Chinese Parent Cafés: Soup Gatherings for the Soul

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Chinese Parent Cafes have taken off in San Francisco thanks to the efforts of Be Strong Families Board Member Sandy Baba. For her PhD dissertation, “Towards a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate and Responsive Family Engagement Model for Low Income Chinese Immigrant Parents in San Francisco: A Qualitative Analysis,”  Sandy conducted a four-year research study adapting BSF’s Parent Cafe model for the Chinese community. During the 2016-2017 school year, Kai Ming Head Start launched 35 Chinese Parent Cafes  in Cantonese and Mandarin across seven Head Start child development centers in San Francisco communities. Kicking off the 2017-2018 school year, JoyLok Family Resource Center held their first Chinese Parent Café in July,  creatively renaming the cafes as “Chinese Soup Gatherings for the Soul.” Chinese believe tea and coffee are to be enjoyed during day time, and soup is an energy booster and comfort food savored for the end of a hard working day.  Participants expressed that the cafes helped them feel supported by their peers, and learn about family, community, and especially their “zuoren” journey. Zuoren is a Chinese term which consists of two Chinese characters, 做 (zuo) means make, and 人(ren) means person. Together, zuoren means “making of a person” (Li, 2012).

Chinese immigrants often feel isolated, due to language barriers, lack of access to social services (Baba, 2015) and Asian American families have been notably underrepresented in published studies of parent training (Huey & Polo, 2008). During 2014-2016, First 5 San Francisco conducted a family engagement project to examine ways to support low-income Chinese speaking families using Chinese Parent Cafes (CPC).  The original Parent Cafés were developed from the Strengthening Families, Center for the Study of Social Policy, and Be Strong Families to engage parents as advocates through a peer to peer learning. During the Chinese Parent Cafes development process, the Parent Cafe process was reviewed and field tested for cultural appropriateness, tagging for Chinese immigrants, multigenerational grandparents co-parenting approach, American born Chinese, and all families for relevance. The revision process to develop the Chinese Parent Cafe included in-depth transdisciplinary literature review, observations of existing parent cafes conducted in Chinese, and interviews with administrators who have direct responsibilities overseeing parent cafes. Once the Chinese Parent Café process and materials were created, the Chinese Parent Cafes were field tested by a group of low income Chinese parents, family advocates, and administrators. The field test participants provided feedback on the overall process including the usability of the newly developed questions used by families during parent cafes.

The cafes were first developed at the KaiMing Head Start program,  established in 1975 to serve the San Francisco Chinatown and North Beach communities. Presently, KaiMing serves over 300 children and their families throughout Chinatown, North Beach, Financial District, Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods in San Francisco. KaiMing Head Start’s evaluation on the Chinese Parent Cafes reveals that Chinese parents have found the cafes to be a source of significant support.  Jerry Yang, Executive Director at KaiMing Head Start program, states, “Parents’ feedback is very positive, for many of the parents, the cafes are a great source of information and comfort.  Parents are now more inclined to share their feelings, even deeper feelings.  Parents learn new techniques to talk with children, and prepare them to enter the ‘social’ setting.  They want to be connected to other parents and the community.  They want to come together to learn from each other’s less fortunate experiences, and to enjoy laughter as well.” A number of research studies demonstrate the cultural differences among American and Chinese in terms of self-perception and social organization within a community (Tyler, Kramer, & John, 1999).  Community engagement in peer and peer learning model support Chinese immigrants to develop confidence and self-identity in this new country.  The Chinese Parent Café allows parents to explore and find resources to support the acculturation journey and ultimately feel more at ease and comfortable when sharing their child rearing and family concerns with their peers and facilitator in their home language.

For the 2017-2018 school year, Chinese Parent Cafes have brought a new light to the Chinese families at JoyLok Family Resource Center (FRC), a resource center in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown.  JoyLok Family Resource Center(FRC), operated by WuYee’s Childrens Services, provides services such as educational play groups, lending toy and book libraries, and public benefits assistance to the families in both Chinese and English. The Chinese Soup Gatherings for the Soul at JoyLok FRC have already brought in significant feedback from both the staff and families, and the staff are already seeing an impact and benefits through parent engagement, with the Chinese Parent Cafes process and materials tailored to the Chinese communities.  Lena Yu, JoyLok FRC Manager states, “We seldom have time to take a pause and be in our own skin. The Chinese Parent Cafe model values parent’s experiences and the strengths they bring to the table. The Chinese parent questions are thought-provoking and forces us to dig deep, like soul searching for parents!  When parents go through this parent cafe experience, they end up more aware, focused and determined for themselves, benefitting everyone in the family unit.”

The main benefit of having the Chinese Parent Cafes available to the Chinese communities is that they are culturally and linguistically relevant.  Families and staff prefer this family engagement platform because it helps them to overcome cultural and language barriers immigrant families often experience during their acculturation process. “I think the cafe will impact the lives of the Chinese parents and children, because the café agenda is very different from most of the general support group. ”Christy Li, JoyLok FRC Family Support Coordinator states. The Chinese Parent Cafes agenda and materials are meeting the needs of the Chinese families, through connecting with their own peers to learn with each other, the families engage in the Zuoren, continuously learning and self-cultivating. The families are able to apply what they learn in the Chinese Parent Cafes to support other families that they will meet in their immigration and child rearing journey in the United States.  

At the same time, the family advocates and program staff working with the families become more skilled to tailor the Chinese Parent Cafés to meet the Chinese families’ aspirations to be confident leaders in their own family unit and community. As a result of the 35 cafes at KaiMing Head Start, family advocates were able to provide additional community resources to the participants in areas of appropriate discipline, child development, emotional needs of children, financial services resources, immigration resources, labor law, legal services resources, positive approaches on parenting and workshops on American and Chinese education systems.

BSF is thrilled to see the adaptation of parent cafes to meet the unique needs of different communities! Thank you Sandy Baba for her hard work in making this happen.

Article written by Sandy Baba, PhD, Be Strong Families Board Member

Dr. Sandy Baba is an educational researcher living in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in global education management and family engagement. She is a mother of three bi-racial children and an active volunteer and consultant providing services to non-profit agencies serving children and families in marginalized communities.


Baba, S. (2015). Towards a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate and Responsive Family Engagement Model for Low Income Chinese Immigrant Parents in San Francisco: A Qualitative Analysis (Doctoral dissertation.). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3726300)

Huey, S. J., & Polo, A. J. (2008). Evidence-based psychosocial treatments for ethnic minority youth. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology37(1), 262–301.

Li, J. (2012). Cultural foundations of learning: East and West. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Tyler, T. R., Kramer, R. M., & John, O. P. (Eds.). (1999). The psychology of the social self. New York, NY: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis.

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