May 31, 2024
Celebrating the Wisdom and Resilience of AANHPI Older Adults: Stories of Heritage and Legacy
By: Diverse Elders

As we commemorate both Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Older Americans Month this May, it is a perfect time to honor the rich tapestry of experiences and contributions of older adults within the AANHPI communities. This interview brings together the DEC team who have graciously agreed to share their stories, insights, and reflections.

Ocean: It is always great to have this interview with the both of you as we celebrate both Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and Older Americans Month. It has been a year of hardships for our older adult communities with all the hate crimes, but it also has been a great year of resiliency where we have preserved our cultures. Is this something y’all have seen in your communities?

Didier: Happy AANHPI Heritage and Older Americans Month! As a long-distance caregiver to older immigrant parents, I already worried constantly about their well-being given the threat of COVID. The alarming rise in anti-AAPI hate crimes heightened that anxiety, since they live in an area with a smaller AAPI community. As was the case for many, my parents canceled their gym membership as a precaution and instead walked around the neighborhood in order to safely exercise. The media coverage of widespread hate crimes around the country made them (and me!) more apprehensive about being potentially targeted, only serving to deepen their sense of loneliness and isolation.

From a personal perspective, the most uplifting aspect of the post-pandemic era has been the return to in-person gatherings of family and friends. My parents and local relatives now get together regularly again to celebrate cultural traditions – such as the Lunar New Year (called “Tết” in Vietnamese) – and to honor lost loved ones and ancestors by making offerings and performing rituals. Not only is this a source of healing for our communities, but it is also a reminder of their everlasting resilience and strength in overcoming systemic discrimination.

Lauren: I love that May presents the opportunity to celebrate the overlapping commemorations of Older Americans Month, AANHPI Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month. These three issues are critically important to me personally, and in my Filipino American community.

Access to mental health care (in English, or in whatever language people feel most comfortable in) is so critically important to both older adults and AANHPIs and folks who identify as both, and yet it’s so difficult to access. This is because of both structural barriers and, at least in my community, a stigma against accessing therapy or other types of mental health services.

I think having both AANHPI Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month in May gives us a chance to talk about these things with our parents, our grandparents, and elders, and to normalize mental health care. I tell my parents and titas and uncles that I’m in therapy and that it’s been helpful to me, and all of the things I do to support my own mental well-being.

Ocean: That’s so true. Especially with the rise in hate crimes in Asian American communities, it’s important that we start to think about how this contributes to social isolation and loneliness amongst our communities, which can ultimately affect brain health as recent studies have indicated.

This also speaks to the neglect that we see in broader older adults’ communities. As Didier mentioned, the pandemic highlighted the high rates of social isolation among older adult communities. We have yet to fully understand the detrimental effects of this isolation even though the disparity exists today in our older adult communities.

These commemorations, whether it be AANHPI Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, or Older Americans Month, allow us to spotlight both the issues and the different ways we have seen our communities respond to them.

Didier: Even though my parents recently resumed exercising at the gym after a four-year hiatus, they continue to take long walks in their neighborhood. They enjoy a newfound connection with nature and appreciate the mental health benefits of being outside together. When they came to visit me over the Memorial Day weekend, we went on daily walks—an activity I have also incorporated into my routine since the pandemic. The opportunity to bond in this way has spawned a welcome family “tradition”!

Didier with his parents

Lauren: That’s very sweet to hear, Didier! I love that you and your family are still building new traditions. As we close out May, I hope that our families and our communities continue to find ways to connect to our own wellness and recognize the ways that our AANHPI cultures already have healing practices, community care, and strength.

Thanks all for joining our conversation. Happy Older Americans Month, AANHPI Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month!