The “sandwich generation” — a label that describes those who provide care for both their children and parents — is prevalent among the Asian Pacific Islander American community. The idea of caring for the elderly is taught as a cultural tradition in which filial piety anchors the children to take care of their parents. In an AARP survey, large numbers of APIAs including Latino Americans and African Americans provide care for their parents. Low-income individuals, including many APIAs are the most overwhelmed and stressed by their family responsibilities. But despite the general belief that immigrants are more likely to carry the filial piety torch, cultural assimilation is changing the tide for Asian American families.

Compared with other groups such as Latino Americans and African Americans, APIA participation in caring for aging parents or other adults is the highest. In the AARP survey, 42 percent of APIAs will care for their aging parents despite knowing the stress, the demands and the responsibilities of engaging in a care-giving role. Relationships with grandparents can also contribute to an appreciation for elders.

“Because I was taken care of by my grandparents, I actually have a high respect for elders,” says Julie Chen, a second generation Chinese American. “When I have children, I probably want my parents to take care of them as well.”

Bringing honor, respecting authority and expressing filial piety has been a longstanding social belief system for many Asian cultures. Often times, such belief is the cornerstone of their upbringing.

Though seniors would desire their children to respect their needs as they aged, a recent September 2010 study by Prudential called “Asian Americans on the Road to Retirement,” shows they “disagree that their family is their source of retirement security.” The study revealed that even though the notion of filial piety is very strong, elder Asians are also recognized to be very self-reliant and independent. In fact, 80 percent of Asian elders believe that their family members including their children and grandchildren may need resources and reliance on them.

Nevertheless, immigrant children often feel the responsibility to tend to their aging parents because of their shared culture. Meanwhile, some Americanized APIAs associate more closely to mainstream society and therefore barriers and disunity can develop between family relationships. In Ying Y. Lee’s research from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University called “Relationship with Young Adult Chinese Americans and their Parents,” studies show that second-generation Chinese American adults feel less understood by their mothers unlike other immigrant children. While parent’s reasoning behind their immigration ambition was to provide a better future for the next generation, the children may actually feel torn between two cultures: one at home and the other at school. With different expectations and the challenges to balance inconsistent values, tensions can strain child-parent relationships, resulting in disunity as parents age.

Multiple barriers may deepen the challenges for the APIA community:

1. Language

When language barriers exist between API children and their parent’s native tongue, the needs and desires of both can be miscommunicated or neglected.

2. Level of acculturation

In Angelo N. Ancheta’s “Race, Rights and the Asian American Experience”, APIs often struggle balancing the values and traditions at home while trying to be accepted into mainstream society.

3. Intergenerational family structures

For many API immigrants, long working hours to provide for the family are common stories. Many API children become latch-key kids – a term that refers to the children who come home after school with little or no parental supervision. Grandparents play a vital role in caring for the young generation, cultivating in the children a sense of appreciation for elders.

But barriers can become bridges as acknowledgement and understanding of differences develop into appreciation. “I believe growing up in America, I actually find myself curious and wanting to know more about my parent’s childhood,” says Chen. “I think more second and third-generation Asian Americans are starting to find their cultural identities as they get older.”

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