By Scott Tanaka, MSW
I’m a member and board member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of JACL, so I had planned to attend the recent National JACL Convention in Philadelphia. I’m also an employee of AARP, so I was honored to organize a panel discussion for JACLers about caregiving, one of AARP’s core areas of focus. This work is especially important to me as a social worker who has worked with family caregivers as part of the care team made up of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
I think it’s really important for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to have family conversations about the topic of caregiving and “Prepare to Care,” which is the title of an AARP resource that helps walk you through these difficult conversations and decisions that caregivers often face.
AAPIs are typically reluctant to talk about such serious topics because of our cultural values. It can be shameful to ask for help, for instance, because it might reveal weakness. Our elders might be very direct when they see us and say, “Hey, you gained weight,” but they avoid conversations about illness or end-of-life planning.
For JACL’s annual convention in Philadelphia last month, I put together panelists who can speak openly about caregiving and their personal experiences. The panel, “Caregiving at Any Age – A Multigenerational JA Perspective,” was held during a break-out session and drew an attentive audience of JACLers who represented a diversity of generations.
The panelists included Lindsey Anne Keiko Wong, a millennial who, at her young age, has already served as a caregiver for both her uncle and her grandmother. She’s a Yonsei on her JA side and third-generation Chinese American who lives in Oakland, Calif. Lindsey spoke eloquently about accepting her role as a caregiver in her 20s and how she gave culturally-appropriate care for the JA and Chinese sides of her family.
Many of you are familiar with Gil Asakawa, who is the Pacific Citizen’s Editorial Board Chair and a columnist in the P.C. Earlier this year, Gil and his brother moved their mother, who has dementia, into a Memory Care Center near where they live. He spoke about his mother’s deterioration over the years and the difficulties of placing his mom, who is an Issei from Hokkaido, in a place without any Japanese-speaking residents or staff, and how she lights up when he brings her familiar Japanese snacks like osembe or mochi manju. Gil lamented that there wasn’t an organization like Los Angeles-based Sakura Gardens (formerly Keiro Nursing Home) in Colorado.
The final two panelists, Heather Harada and Kevin Onishi, are employees of Keiro, an organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for older adults and their caregivers in the Japanese American and Japanese community in the Los Angeles, Orange County and Ventura County areas.
Heather is senior manager of policy and administration, and Kevin is Keiro’s program and innovation manager. They spoke about Keiro’s services and the organization’s mission of serving older JAs and the difficult decisions families have to make when a loved one needs to be placed in a facility, whether it’s Sakura Gardens or the center where Gil’s mom now lives.
Members of the audience asked questions and shared their family caregiving stories at the end of the panel. It was an important subject to cover with JACL members, and I was honored to be able to moderate the panel.
My hope is that we will have more opportunities to have these types of conversations at JACL events because as we like to say, “You either are a caregiver, will be a caregiver or will need a caregiver at some point.”
AARP has all sort of resources for caregivers and about family caregiving. You can go to www.aarp.org/caregiving to find the Prepare to Care guide that I mentioned earlier, as well as other caregiving resources. There are great resources related to caregiving at home, financial and legal resources and much more.
Scott Tanaka is a project specialist for AARP Public Policy Institute’s Center to Champion Nursing in America and previously worked with AARP’s AAPI team.