AAPI community caregivers combat for-profit developers

As Asians face rising xenophobia, stereotypes that distort perceptions of the community continue to abound. At Asian Americans United (AAU), its Interim Executive Director Neeta Patel is working tirelessly to counter these perceptions in order to preserve and care for the needs of elderly members in her community’s Chinatown.

Last year in Philadelphia, billionaire corporate real estate developers targeted the city’s 150-year-old Chinatown with plans to build a new $1.3 billion basketball arena adjacent to it. The historical Chinatown neighborhood has long served as a cultural sanctuary for its immigrant community. Construction of an elite stadium to serve wealthier city residents would most certainly begin a cycle of displacement of locals and a spike in the cost of living. Patel called the proposed development a “story about land, culture” with “corrupt government officials serving the interests of the super-wealthy.” 

“This is a situation where communities have been built in places over generations because they were places where nobody else wanted to build a community and we give it life. We make it, we put down memories, we create a value that is beyond money.”

At an October 20 Ethnic Media Services briefing about “Caregivers of Communities,” advocates like Patel spoke about caregiving that went beyond providing care for the physical and emotional needs of family and friends, but included taking care of the exigencies of the larger community and giving voice to concerns at the collective level.

Large-scale development projects threaten communities and neighborhoods

This is not just about Chinatown, reiterates Patel.  This is a battle that many other such communities have fought and often lost. Neighborhoods like Chinatown are home to families that have lived, thrived, worshiped, and celebrated together for generations. “This is about the commodification of our lives by a development model that puts profits over people. That extracts value but doesn’t see community as value.”  

As irreplaceable neighborhoods like Chinatown come under the crosshairs of profit-seeking developers, community advocates are banding together to counter the negative impacts of area development. Patel describes the movement she has built with AAU as an intergenerational coalition “to show how small, low-income, non-English speaking community members can band together with other allies, multiracial coalition members to form the front line to defend their culture and push back on displacement for-profit model that is impacting communities all over the country and the world.”

Patel advocates for this model to be replicated across the country because “we don’t want to see the homelessness and folks that are priced out because some developer has decided to build an arena (or) to build a storefront that doesn’t meet the needs of the community members who are living there.”

AAU is trying to change the narrative with a storytelling campaign while battling false narratives that both the “developers and city officials are attempting to put out there to erase our community.” 

Using storytelling to change the caregiving narrative

In Seattle, the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) is working with Risa Morimoto — a film and TV director and producer and an expert on aging — to shoot 15-minute episodes featuring AAPI caregiver families across the country. Their mission is to improve the quality of life of AAPI older adults and their families and give a voice to the elderly, especially those of the AAPI community who often go unheard. 

These are snapshots of full-time caregiving in real life. The first episode will feature a South Asian family, the Shaheens, in Cedar Park, Texas, while the second will focus on a Thai family in New Jersey.

Benny Lai  of NAPCA wants these stories to “ensure that caregiving ways, techniques, and information presented are culturally sensitive and relative to the specific needs  and preferences of your individual community.”  This includes understanding cultural taboos, traditions, and dietary preferences, among other issues. 

Lai hopes this storytelling project will encourage a more compassionate approach to caregiving that emphasizes “understanding, patience, and emotional support.”

The episodes will be available after November thirtieth on the NAPCA YouTube channel.

Caregivers need support as well

In Utah, Kalani Tukuafu, Director at Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), is leading an art exhibit entitled Telling Our Own Stories to change the narrative about Pacific Islanders. This community is known for being exceptionally talented in athletics, and entertainment, and for its delicious cuisine, but PIK2AR intends to amplify awareness that “Pacific Islanders are far more than just those three categories.” 

Tukuafu wants to humanize Pacific Islanders by “giving the general public a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a Pacific Islander living in the diaspora.” This event will include panels of artists and community members who will share their experiences with caregiving. Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) caring for elders is an ingrained cultural norm, compounded by expectations brought by the elderly from their home countries.

A survey of caregivers of the Pacific Islander community, PIK2AR found that 50% of participants (ranging in age from 18 to 55+) have been caregiving for over 5 years with 67% of the pool having no formal training. Only 26% surveyed have the support that they need.

Honoring the stories of those who have shaped us

The South East Asian Diaspora Project (SEAD Project) began in 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by Southeast Asians who envisioned connecting with their roots and heritage to grow a thriving community.

Their project, Knowing Our Joy, set out to create a holistic healing atmosphere for their elders by bringing them to story collection dinners and workshops.

The focus, said Jessica Eckerstorfer the Co-Executive Director, is on stories of joy with elders. “Collecting and preserving their stories allows us caring for them to connect to our homelands, preserve our traditions, learn from our past, and keep the voices of our people alive for generations to come.” 

By using younger members of their own family and collaborating with them, “we were able not only to build that trust with our elder participants and create an aspect of intergenerational collaboration that was really beautiful,” said Eckerstorfer.

The cohort of 17 young storytellers noted that there were things their elders were opening up about that they had never heard of before. Vietnamese elders shared “aspects of their childhood that were really interesting and fun that were outside the actual like war and trauma, what they normally discussed.”

After collecting these stories, SEAD worked with 20 emerging artists from their heritage backgrounds to illustrate each of the pieces.

“We know our people are more than the world that brought them here,” affirmed Eckerstorfer. “Our new collection honors those family members that have shaped us.”

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Donor Engagement Advisor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at desicollective.media. She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...