Sunday, September 13th is Grandparents Day, and at the Diverse Elders Coalition, we are so grateful for our grandparents: whether you say grandmother, grandfather, abuela, abuelo, oba-chan, ojisan, lola, lolo, yeay, taa, tutu, halmoni, halapoji, bibi, babu, awa, tata, pog, yawg, yéyé, nǎinai, or another term of endearment, the elders in our lives have served as role models, supporters and caregivers.
Grandparents are more than just pinched cheeks and comfort food, though. The grandparents in our lives can be a valuable resource as we figure out how to make the world a better place. I love this quote from Janet Mock’s book Redefining Realness, in which she talks about the struggles her relatives have faced, and the role their history has played in shaping future generations: “My grandmother and my two aunts were an exhibition in resilience and resourcefulness and black womanhood. They rarely talked about the unfairness of the world with the words that I use now with my social justice friends, words like “intersectionality” and “equality”, “oppression”, and “discrimination”. They didn’t discuss those things because they were too busy living it, navigating it, surviving it.”
I lived with my grandparents for a few months when I was a toddler. What I remember most about that time is that they were forever watching PGA golf on TV, and I found that SO boring. (I still do. Sorry, golf aficionados.) But I ALSO remember that my grandma and I would read to each other every day. She kept a stack of children’s books in an easy-to-find spot under her coffee table, and by the end of the day they would be strewn about the living room as we tore through the pile. Sometimes she would read to me, sometimes I would read to her, but no doubt that repetition and reliability instilled in me a deep love for reading and writing – something that I still exercise daily.
I asked a handful of DEC friends and supporters to share a memory of their grandparents for this post. I hope you’ll enjoy reading and reminiscing as much as I did! You can also share your memories with us on our Facebook page, or by submitting the story of your grandparent(s) at our Diverse Elders Stories Initiative.
Ben de Guzman, Diverse Elders Coalition: My maternal grandmother was a soft spoken woman as I remember her in her later years — she passed away at the age of 74 when I was still quite young. A teacher who raised seven children, she took her family from one province in the Philippines to another, and then followed her children across the ocean as they emigrated to the United States and Canada. I see her legacy of quiet strength, education as a priority (with a particular focus on the written word), and commitment to public service in my own upbringing and in so many of my family both here and in the Philippines.
Mark Brennan-Ing, ACRIA: My grandmother Geraldine Brennan always made me feel so special – she called me her Mr. Boo. I can close my eyes and still see her smiling at me and the twinkle in her eye. When I was around 3 years old, we were out shopping and I fell in love with a white stuffed monkey that was part of a display and not for sale. After a tantrum on my part, and some diplomatic negotiations on the part of Grandma Brennan, I left the store with that monkey under my arm and it was one of my most cherished childhood possessions.
Tyrell Ma’ae, NAPCA: I’ll always remember the first time I visited Europe, when I was 10 and with my grandparents. My Granny, Frau Doris Lunser, grew up in a small industrial town in Northern Germany and met my Papa, Major Mario Domingo, a Maui boy, while he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. I had the chance to see the little café — that was still in business — where they had first met 40 years prior. The bridge that has been formed between my life in Hawaii and subsequent visits to Europe will always be treasured.
Olivia Lovejoy, Olivia Cleans Green: My great-grandmother packed my lunch in re-purposed glass mayonnaise jars. I was a little embarrassed back then, but now jar meals and re-purposing is so trendy!
Quyen Dinh, SEARAC: For my grandmother, life in America compared with life in Vietnam fell far too short. The issues she faced while living in San Jose — socially isolated because of inadequate transportation and lack of pedestrian-friendly communities, limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and dissonance from her grandkids who struggled to communicate with her in Vietnamese — are issues that we as advocates seek to address. My grandma passed away last December in Vietnam surrounded by love and family. It is her story and others like hers that inspire me to fight for a world where elders can age with community, love, and dignity.
Dr. Wes Lum, NAPCA: I remember standing with my popo Wong on King Street waiting for the annual Christmas parade. My sole motivation for standing on the street corner with the large crowd was to catch the jolly ranchers, gum, lollypops, and tootsie rolls that were being thrown to us by the elves and Mrs. Clause. My grandmother knew that I loved sweets and she always made sure that I was up front and curbside for my candy fix!
Klendy Greer, SAGE: Both of my grandparents have transitioned to a better place, and from time to time I always think of what I would say to them if I could see them for one last time. I would tell them how much I miss and loved them, I would tell them that they live in my heart and I will always be grateful for having the opportunity to call them my grandparents. I would tell them that I love them with all my heart, and I will meet with them soon.
Vince Crisostomo, San Francisco AIDS Foundation: My family is from Guam. We left when I was very young but returned in 1975 when I was 14. I never got a chance to know my paternal grandparents or my maternal grandfather. My maternal grandmother did not speak English and rarely said anything to me. One afternoon coming home from school I rushed past her announcing “I’m hungry.” I ran to the stove lifted the lid to see what was cooking. To my shock I saw the head and wings of a fruit bat floating in a stew of coconut milk. I screamed, looked at her and immediately proclaimed “I’m not hungry.” She laughed. She went to the oven and pulled out a plate of steak and onions and smiled. Every afternoon after that I would come home to a plate of food that I would eat, she would watch and smile. She never said a word but she didn’t have to.
Heather Chun, NAPCA: My favorite memory of my grandparents is of them dancing on my wedding day. Not only were we able to celebrate my husband and I that day, but we honored my grandparent’s 50 years together. They have given us the best example of unwavering love, commitment, and lifelong happiness.
Diana Moschos, ProsperoLatino: I am proud and blessed to have grown up with both sets of grandparents. Most of my childhood memories involve them– going to grocery store and always getting away some ice cream, candy, and paper dolls. I remember gardening with my Oma, playing badminton with my Opa, and helping my maternal grandparents with their small baking business. (Sometimes “help” involved sneaking cinnamon rolls with my brother.) I am grateful for their wisdom and endless love. Hopefully one day I can honor their memories by sharing a similar bond with my future grandkids.
Lee Blinder, Mister Sister: My Grandma Hill was a firecracker who lived to 93 and outlived her husband and two of her sons. She hated it when people messed up the pronunciation of her first name, Leorah, so she went by Lee. I’ve taken that name now as my chosen name, and I now enjoy her being with me, in a way, every day.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.