By Gil Asakawa
I’m a baby boomer, so I’m already an AARP member. If you’re not familiar with AARP, people make fun of the nonprofit organization as a national group for old people, like grandpas and grandmas. People who aren’t members feign shock when AARP is mentioned and joke about how they’re too young and dread getting the promotional mail from the organization when they approach 50, which is when you qualify to be a member. A lot of people I know who are even over 50 joke about how they’re in denial and won’t consider joining AARP.
They should, though. It’s a pretty huge, pretty amazing organization, and as of this year, every baby boomer (the boom ran from 1946-64) is 50-plus. It’s an organization that’s not just for “seniors” or the “elderly.”
I’m biased. Since the spring, I’ve been working for AARP as a Social Media Fellow on the Multicultural Markets and Engagement team, which is aimed at Asian Americans. I’ve managed the @AARPAAPI Twitter account and AARP AAPI Community Facebook Page, as well as written several stories for the AARP.org website. But in all honesty, before I got the gig, I didn’t know much about the great stuff AARP does outside of its magazine and discounts for members.
Yes, there are discounts on all sorts of stuff — from coupons to amazing travel deals. And there are deals on health insurance and other health and financial services. But AARP also offers helpful services and information about filling out your taxes and driver safety courses and fights at every government level —from local to national — on behalf of people who are 50 and older.
AARP also produces a lot of media, including AARP the Magazine(ITAL) and Bulletin publications to its huge AARP.org website, lots of social media and TV and web content.
The organization also creates films, including the nine-minute documentary “Caregiving Dahil Mahal Kita (Because I Love You).” It’s an example of the great work AARP produces and how the organization is focused on outreach to the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
The video’s a powerful tool to start conversations among families, between generations, about a really important topic that — especially in Asian and Asian American families — often remains unspoken, out of shame and embarrassment.
These issues of how we take care of our elders and, more important, how we plan for this care, are often left unspoken until it’s too late.
Luckily for my family, when my father died of cancer 20 years ago, he was diagnosed and then gone in less than a year, and he never spent any time in long-term care. He was home until the day he passed away, when he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. For most of that time, he took himself to the VA hospital for care, and he went out for sushi with my mom the night before he died.
I’m not sure how we would have dealt with a prolonged illness because we’d never talked about or prepared for any such possibility.
In a reception at the San Diego AARP Member Event on Sept. 4 and 5 that followed the premier screening of “Caregiving Dahil Mahal Kita (Because I Love You),” there was an emotional Q & A session with Gen. Anthony Taguba and Leo Duran, two of the three people interviewed in the documentary. The audience, which was a mix of AAPI and non-Asians, was deeply moved by the film. The most important point that came out of the discussion was that families need to have the difficult conversations about caregiving now, before it’s too late.
How will you pay for the care? Who will be the primary caretakers? Can the family realistically manage the caretaking duties or will an outside caretaker need to be hired? Are there medical instructions regarding Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) requests? Is the caregiving in-house, long-distance (Duran uses the Internet to stay in touch with his mother in the Philippines)?
These questions are important across AAPI communities. The fact is, more Asian Americans are caregivers for their families than any other ethnic group. Because of our cultural values, even when we’re generations removed from our Asian roots, we invite our elders to live with us: 17 percent of AAPI households include multiple generations (23 percent in the Filipino community). (Source: 2012 ACS PUMS. Prepared by AARP Research Center.)
We’re raised with these expectations. According to one study, 73 percent of Asian Americans feel children in the family are to care for elderly parents (compared to 49 percent of others of the same age), and 72 percent express guilt for not providing more care to elders (compared to 48 percent of others the same age). In addition, 38 percent of AAPIs ages 45-55 expect their kids to take care of them when they’re elderly, while only 22 percent of people overall who are between 45-55 have the same expectation. (Source: Belden, Russonello & Stewart and Research/Strategy/Management (2001), “In the Middle: A Report on Multicultural Boomers Coping With Family and Aging Issue” via AARP Research.)
As Asian Americans, we have the pressure to undertake the task of caregiving. That’s all the more reason to start the conversations now. Show your parents or grandparents, or your children, the documentary. And then talk.
The video can be seen here on YouTube: http://youtu.be/-t0pWTG5scA.
Gil Asakawa is a member of the Pacific Citizen Editorial Board and the author of “Being Japanese American.” He blogs about Japanese and Asian American issues at www.nikkeiview.com, and he’s on Facebook, Twitter and lots of other social media. He was recently named the 2014 Asian American Journalists Assn. AARP Social Media Fellow.
Originally published on September 19, 2014