“If you were from, where I’m from, then you would know.”- Montell Jordan
Immigrant culture in the United States, by virtue of taking one’s homeland culture to a new location in the context of a new culture, entails some degree of cultural sharing. For Filipinos in the United States, this has resulted in a vibrant new “Filipino American culture” that borrows from new and old to create a unique new entity. It also creates some challenges as those familiar with old ways must adapt to new environments.
These cultural conflicts and confluences are revealed no more clearly perhaps than in the very personal journey of caregiving for a loved one as they age. For older people who grew up in the Philippines, to now experience the ups and downs of growing older in the United States requires the already difficult process of aging to navigate the often awkward terrain of unfamiliar systems and institutions as well as the evolving role-switching as the parent who raised the child becomes the one now being taken care of by the adult child.
The Filipino American community in the Washington, DC metropolitan area addressed these issues this past weekend as the Philippine American Foundation of Charities partnered with AARP’s state chapter in Virginia to hold a unique event, “Navigating the Caregivers Maze: Finding Support and Planning Your Caregivers Journey.” Over 150 people attended this event, which featured an informative and powerfully personal keynote from retired Major General Tony Taguba, the second highest ranking Filipino American to serve in the U.S. Army, and who now serves as an “AARP Community Ambassador.” The President of AARP Virginia, Bob Blancato (who serves on the board of the American Society on Aging with the DEC’s own Michael Adams from SAGE and Dr. Yanira Cruz from NHCOA) also made an appearance, as did Sharon Lynn, Director of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging. Her presentation was a comprehensive overview of services available to elders in Fairfax County and provided really helpful information.
I was honored to be on a panel that explored the unique challenges and joys of the Filipino American and Asian American/Pacific Islander caregiving journey along with Leo Duran and Veronica Li. Leo Duran’s story, along with that of Maj. Gen. Taguba, is featured in a special AARP video on Caregiving in the AAPI community, “Caregiving: Dahil Mahal Kita (Because I Love You).” He provided some more specific lessons learned in caregiving remotely for his mother, who although lives in the Philippines, happened to be visiting and was actually in the room as well. Veronica Li is a local author whose caregiving journey and its cultural underpinnings in Chinese American culture is described in her book, “Confucius Says.”
I was able to talk about the work we do at the Diverse Elders Coalition to take stories such as Leo’s and Veronica’s and demonstrate the need for policies and laws that better serve the needs of an elder population that is becoming increasingly diverse. I talked about our recently issued report, “A Seat at the Table: Diverse Elders Engage the 2015 White House Conference on Aging” and brought up specific examples of how Filipino American culture, and cultures of other diverse constituencies, face particular challenges in the three areas of policy change we identified in the report: Data Collection and Research; Cultural and Linguistic Competence; and Non-Discrimination and Equal Treatment Under Law.
Local Filipino American community icon Jon Melegrito (who is featured in our Diverse Elders Story Initiative) moderated the panel and solicited a lively open forum with the audience and panelists that closed the day’s events. By sharing our stories, everyone in the room was able to find support and information, because as was pointed out by more than one speaker, everyone has a caregiving journey of their own to take.
*Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I serve on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. General Taguba is the Chair and Jon Melegrito is on the Board of Directors of the organization, whose mission is to raise awareness through academic research, public information, and national recognition of Filipino American WWII veterans.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.