Lost Generation 

The stereotype of Asian kids in America is that of do-gooders and academic overachievers. But break the crime stats into ethnic subgroups and you'll start running into more and more kids like Lil' Cloudy -- gangsta.

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Trung's mom stayed at home for many years after the family left Vietnam, depending on her husband for money, transportation, and communication with the outside world. Because he speaks English and she only knows basics picked up from an English as a Second Language class, the husband is the one who meets with teachers, pays the bills, and makes most family decisions. She finally gained some measure of freedom, first learning how to drive and then getting a job at a nail salon about four years ago.

The couple fights often. "Dad doesn't respect mom," Lily says. "He thinks she's ignorant."

He also chastises his wife for spending too much on clothes for herself and the kids. One night Lily came home to find her mother standing dazed outside as smoke poured from the chimney; her dad was burning his wife's clothes in the fireplace. That's what he does when he's mad, Lily says. He destroys your possessions.

Trung knows his mom cares about him. "I'm a momma's boy," he admits with a grin. As for his father, he might as well be a stranger: "Me and my dad don't get along at all," Trung says. "I don't ever talk to him. He's the man that lives with me. That's all."

It wasn't always like this. From eight to thirteen, Trung had a decent relationship with his dad, Lily says. They went fishing together. But of the siblings, Trung also faced his father's wrath most often. When late-night arguments between Trung and his eldest sister woke the parents up, dad would storm into the room and yell at them both, but blame Trung more, Lily says. And while her dad never hit his daughters, he often beat Trung. "Mom always defended him," Lily says of her brother. "Like she would try to hold dad back as he beat down the door."

Sometimes Trung's mom tried to shield the boy with her own body. And the boy learned to turn odd spots throughout the house into hiding places to escape his father. "Sometimes he hid in the dryer because he's so small," Lily recalls. Other times he slept on a pile of blankets in his sister's closet for a day or two.

Her father seems at a loss about how to discipline Trung, Lily says. He tries to isolate him from his friends, whom he considers bad influences. When they call, he warns them not to call again. He has broken many phones in fits of anger, she says, and has torn Trung's room apart, ripping posters from the walls, throwing out his clothes, and smashing his stereo and TV to bits. A week later, mom quietly replaces her son's electronics. She has bought at least two televisions, Lily says. "I think because Trung is the oldest boy, Dad expected more out of him," she says.

Trung claims he doesn't care about his dad, yet it's clear that he does. He repeatedly mentions how much his dad yells at him and badmouths him to others. Just the other week, dad told some relatives that Trung stole his cousin's car, which would have been impossible, since Trung was under house arrest. "Why would he do that?" the young man wonders aloud.

"I don't think he believes dad wants the best for him," Lily says. "He thinks dad is out to get him."

When Trung was sixteen, a doctor referred him to Bouakhay Phongboupha, a counselor at Asian Pacific Psychological Services. "He'd already been kicked out of high school when I got him," she says.

In her five years working at the nonprofit agency, Phongboupha has tried to guide many young people like Trung. "A lot of them are hungry for love," she says. "Not that their parents don't love them. It's just misunderstood. When parents lecture, it shows they love them. But the kids don't know. Traditionally, Asian parents never say the good stuff you do. They just say the negative."

Parents get offended when she says the problems start at home, but it's true, she says. For one, the parenting techniques immigrants were raised with don't always translate well in America. Phongboupha, a second generation Laotian who grew up in Richmond like most of her young clients, uses Laos as an example. In rural Laos, parents depend on the whole village to watch the kids. "Teachers have the right to hit children," she says. "That's where they learn discipline."

As a consequence, many parents don't know when to put their foot down. At the same time, other parents may have learned from their own upbringing to treat their children strictly, but without providing the proper structure of acting as a good role model.

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