Are we taking care of immigrant elders?
03/22/2023 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
What lessons can we learn about the lives of immigrant elders from the tragic mass shootings?
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03/22/2023 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
What lessons can we learn about the lives of immigrant elders from the tragic mass shootings?
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
(film reel clattering) - Welcome to today's Ethnic Media Services news conference.
I'm Sandy Close, [background music] your moderator for today and the ED of EMS.
Today's briefing focuses on what lessons we can learn about the lives of immigrant elders from the tragic mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California.
Uncharacteristically, the hand that clutched the weapon in two recent mass shootings in California was that of an elderly man.
Most mass shootings are young men.
The real reasons behind the shootings still elude authorities, but society is reeling from the tragedy.
This is a demographic of our population that is largely invisible not just AAPI elders, but immigrant elders from many backgrounds.
And, these are people who keep their stories to themselves.
Invisibility reinforces their sense of isolation, and with the isolation comes fear.
More often than we realize elders are the targets of violent crime.
According to the National Council on Aging, suicide rates are also high among the elders.
They comprise 12% of the population nationwide, but make up approximately 18% of suicides.
There are many ways that elders find to break through the isolation on their own, like the people killed in Monterey Park using ballroom dancing.
But, there's no quick fix.
This is about all of us.
America is no country for old men.
This is a call to action for us as journalists and communicators to figure out what we can do to serve our elders better.
Our speakers include Helen Zia, Asian American author, journalist, and activist; Rita Medina, deputy director of State Policy and Advocacy at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles; Laura Som, MAYE Center for healing of survivors of trauma systemic racism, oppression, and inequity in Long Beach.
So, we begin with Helen Zia, who shares her personal perspectives.
- The vast majority of Asians in America are immigrants.
And, in order to come from where they came from they went through a lot.
And, so many have gone through war, starvation, civil war, great trauma; witnessed terrible, terrible things.
And so, these people I interviewed, they would say "I'm telling you this for the first time.
I've never told anybody."
And, I would say to them, "you didn't tell your children, your adult grown children, this?"
And, they would say, "no.
"I don't think anybody wanted to hear this.
"I don't think anybody wants to listen.
You're the first person who ever asked me."
And so, I would be privileged to, you know, hold their stories, but they're stories of pain.
And so, is it any surprise that within our communities there are people, elders, who have been made invisible, treated not even as human beings?
Who feel isolated and, yes, experience mental health issues like any other community that would be invisible and isolated.
And, I just wanna say too, you can see the fear.
The fear of so many people who heard about what was happening in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, and so many other places in America where seniors have been attacked.
You know, our immigrant seniors.
And, too many of them have been killed or terribly injured.
And so, when Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay happened, automatic, people just recoiled.
It triggered all of that fear, all of that isolation, and none of that is good for anybody's mental health.
But, you know, I was just going through this booklet that I'd like to share with people.
The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide that has a whole section in it about people who have been attacked and hurt.
And, so many of them have been our immigrant elders.
84 year old Vicha Ratanapakdee, or Yik Oi Huang, 89 years old.
Or, when you look at the women who were killed in Atlanta, three of the six Asian women who were killed were over the age of 60 and they were working.
Or, the FedEx workers in Indiana, the Sikh workers who were killed.
You know, several of them were over 60.
And so, we have so many of our elders who are still working, who, you know, with the Asian-- the stereotypes.
You know, if they're not invisible, it's also viewed that the-- "Oh, they all must be laying back eating bonbons" or something like that.
But, it's just simply not true.
So, I think it's so important that you are looking at this and raising the question about what about our immigrant elders?
And, for our Asian American elders, it's just sort of multiplied at double and triple jeopardy.
And, when I think about things I saw about how my own mother and father were treated, I just, you know?
It just breaks my heart every time.
And so, that's what all of these incidents have brought up for me.
And, I'm so glad that you're addressing it and your other panelists are going to be talking about that.
I think there are things we can do to address this.
Number one is what you are doing, shining a light on it.
And so, how do we fight invisibility and isolation?
We make people visible!
We tell their stories.
We look at them; we see them.
We don't assume anything about them.
We ask them.
The people that I spoke to, nobody asked them about what they had experienced.
My own mother, I mean, I asked her a question for the-- you know, that I hadn't asked in 40 years.
And then, she told me a whole story that if I had never asked her I would've never learned this about her.
And, her being able to tell me what she had experienced, I could see it.
She was becoming lighter because she could share something about herself.
And, I think that was true for everybody I interviewed and I think it's true for these elders.
We shouldn't have to wait until they're shot in a mass shooting to see that they find ways of breaking their own isolation and going out and ballroom dancing.
Why does this have to become a story now?
And, I think my pain in seeing these stories gets amplified because I don't see the stories of the victims told, or even the attackers to-- what pushed them to that?
What about the people who were hurt?
What about their families?
Why are they working as farmworkers in their 70s living in, you know, trailers?
Why do not-- we not know about them?
And so, it's really up to us in our communities to actually look at their lives to see them, to tell their stories.
And, I understand how hard it is for families of victims to wanna speak at a time of terrible grief, but so others in our communities-- you know, we should try to humanize them, to make them real people to others.
And, when I see, for example, Vincent Chin's mother was exceptional in that way.
Through her grief and through her pain, she wanted people to know.
So did Mamie Till, Emmett Till's mother.
And, it's only that, that maybe we'll shock people into actually seeing all these very real, very beloved, very important people in our communities are elders, you know?
And, to actually look at them and to see their real lives, and to let them know we see them and we do care.
And, until they see that they're gonna continue thinking "nobody cares about my story, my life, anything about me."
- We go now to our second speaker, Rita Medina of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Los Angeles.
Rita, thank you very much for joining us.
- Thank you, Sandy and everybody, for inviting me.
I will just start by saying that I really appreciate-- and I wanna kind of piggyback off the comment specifically that was just made; question that was asked in looking at some of the last tragedies, specifically the one in Half Moon Bay.
This question of why were people still working in their 70s?
And, I lead with that because this is actually something that at CHIRLA, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, we are turning our attention to, in the next several years.
For the last decade or so, we've been, you know, working and organizing to expand access to a variety of benefits in California for undocumented individuals.
We've talked about children.
We've talked about families, mothers, but where we still see a gap in the telling of stories, the spotlight on the population is really with our senior population.
It started to pick up a little bit in the last couple of years with the fight to expand and now implement access to Medi-Cal for folks who are 50-and-over.
There's the discussion of food benefits.
I'll get into that in a second.
But really, what is California doing as a state to shine a light on this population that is only gonna continue to grow, and grow undocumented because of the absence of any real solutions at the federal level?
I think so much of this ties back into why folks continue to work into what should be their "golden years"- you know, that's the phrase we have here- is because they have to.
They don't have access to social security benefits, a retirement in a real formalized way.
And so, they have to continue to work.
I say that, and I'll just share a few statistics.
And, I apologize I didn't send these in advance!
But, I will share the links to where everything comes from.
It's all information that comes out of the 2019 American Community Survey.
So, you know, a portion of the census, but in 2019 it was spotlighted that there was different levels of employment.
We are talking about everything from domestic workers, farmworkers, street vendors, construction workers.
And, part of the reason that CHIRLA had decided to actually make this pivot into talking about our community more, is that all of the jobs I just mentioned, I can point to individual CHIRLA members who have been engaged with us, organizing with us for, in some cases 10-plus years, who are still waiting to adjust their status.
They continue to be undocumented.
Some of them are alone here in this country, and their bodies are physically breaking down because of the work that they're doing: knee problems from bending and construction, back problems from working as a domestic worker.
And, we're really thinking about, how do we turn our attention to uplift their stories?
As I mentioned, we know that we have the recent Medi-Cal expansion here in California.
And, when that was first something that came to the forefront of the policy world- I think it was estimated about 230,000 people- I think it was the general estimate of folks who would benefit.
And, as of October of this past year, we know that we have gone almost 50,000 individuals more than that estimate.
So, we know that the need is out there for people who need, in that case, medical support.
We're looking right now at expanding food benefits to seniors who are undocumented, 55 and older.
That was a commitment that the governor made in this past budget that's now been delayed until 2027.
And so, there's still this gap.
You know, when we think of disasters, especially climate disasters, that have recently happened in our state, when we think of the Central Valley and the farmworkers who are not able to work.
You know, maybe need to resort to a different type of work while the fields were flooded.
What about the senior farmworkers in that case?
What options do they have?
And so, you know, highlighting all of these 'cause that is sort of the state of senior immigrants, I think with some basic data.
I will also highlight that it's really hard to find good data on our immigrant seniors for a lot of the reasons that were mentioned.
People don't wanna talk about it unless they're asked, right?
They put their head down; they're doing their work.
they've been doing this work.
And so, we just feel like there's this moment, this opportunity, to lift up this fact that there is no retirement; there is no nest egg.
There's not a concrete monetary support that is available for our undocumented and immigrant seniors.
And, how do we create that in a state like California?
That's the work that we're gonna be turning to in the next several years.
Again, looking at folks who have been sometimes working and paying into the system.
We know folks are paying taxes, but they are not able to access social security benefits because they are undocumented.
And, I wanna be really clear that even if somebody does reach the point where they can adjust their status and they do, you know, eventually have access to benefits, it could be that this person has worked jobs that are low wage or, you know, inconsistent for most of their life.
So, that this benefit is not really something that is going to sustain them financially.
And, we really have to look at this whole picture of what is somebody's work history here in the United States?
And, you know, what that looks like at the end of their ability to work.
So, I did wanna mention that as well.
I also wanted to point out, there's a couple of things that we know California is working on their master plan for aging.
If I were to talk to some of the departments or agencies or even the governor's office, I think I would ask very plainly where can we highlight specifically what California is doing and planning for immigrant seniors, undocumented seniors?
And, that is something that we are also going to be asking.
So, I wanted to just kind of paint that fuller picture.
It takes us a little bit away from the narrative around isolation and some of the mental health pieces.
But, I would also argue that all of these things, the stressors of working until one is, you know, older and unable to, the stressors, the physical stress on the body is also one of these components that plays into this larger piece that we're talking about about our seniors; possibly just a group of folks who are unwell in this moment and really need our care and support.
And so, I would just say in closing, please be on the lookout in the next- I would say a couple of months- we are going to be launching education campaign uplifting stories of our individual CHIRLA members.
And, just really looking at their journey from entering into the United States, working, and where they are now, what they see as their prospects as they're getting older, and then what their hope for the future is.
- Thank you, Rita.
A couple of comments and perspectives.
Pilar Marrero, you've made a very important comment on the chat.
Can you share it?
- Now, while Rita was talking, I was just thinking of people in other states.
You know, California at least has now expanded Medi-Cal to 50-and-over, and has done a decent job in kind of enrolling those people and in, you know, informing them, et cetera.
And, we have other benefits for the undocumented like the driver's license, et cetera.
But, you know, what about states that didn't expand Medicaid in the first place?
Like, when there was the big expansion during the pandemic, there were at least 11 states that didn't even expand that and they don't offer anything for undocumented.
I have two friends who are undocumented and who are in their 50s and 60s.
And, they're both workers.
They're both-- have worked for many, many years in this country and have no retirement to look to.
And, it's really concerning for me as a friend and as a reporter to think about this.
So, it's important to us that we all-- that all of us look at this.
Just wanted to say that.
- We're joined now by Laura Som, and she is the founder, I believe, and director of the MAYE Center.
Laura, we introduced you at the beginning.
So welcome, and please share with us your insights, your lived experience, and your expertise.
- Thank you, Sandy, and thank you Ethnic Media for putting this together.
This is extremely important for our communities.
I am Cambodian-Chinese and I am a former refugee of the Khmer Rouge genocide.
I came to Los Angeles when I was about 10 years old, among hundreds and thousands of other Cambodian, Cambodian-Chinese escaping the genocide.
Currently, Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population in the nation.
Many of these refugees experienced extreme violence and traumas during the genocide.
Many had and have PTSD, including myself.
Our community has struggled with mental health for many decades in America since then.
As a 1.5 generation, I grew up in America witnessing my elders' and my community's mental health deterioration from the aftermath of wars, extreme violence, and neglect by the mainstream community.
Some of the symptoms of these children from it.
As a young child, I had hoped that by studying hard I could heal myself, and bring healing resources to my community because I couldn't afford to wait.
Today, I am the executive director of the MAYE Center, also the founder; a trauma healing center in Cambodia Town in Long Beach, California.
The MAYE Center provides an organized culturally appropriate means for mental health wellness for refugees and immigrants.
My background is in biochemistry and holistic trauma healing.
The majority of our members are in the same age group as the victims and perpetrators of the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay mass shooting.
Their grieving and their fear are our grieving and fear.
Our community is deeply saddened to hear the news, but we are not shocked because of the inadequate resources provided to our communities to address mental health disorders and the lack of gun regulation in this country.
We live in fear when we will have to leave the safe space of our homes and communities.
Just to venture into the general public means facing the epidemic of mass shootings in our community.
This is a time of intense and deep emotions for all of us, especially the families of the victims and perpetrators.
A time for healing.
It would be too easy for all of us to just blame the perpetrators, but little closure would come from that.
We start by asking ourselves, "what are the underlining issues that lead one human being to disregard life and commit mass killing?"
We bear witness, silent witness, to the shootings in schools and in places where seniors seek refuge.
When we started our investigation, we learned how we can improve our communities and how to improve our country.
This is how we built our resiliency against trauma, and break the chain of traumas for generations to come.
We know what to do.
Our politicians and leaders know what to do.
But, leadership without the courage to truly protect our children, our elders, and our communities is merely bureaucracy serving only the ambitions of the very authorities that are supposed to protect us.
It's an old story that we all can no longer allow to substitute for strength and courage to do what's necessary.
Within the past nine years of advocating for seniors and working at the MAYE Center, we discovered many things are preventing seniors from seeking timely and appropriate help to address mental health disorders, such as, inappropriate uses of Western approaches on Asian communities.
We need more horticulture therapists for seniors, and therapists that can speak our language.
In Long Beach, we have very little therapists that even speak Cambodian.
And so, there needs to be an interpreter, and there's difficulties with the translation.
Lack of linguistic and cultural sensitivity and competency at all levels.
Lack of investments in existing resources within the communities of colors by funders, foundations, and government leaders.
Lack of health insurance coverage for nontraditional services that are traditional within the Asian communities.
Lack of gun regulations, lack of mental health wellness, integrated green space in parks and recreation, senior housing complexes and communities.
This is a call-to-action for all of us: residents, city leaders, housing developers, and policy makers.
Everyone is a part of this.
Everyone is a part of the solution to prevent these tragedies from happening again.
You could use your voice and exercise your rights to vote for policies and initiatives that align with our community needs for wellness and well-being.
Advocate for legislation, but more importantly, organize.
Organize your community at whatever level meets people where they are.
Refuse to accept the worn out excuses of politicians and so-called leaders, that substantive change is now somewhat unattainable.
When we started the MAYE Center, no one would help us.
No one would fund us.
We were poor Asian refugees who didn't speak the language, and were immersed in traumas we brought with us.
But, as I, as a 10 year old kid living on the streets of Long Beach, learned through every avenue I could find, even watching closed caption cartoons, gradually began to grow and then flourish.
To graduate from Long Beach Poly High School with a 4.0 GPA, and majored in biochemistry at UC-Riverside.
So too, can even the most destitute in their communities.
Start by identifying the most urgent needs in our community, in your community.
And then, find all the people around you who might be willing to work on these issues.
And then, learn how the power structure works and educate yourselves until you know too well what to do and how to do it!
Demand and force that your local leaders, council members, and mayors, representatives and national leaders invest in communities of colors, and provide resources for integrated mental health services that is linguistically and culturally appropriate for the Asian communities, and for gun regulations.
Above all, I wanna thank all the leaders and politicians that really worked with the MAYE Center to help transform trauma into activism like Congressman Robert Garcia, Lena Gonzalez, Senator Lena Gonzalez.
And, above all, I wanna thank the Los Angeles supervisor Janice Hahn, and her field deputy, Herlinda Chico, for support and advocating for culturally appropriate means for trauma healing by saving the Growing Experience urban farm from demolish.
The MAYE Center currently operates a holistic integrated mental health healing model developed over the past nine years at this [background music] beautiful eight acre green space using meditation, urban gardening, yoga, and education to heal our communities and environment.
- Thank you, all of you, for [background music] a wonderful hour of allowing us to look at ourselves as a society, and what it is that creates this sense of invisibility and the isolation.
And, I would add loneliness of elders and particularly as Helen said, the triple whammy often being immigrant elders.
I want to thank our speakers so much for giving us your time.