superiority most profoundly through evading labor laws with the participation of local and state institutions. These "uptown Chinese" (ibid., p. 59), depend on the labor of newer immigrants, the "downtown Chinese." Outside the parish newer immigrants often work as unskilled or semi-skilled workers in the businesses of older immigrants. This economic relationship between these two groups outside of the parish is an important part of the context of their relationship within the parish, a relationship that made it difficult for the members of the different groups to relate as equals [6].

We structured our intervention in several phases. First, we interviewed key parish staff, group leaders, and members of the various church subgroups. Then we asked for volunteers from these groups to help us initiate a discussion group to explore the diversity issues affecting the parish. Out of this group, which we called the "project group," we also developed and implemented a survey investigating these issues.

The Project Group

We shared with the project group our understanding of our task: to find ways for older members and newcomers to identify with each other as fellow immigrants, and to encourage both groups to address any issues they wished associated with unity and diversity. The newer immigrants often discussed their immigration experiences and the stressors of assimilating into New York. The older settlers did not discuss their immigrant experiences in identification with their new compatriots, but rather were focused on strategizing practical solutions to the newcomers' assimilation difficulties. We worked on developing a process whereby these two groups of people could look beyond their significant differences and share their stories of leaving their ancestral homes for uncertain futures. The discussions in the group were conducted primarily in English, although Father Gately and other group members would occasionally interpret specific words or phrases that were poorly understood [7]. Eventually we had a core group that was comprised of volunteers and people from the parish council, most of these members being parishioners who were already involved with various volunteer activities for Ascension. The group consisted of a rotating membership ranging from fifteen to thirty members per meeting with a core group of twelve members who attended every meeting. The ratio of male to female members was roughly equal from meeting to meeting; members' ages ranged from twenty to sixty, though most members were in their forties. At the time of the meetings, we somehow thought that this group reflected the diversity of the parish despite that an average of only four Fujianese were in attendance, while the rest of the membership was comprised of Cantonese and American-born Chinese. Soon, to our delight, its members were beginning to tell their own stories, and to listen to and reflect upon the stories of others.

The discussions of the project group were the center of our intervention. We held biweekly meetings to discuss findings, progress, and to address issues related to interactions within the group as they arose, especially those that we thought reflected tensions about unity and diversity within the parish. For example, when the practitioners solicited the group members' thoughts about why the Fujianese members did not attend Cantonese events, one member, who was also the leader of the parish council insisted, "There is no conflict!" This statement was met by silence in the group. It seemed to us that this was an implicit command to the group that conflict (and other difficult issues) was not to be discussed. Slowly, covert issues of power and authority began to emerge.

The interactions in the project group demonstrated how difficult any discussion that threatens established status quo can become, especially in the context of immigration. The established Chinese Americans kept a certain emotional distance from the newcomers in their reluctance to discuss or acknowledge divisions in the church. We wondered if they preferred not to be reminded of the harsh vulnerabilities of immigration that they themselves had suffered not too long ago. This was the hypothesis that we were working with at the time of the intervention. In the process of revising this paper, a colleague has pointed out that the "emotional distance" of the older Chinese also could have been due to being in a group on non-relatives and being asked to talk about personal issues. In terms of the author's process, it is interesting to note that this second hypothesis was mentioned during the intervention by a project group member. This may serve as an indication that at times the author struggled with being distracted by some of the tenets of individual psychotherapy, and his identity as a psychotherapist, related to emotional coping strategies for painful experience.

The reawakening of painful memories involving racism, impoverishment, exploitation, potential deportation, pressure from smuggling operations, and the other problems common to new arrivals seemed too painful to consider. Yet the established members did go to some lengths to help the new immigrants deal with the often-traumatic circumstances of coming to America. For example, established members accompanied new immigrants to INS to help them fill out paperwork and to court proceedings for immigration issues, took newer members to see lawyers, and so forth [8]. Simultaneously, however, excepting some of the above-noted extraordinary measures, it seemed to us as though much of the help that was given to newcomers was offered as a kind of abstract "good works" that allowed the givers to maintain not only an emotional distance from the recipients, but also a hierarchical relationship with them. Help was almost always offered on terms set by the helper, rather than the helped.

The Power Structure of the Parish

The group interactions began to illuminate the parish power structure. Members of the parish council held great prestige and recognition at Ascension. But the council, as this pastor had created it, had no actual decision making authority. While some Chinese American members of the parish council with deep personal ties to the pastor exercised a degree of influence in decision-making, virtually all practical power was firmly held in the pastor's hands. One notable exception to this rule was his delegation of decision-making authority to his administrative secretary, Mrs. Wei. The parish council served mainly to carry out tasks that the pastor assigned.

Yet, according to project group members they could still gain status and eminence in the church community by volunteering for service committees and church activities. Among the parishioners, recognition was synonymous with power, and was the prerequisite for joining the actual management structure. Once in the management structure, they are very effective in shaping the church organization despite the fact that Father DeLillo is the only formal decision-maker. The gatekeepers of the service opportunities were the members of the pastor's council, and to join their ranks required many laborious years of volunteering time and energy to various church activities. In fact, the hierarchy in the parish community was defined according to who sacrificed the most for the parish, who was willing to give the most service to the community. This resulted in a climate of driven volunteerism within the parish, in which members donated huge quantities of personal time and efforts to parish projects, in order to earn or secure positions of prestige. Once again, economic relationships outside the parish affected status within the parish, as the newer immigrants were more impoverished, worked longer hours, and had less time to volunteer than older immigrants. Thus newer immigrants had less access to high status positions in the church.

This process seemed to reflect an effort for parish members to find their place in the church and enacted some of the structural dynamics at play in Ascension. Specifically, it provided a wealth of human resources that allowed the pastor to make Ascension one of the outstanding successes in the archdiocese. Not surprisingly, the more educated and settled Cantonese (including many of the staff members) assumed the role of gatekeepers and managers. This tended toward keeping the church structure more geared toward the needs of the older members. The way that this management was implemented seemed (albeit unwittingly) to serve to dampen and obstruct the development of an effective leadership group among the newcomers that might allow them to articulate their own sense of identity and entitlement to lay claim to a place in the church community. Those who made up the project group were, to a large extent, members of the older "management" group. The few Fujianese in the project group were of a younger generation, relatively fluent in English, and well on their way to assimilation in mainstream U.S. society.

We eventually grew surprised and confused about Father DeLillo's urgent concern that parishioners would leave the church for the suburbs and create a support crisis given this climate of volunteerism. To us it seemed that the suburban exodus of some members of the older generation was distracting from the fact that many established immigrants were holding closely onto their manager roles in the parish. From our perspective it seemed that Ascension's problem was that each exodus sets up a covert power struggle for the very few prestige positions that did become vacant. The remnants of the older generation seized as much as they could of the newly available power relinquished by the departing elders. This dynamic was so strong that we had to consider the possibility that the overt diversity issues were an aspect of, and a distraction from, a larger problem of power and authority. We were eager to share this perspective with the project group but held back because, we reasoned, this was just the evaluation phase. However, in hindsight, a stronger motivation was that we feared that this perspective would be too controversial, too upsetting to the members, and that it might actually lead to the demise of the intervention. Yet our view of the exodus cycle took on increasing cogency as we learned that a parallel cycle-with a similar subtext-was being enacted elsewhere at Ascension.

Wheels within Wheels

Nine months into our consultation, the pastor asked for a private meeting with Father Gately, and asked him if the Jesuits-specifically one Jesuit, Father Gately-would be willing to take over the parish. After twelve years of service, Father DeLillo had been recalled by his religious order. He had been elected U.S. representative for the order, and was slated to leave Ascension for an overseas posting [9]. His order would no longer manage Ascension, which meant that there was little chance, in this time of Church crisis, that the parish would find a replacement with the kind of language skills and administrative track record of this pastor.

So a tremendous shift of power really was in the offing after all, one that dwarfed the matter of the chimerical vacancies on the parish council and committees. Father DeLillo told us that he had been privately struggling with the potential consequences of his own centralized approach to leadership, and the ways that it was now threatening to render his parish as it had been before his arrival: floundering.

These considerations threw into sharp relief how much his leadership style coincided with the willingness of the community members to work themselves to exhaustion for the recognition by a powerful leader and the prestige that this conferred upon them among other community members. The pastor's tenure mimicked some of the dynamics associated with the sweatshops of Chinatown-from which so many new immigrants needed protection and respite-and gave an ironic twist to the diversity problems in the parish. Father DeLillo and many of the parishioners' perspective on this was similar to that of Min Zhou (1992) who argues that the disciplined work ethic of the Chinese Americans in Chinatown works well within an "ethnic enclave" in which they experience far greater opportunity than would be possible either in China or the mainstream U.S. (including the ability to function effectively without learning English). Kwong (1996), however, criticizes this argument as a means of colluding with unfair labor practices, ethnic discrimination, and political elitism in Chinatown [10]. The "ethnic enclave" philosophy as applied to labor practices in Chinatown makes this community vulnerable to being co-opted by a modern version of imperialism, a colonization of its business practices by a Western capitalist value system [11]. A critical view of the ethnic enclave philosophy must be placed in the context of the broader racial and economic inequality in the U.S., and how this facilitates exploitation within Chinatown and in Ascension Church.

The pastor had belatedly considered how lay parishioners could become empowered to take up substantive leadership roles, and that this would require the development of relationships among them. To survive, it seemed, the parish would need to develop a lateral structure, a capacity for trust and collaboration outside of the traditional church hierarchy that he himself had sustained. With that consideration we returned to the project group, and the complex entanglement of the diversity and power issues, with a new sense of urgency.

Furthermore, we later realized with great disappointment that, due to the lack of open collaboration with parishioners both on Father DeLillo's part and in our determining the main task of our own for the project group, that we were playing out an age-old conflict with Father DeLillo which impacted the parishioners whom we were trying to help. There is a historical precedence in colonized communities of powerful Western outsiders, including Catholic missionaries, struggling amongst themselves for control of the Asian communities that they "serve" (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2000; Said, 1993). We never explicitly clarified with the project group whether they felt that our idea of promoting solidarity among each other based on their immigrant experiences was in congruence with their goals. Just as Father DeLillo often related to the members by assigning tasks, we assigned the project group our vision of what constituted healthy functioning in the community. Rather than collaboration with the parishioners, we engaged in an imaginary tug-of-war with Father DeLillo about whose interpretation of this Chinese American community would dominate the course of the intervention. Our imaginary struggle bore an eerie resemblance to the ways in which Western outsiders have endeavored to define the voice of colonized communities, disallowing them to represent themselves (Fanon, 1967; Said, 1978).

And this was a two-way street, we realized. Since we had been authorized to conduct this intervention, we had a degree of authority put upon us as well by the parishioners. Though we conscientiously evaluated our own agendas and biases prior to beginning the intervention, we still got caught up in these dynamics in ways that we were unaware of at the time and which reflected the larger parish issues. That is, the project group members responded to us in ways that were similar to how they responded to Father DeLillo, and we related to them in ways that were similar to his in that the dynamic of helping on the terms of the helper was fully at play.

The Retreat

After a year of work, we planned a retreat with the project group to go over our findings and make plans for the action phase of the intervention. We had delivered a formal and detailed report to the pastor, with special attention to the matter of increased empowerment of the laity. We were surprised to receive only very sketchy feedback from him that we had done "good work," and could continue it if we wished. And, he told us, he would not join the retreat himself, but intended to send Mrs. Wei, his administrative assistant, as his representative, who would report to him later her impressions of the retreat.

This decision distressed the project group. The members of the project group had discussed that they perceived Ms. Wei as a very powerful figure in the parish community. In our individual meetings with Ms. Wei she described the extreme hardship of her own immigration/ acculturation process, and expressed full support for our work. But despite our invitations, she had never attended a single project group meeting, and this was part of what distressed the group members. In the words of one group member, with whom the group concurred, they perceived her as something of a "spy." They believed that the possibility of any further work would depend absolutely on her report to the pastor.

Still, the retreat began on a high note, with a series of lively feedback and planning sessions. But when we approached the issue of the power dynamics of the relationships between the Cantonese and the Fujianese, the emotional atmosphere changed dramatically.

We began by summarizing the report we had given the pastor, which contained many of the observations about power dynamics elaborated above. We noted that the newer and more numerous Fujianese were being excluded from the parish leadership by the better-established Cantonese. We also noted that the widespread desire to be helpful to the new arrivals was complicated in both groups by distancing mechanisms, such as stereotyping and scapegoating. For example, some of the Cantonese members described the newcomers as demanding, manipulative, lacking in self-control, crude, and uncooperative (with the helper's chosen method of helping). In response to these allegations, the Fujianese members became quiet and did not defend themselves.

We noticed that some Cantonese speakers did reach out to the newcomers, often at great personal sacrifice. We suggested that this reflected a compassion born from similar suffering as well as adherence to Christian ideals. As one interviewee said, "Their stories are our stories."

Response to the Report

There was an uncomfortable silence when we finished. In our acknowledgment of conflict, our questioning of authority, our inadequate deference to elders (the Cantonese and the pastor), and especially in our challenge to the silent power dynamics in the parish, we had unknowingly shattered an entire set of community-level taboos. A break in the silence came from Mr. Yo, the leader of the parish council, who said, "I think this is too provocative: this is bringing up feelings that are too hard to deal with for us." Another group member concurred with this sentiment and other members nodded in agreement. Clearly the issues we raised created a lot of anxiety. We were also very aware of Mrs. Wei: she was silent, sitting very stiffly in her chair, and wore a blank stare. At that moment we felt as though Ms. Wei might be furious with us, and we feared that we might be losing the opportunity to continue on with our work.

During the following lunch break, other council members pulled us aside to suggest urgently that we emphasize that our work was "just one perspective among many." This only increased the threat we felt from Mrs. Wei's lack of verbal response and her announcement that she would not be joining us for lunch since she needed time to reflect on what she had heard.

After lunch, Mrs. Wei requested time to speak. There was palpable tension in the group. She began with a surprising statement: "I am overwhelmed with this information-and impressed." Before anyone in the group could react, she began to cry, saying "I am overjoyed to be here, and to hear how much your group cares about Ascension." She then pulled out a copy of our report. It was covered with scribbled notes, detailed responses of Mrs. Wei and the pastor that belied what we had interpreted as his apparent indifference.

For the next hour, Mrs. Wei presented this feedback, emphasizing the approval that she and the pastor felt for our efforts. We had the uncanny sense of having passed a test. Mrs. Wei made many suggestions as to how the project group could be "put to use" during the action phase-put to use, that is, as a "work group," addressing specific tasks to be identified by the pastor. She then left the room to meet her husband, who had come early to pick her up. The project group was so relieved over her unexpected approval that none of us realized until afterwards that she had not mentioned either the diversity or the power issues. In fact, what she had said, in essence, was that the project group could continue — as long as it gave up its task of addressing these issues, and continued instead as another service organization.

In short, we had lost our reason for being a project group. And as easily as the pastor had allowed the group's initial focus on dynamics within the church, the upstart group itself relaxed back into the status quo of the structure of the parish. The suggestion (mandate) that the project group become a task-oriented service group meant that members of the group were valuable enough to contribute-to sacrifice-for Ascension. The group members would receive prestige and recognition from the work that they had done in the intervention, but at the cost of relinquishing the primary task of the project group itself. In our imaginary struggle with Father DeLillo he had responded with a perfect bloodless conta-coup. As the project group became a task-oriented group, we silently disappeared, our mandate quietly revoked.

We found out shortly after the retreat that Father DeLillo called in a lot of favors from the Archbishop and got himself excused from the international position, and that Mrs. Wei had been aware of this during the retreat. He now says that he wants to stay at Ascension for the rest of his career. Things were business as usual again.

Reflections and Discussion

Both traditional Chinese and Church value systems exert strong influences on how diversity issues are understood and experienced in Ascension parish. Where they dovetail, they illuminate how easily important dynamics of power and authority can be hidden under more benign concerns with diversity issues. We, the practitioners, played into this as well, preferring to overlook issues related to class and economic injustice in favor of the more benignly stated concern with diversity. For our part, the focus on diversity-and a collusion that overlooked class and economic issues-was perhaps motivated by wanting to maintain a relatively easy working rapport with the pastor. To suggest that class and economic differences might be dictating access to privileges among the parishioners raised for us the felt possibility of coming into conflict with the person who had hired (and could fire) us. Noticing the dynamics between parishioners of different social and economic classes is what allowed us to see more clearly that there were also power dynamics at play in the parish. In turn, noticing how issues of power affected relationships among parishioners (i.e., striving for recognition and volunteerism as the currency by which it was earned) allowed us to see more clearly how these dynamics were embedded within Chinatown's power dynamics and the broader U.S. racial and economic context.

At Ascension, the focus on diversity draws attention away from the problems associated with the hierarchical power and authority styles built deeply into Catholic Church culture and more traditional Chinese value systems, and the varied guilts associated both with acceptance of and rebellion against these dynamics: those who wished for power experienced themselves as culpable for treason (or, according to Catholic tradition, the deadly first sin of pride); while those who already held it struggled with their complicity in the disempowering of new groups.

While significant regional differences do exist, traditional Chinese values emphasize the importance of family, collectivist values, and hierarchy (Hong & Ham, 2001). In contrast with the Western emphasis on independence, interdependence is the keystone of maturity in Chinese-speaking (and monastic) communities-interdependence within a family network that is maintained under a "leader," a parent or elder in whom power is centralized (Uba, 2003). In general Chinese American communities are distinguished from mainstream middle class U.S. communities in its stress on respect for authority, interpersonal harmony, compromise, and acceptance of one's fate (Miscevic & Kwong, 2000) [12]. Furthermore, researchers have noted that the coping strategy of reliance on authority is sometimes exaggerated among immigrants to compensate for the acute sense of identity loss that accompanies dramatic relocation (Akhtar, 1999; Gold, Guthrie, & Wank, 2002).

The institutional Catholic Church today is shaped by a combination of its traditional intensely hierarchical structure and its response to immediate threats to its organizational survival (Steinfels, 2003). To the extent that its main focus is now survival, the Church is vulnerable, in ways that are reminiscent of the ways immigrants try to endure an unfamiliar, sometimes threatening, surround. In its struggle to survive and to protect its intergenerational legacy, the Church has relied heavily upon its deeply entrenched institutional authority, rather than on its doctrine of faith and responsibility to the faithful. This exaggeration of the hierarchical aspects of Church culture echoes the previously noted traditional Chinese value systems. Both models require a powerful leadership structure to maintain themselves, and thus support a vertical power structure that can contribute to a disempowering of the community at the grassroots level and a compartmentalization among its diverse groups [13].

Certainly the report we presented at the retreat was provocative. It was the first full disclosure to the project group of the interpretation that we had developed which redefined the system within which they were all a part as having oppressive and exploitative aspects. To see the church in some ways as a system of oppression flew fully in the face of their view that they were in the process of creating an ethnic enclave whereby they were gaining privilege and opportunities for ascendancy in their church and the wider Chinatown community. It was a shock to be presented with the possibility that the parish structure that was developed to meet the needs of the older group accommodated the newer group in ways that were similar to those that exploited newer arrivals in the wider labor/economic environment. Perhaps it is equally shocking that we all felt that this "enclaved" community could avoid enacting those wider system dynamics and that we assumed that presenting this analysis would open up the system to change. In our feedback, we did not acknowledge both the newer immigrants' and more established members' ability to decide what their immediate and long-term needs are, and that the long hours of volunteerism might be an effective way to meet them.

Our feedback also challenged traditional power structures, as it challenged the parishioner's sense of security and perhaps their version of "reality." However, our feedback did not account for the ways that our status as community outsiders or how our ethnic and class identities played into this traditional power structure. We broke well-entrenched taboos around asking certain kinds of questions and making certain observations. It seems likely that, in fact, we were in the privileged position to challenge taboos and ask controversial questions because of our alignment with the oppressor class which we took for granted. Moreover, it seems that the parish evaluation was tolerable only within the context of a powerful threat to parish identity: the potential loss of the pastor.

In hindsight, it seems that the practitioners would have been more receptive to the voices of the community, via the project group, had we avoided our initial unwitting struggle with Father DeLillo about whose interpretation of this Chinese American community would dominate the course of the intervention. The strength of the intervention was that we shared Father DeLillo's observation of problems in the community with the project group members, tried to ascertain whether and to what extent the community members agreed with his observations, elicited their own observations about the functioning and the dynamics of their community, and collaborated with them about what they felt should be the goals of the intervention based on these observations. The weakness of the intervention was that we also imported a goal of our own, to promote solidarity among parishioners, a goal that was not arrived at through collaboration but was rather an imposition of our own worldview.

The pastor, fearful that his successful system of governance would fall apart after he left, tried to lure Father Gately into filling the gap of his departure [14]. But the new vision of community empowerment that had led him to call us in would certainly have subverted the power positions that were still unfairly dependent upon the labor of others. Had this labor exploitation, rampant in the restaurant and garment industries of Chinatown, also earned Ascension its respect in the wider Archdiocesan community? The pastor started the intervention to address the structural weaknesses his administration had established. He told us on more than one occasion that he wanted the parish and its parishioners to prosper. We also conjectured that he would not object to establishing a more benign picture of how Ascension's successes under his tenure had been achieved. Most of all, he stated that he desperately wanted to stay.

Our consultation enacted interesting aspects of the immigration and acculturation experience of this community. Was the choice of our particular consultation team simply an accident? We wondered increasingly to what extent the entire consultation had been a bait-and-switch strategy to entice Father Gately-who is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese and now very familiar with the parish-into taking on the pastor's position. While the pastor was willing to consider, under the threat of enforced departure, an exploration of deeper issues involved with diversity in the parish, he, like the members of the older group, ultimately fought to maintain his position (e.g., he told us that he had had been emphatically advocating with the Archdiocese that he be allowed to stay at Ascension). The struggles of the community were enacted very much in parallel with his own, and they were dealt with in a like manner, by reverting to a hierarchical structure, held in the hands of the elite in which good for the many is accomplished by centralizing power in the hands of the few (of which we were initially included), at a cost of what we perceived as widespread disempowerment.

The threat of losing the pastor has passed, and it remains uncertain whether he and the parishioners will continue to explore the complex issues associated with diversity-especially its underlying power subtext-in the absence of such a powerful motivating crisis. Over the course of many months during which the project group met, members overcame much of their initial discomfort about discussing their experience of how the major subgroups in the church related to each other. With this improved communication, there have been increased invitations made by the older group for Fujianese participation in ongoing service projects (despite that they were often too busy trying to earn a living to accept these invitations). Since the end of the intervention, the status quo has rapidly overtaken the project group, whose hard work has now been harnessed into practical service. Recently we learned that many members of the project group had diverted their attention from the issues of unity and diversity to fundraising, enabling Ascension to rent more space. But as Father DeLillo said when we began, we couldn't help him with that.


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