Editor's note: Thousands of immigrant Chinese seniors that make their journey to join their adult children in Western countries are suffering increased levels of neglect and abuse. And it’s often at the hands of their own families—as new Chinese Canadian immigrants adapt to Canadian society, they are foregoing Chinese traditional values of filial piety in favor of Western norms. In a two-part special, Chinese News addresses elder abuse from the perspective of two different generations—Miriam, a new Chinese Canadian immigrant, and Kevin, a second generation recent grad.
Ms. Song, an ailing 70-year-old woman had been living alone in China since her son left for Canada several years ago. When she received an invitation from son to join his family in Toronto, she was grateful, naively believing that she could spend the rest of her life relying on this family.
But things were not as good as expected. The delight of reunification disappeared as Ms. Song found that she wasn’t quite well accepted into this family, and her relationship with her daughter-in-law Miriam quickly turned sour. A few months later, Miriam started to show a bad attitude towards her, and at one point, she engaged in a big altercation with her and demanded that she leave. Feeling humiliated, Song bought a ticket to her hometown and left Miriam’s home in tears. She vowed to never return to Canada.
“Isn’t it the right choice for her to make?” says Miriam, a 46- year-old career woman, to her Chinese friends after she kicked her mother-in-law out of her home. “Living with a senior is quite stressful, leaving me juggling between different roles and responsibilities… Besides, none of my Caucasian co-workers would have their parents or in-laws live with them, so why would us?!”
But Miriam, an immigrant from China, was brought up in a culture that had a traditional value of filial piety, where the younger generation has a duty and responsibility to take care their senior parents. But her mother-in-law’s departure hasn’t made Miriam’s life much easier.
Since then, Miriam has constantly worried of being judged as an “immoral” or as “unethical” by her fellow members in the community, and been grappled by a sense of guilt. After all, wasn’t it this cultural obligation that led to their family’s decision to invite Ms. Song to join them?
Miriam is one of the thousands of middle-aged Chinese immigrants who face senior care challenges as they adapt to their immigrant lives in Canada and embrace Western traditions and values. Caught between the two different cultures – an Eastern culture that values elder respects and duty of care to the older generation – and a Western culture that emphasizes individualism and personal happiness, they are struggling to reconcile their cultural obligations with their life in Canada.
“I am really confused,” says Miriam. “I don’t want to be labeled as an evil daughter-in-law, but meanwhile, I want to live a more peaceful and easier family life like my co-workers do.”
Under Western culture influences, many immigrants believe they should focus on improving their own life standing, leaving behind their traditional duties and obligations. And this acculturation has not only left Miriam’s generation struggling but the senior generation victimized or abused. According to information from Fraser Institute, elder abuse is a serious problem in the community, with psychological abuse and abandonment being the most prominent.
“There are many cases of elder abuse in the community,” says a participant in the Fraser Institute study on elder abuse. “My understanding is that for most of Chinese people, their children do not feel concern about their parents anymore. That is due to American influences. It is to take care of yourself only.”
Miriam’s next generation who grew up in the Western culture is even more distant away from this Chinese traditional value towards seniors. It seems more natural for Miriam and her peers to expect that their children will never carryout the obligations towards their parents and to abandon this Chinese culture altogether.
“I’ am not hoping at all!”, says Miriam. “I wouldn’t live with them when I am old.”
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