This is also where I met San Francisco-based Filipino activists 30 years ago, many of whom remain my friends to this day. As I surveyed the faces of this small crowd, I see some old guards and some new, young faces. The old guards were all about my age, all in our 60s, overweight, balding, with protruding bellies and limping. This time there were a few chairs pushed against the Consulate wall for those who could not stand for an hour, unlike in the ‘80s when we walked around the block for hours. If there had been trouble, I doubt if any of us would’ve been able to run. But like one activist said, if we have to continue the fight in our senior years, so be it.
It was a nice reunion, even if it probably won’t make a difference. I think President Duterte will do as he pleases.
In the evening, I attended another community event; this time closer to “home.” With the upcoming presidential election in November, it was important to get Filipino Americans not only to register, but also to vote. Did you know that there are about 1.4 million Filipino Americans--18 years and older—who are qualified to vote, but only about 230,000 actually voted in the last election in 2012? Filipinos make up the biggest Asian group in California, but we are not exercising our strength to the fullest.
Some weeks ago, I volunteered to register people at Pistahan. A number of people we approached were not registered voters even if they are American citizens and have been living in the U.S. for a number of years. When I asked why they had not voted, they just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. When I offered to help them register, they shook their heads and hands and walked away.
I don’t understand why so many do not want to register or vote. Is it because they consider themselves as only “guests” in America? That this is the place to make a living and raise their families, but ultimately they plan to go back to the Philippines to spend their twilight years and be buried there? Is it because in the sea of “American people,” they think their voices/votes are not going to matter? Is it because they are too busy? Is it because they do not understand the issues? Whatever the reason, how can you not be proactive in deciding your future and that of your family? Don’t you care?
I never voted in the Philippines because of martial law. My very first time to vote was when I acquired my U.S. citizenship in 2003, and since then I have voted in every local and national election. I also vote in Philippine elections as a dual citizen. Voting is a right and honor that I take very seriously.
My 92-year-old neighbor, Jean, left last week to go to a nursing home. Macular degeneration has made it increasingly difficult for her to walk around our condominium complex, let alone outside of it. Someone has to take her to the parlor, the grocery store and doctor. Jean is a tall, bright lady whose husband died several years ago. She lives by herself. At her age, she is still sprightly and always well-dressed, and her memory is better than mine. Talking to her was like reading a history book as she narrated stories from the past, a time even before I was born.
The week before she left, our next-door neighbor invited some of us to have dinner at their unit. Jean was also invited, along with another couple and a recently widowed neighbor. Shortly before the dinner ended, Jean announced that she would be moving to a nursing home. We were all shocked. She had lived here in the condominium complex for almost 30 years, so that if you bought a unit, Jean came with it! That’s how it felt to me anyway.
We asked her why she was leaving, and she said that her vision was getting so cloudy it was hard for her to see clearly. She said she could not even cook anymore, and many times, she consumed whatever was available. For the past days she survived on muffins. Then she told us that she would be renting out her unit, and the rental income would pay for her nursing home expenses. One of the guests said, “We will miss you, Jean,” to which Jean replied, “I never saw any of you anyway.” Ouch! I felt a twinge of guilt. So many times I reminded myself to go visit her or ask her if she needed something from the grocery store, or take her to a movie, but I kept procrastinating. Now I am beating my chest.
I will never forget Jean’s reply, and it made me ponder how I sometimes take for granted elderly people’s plight, and how I want to be treated if I am granted a long life, like Jean. I’ve often said that growing old is so unfair. Just when you have the time to enjoy people you love and reminisce the memories you have accumulated during your lifetime, you cannot remember anything. If only we could reverse aging like the movie character, Benjamin Button.
Jean also made me think about my father who is 93 years old and lives in Manila. He is well cared for, with 24-hour nurses; but most of the time, he is alone. Perhaps this is the reason why he still goes to office every day, even if there is nothing for him to do there. Elderly people need to feel they are still part of society, even if they cannot function normally anymore. Elderly people are ignored even by family members because it takes more effort to talk to them, listen to them, walk with them, watch them eat without feeling embarrassed when they slurp or spill food. Just think back, when you were in your early years, how patient your parents were when you were learning how to walk, how to eat, how to talk, how they would read you stories before you fell asleep, how they would help you with your homework. Why can’t we be patient with them now?
So many times, we prefer to leave them to the care of the maids and nurses, and we expect these caregivers to “love” them on our behalf, so our conscience can be assuaged. Our children learn from our examples, and they will care for us the way we are caring for our parents, or the way we treat elderly people. If we treat the elderly with kindness and compassion and if some of that comes back to us, then perhaps growing old will not be as harsh.
We have to care about what’s around us. We need to express ourselves (rallying and voting are only two ways), and do our part in making this world a kinder, gentler place.
More articles from Mona Lisa Yuchengco