Fumiko Hosokawa: Sociologist Will Publish Book on Research in Ethnic Communities
Fumiko Hosokawa’s book, “Building Trust: Doing Research to Understand Ethnic Communities,” has been accepted for publication by Lexington Books. Nearly a decade ago, the professor and former chair of sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills created culturally sensitive methods for interviewing members of ethnic communities and colleagues who had borrowed her methods over the years encouraged her to put them in book form. She initially created the interviewing guidelines for the Pilot Ethnic Research Training Project, which had been supported by a grant from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service).
Focusing on the African American, Samoan, Japanese American, Mexican American, and Southeast Asian communities of Los Angeles, “Building Trust” demonstrates the need for researchers to gain the trust of members of ethnic communities in order to achieve the most candid results in their interviews.
“I wanted the real voice from the community because I wanted to hear what they were saying about us, the researchers,” says Hosokawa. “One of my concerns was that researchers like myself will usually have their own theme or topic that they want to study. Is it just my own publication needs that I’m going after with total disregard to what the real problem is in the ethnic community? That was the basis for my wanting to... hear the voice of the ethnic community from their point of view and put it into the book.”
Hosokawa’s data was compiled with the help of students and community informants, who were sent out to speak to ethnic communities. She matched interviewers with interviewees of similar ethnic background to circumvent the barriers of language.
“I found that [ethnic groups] have a lot of awareness of their own problems in the community,” she says. “They’re kind of hoping when researchers come in, that their problems would get some kind of focus and maybe be resolved. But it turns out that many times researchers come in and highlight the problems that may have already been written about, like the high crime rate, drugs, prostitution. And some communities, like the Samoans, get very offended that negative things are being said about them and published.
“Communities want to know how something positive can come from what’s being published and said about them,” Hosokawa notes. “I think what we’ve done is a big injustice to them in terms of not finding out what they’re culturally sensitive to and also what the racial tensions were in the past that have made them distrust researchers and people in general.”
Hosokawa stresses the title of “Building Trust” as key to a researcher’s success in getting candid answers to questions. She says that one should not assume that the same template approach is appropriate for every ethnic group – or even for American-born members of that same group.
“With some ethnic communities that are [new immigrants], they’re just learning to assimilate with language,” she says. “Their distrust is more based on cultural differences, it’s not racial history because they haven’t been here long enough. They haven’t learned to understand American culture or to trust [Americans]. Your approach to that community as a researcher would be to get to know the culture. Use informants, use people from the community to study what they are sensitive to, what they might be offended by.
“Groups like Mexican Americans, African Americans, even Japanese Americans, have been here for several generations,” Hosokawa continues. “Their [distrust] is based more on lack of acceptance because of color differences. You would need to understand the history of racial tension and how these ethnic groups were affected by that. For example, for Japanese Americans, it would be having to go through World War II and being in the concentration camps. With African Americans, it goes back to slavery and segregation in the South.”
A licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in cross-cultural couple counseling and elder care issues, Hosokawa says that she hopes that “Building Trust” will engender understanding among researchers that “There are expectations in this interaction, just like with therapists and clients. People will be more than happy to have you study them if they feel there is going to be positive results from it.
“It’s not just about publishing your work in an academic journal and showing how these people have a big social problem,” she says, “but more about [finding] some ways that social change could be brought about to help them.”
Hosokawa has taught sociology courses including race and ethnic relations, aging, counseling older adults, and marriage and family theories at CSU Dominguez Hills since 1972. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from CSU Long Beach, her Master of Arts and doctorate in sociology from UCLA, and her Master of Science degree in marriage and family therapy from CSU Dominguez Hills.
- Joanie Harmon