The Diverse Elders Coalition and its five member organizations had a large presence at this year’s Aging in America Conference, which wrapped up last week in Washington, DC. Coincidentally, aging issues in America got a boost at the same time, as the U.S. House of Representatives took a critical vote on the Older Americans Act. While it was exciting to be in the same space as thousands of other people in the aging network while this major legislative hurdle was passed, the conference itself offered reminders of how much work there is still left to do to make sure diverse elders and their needs are being served.
With over 21 sessions, the DEC and its member organizations offered a wide range of programming on the issues of concern for its constituencies. From housing to economic security to healthy aging, the expertise of our member organizations was well represented. On Monday, I had the pleasure of moderating a great conversation about cultural competence with representatives of four of our member groups. Randella Bluehouse from the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), Dr. Wes Lum from the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA), Maria Eugenia Hernandez Lane from the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), and Sherrill Wayland from Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) gave concrete examples of how their work is particularly tailored to their constituencies as testament to the need to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services. As someone who started his career in DC working on cultural competence in health care settings, it was interesting to revisit this space with my colleagues across our coalition and learn about their work.
Our Symposium on Tuesday, “Getting in the Game: Diverse Elders and Civic Engagement,” was an opportunity for the five principals who lead our member organizations to come together on stage to talk collectively about their work and the constituencies we serve. The election year and the current candidates vying for President have been a topic of conversation throughout the conference, and our Symposium allowed our presenters an opportunity to talk about what it will mean to mobilize our communities during this important time. The principals were also able to make some of the first public statements since the House of Representatives announced their vote in favor of Senate Bill 192, the Older Americans Act, without opposition. While recognizing the importance this legislation has for all our communities, we noted our organizations’ policy recommendations about how to make this legislation more inclusive for diverse elders. From better data collection, to more explicit provisions around culturally competent service delivery, to stronger anti-discrimination language, our organizations have been at the forefront of working for an Older Americans Act that will truly serve ALL older Americans.
Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), perhaps best summed up the challenges and opportunities our elders face when she introduced herself at the Symposium. She noted that although she came to this country as the daughter of refugees from Vietnam and talked about the ongoing challenges older refugees face such as post-traumatic stress, she was clear about being a child of war and one descended from a line of warriors. Their resilience in the face of dire adversity is what allows them to survive and what inspires us to do more for them so they can thrive.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.