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.
This year, my grandmother turns 84 years old. She an extraordinary woman—she’s a writer, a Beijing Opera singer, a historian, and of course, a remarkable chef. Nothing is quite like grandma’s cooking. She came to this country more than a decade and a half ago. Like most Chinese seniors, she felt a responsibility to help support our family. I remember my grandmother taking me to school, dropping off lunches, sewing my clothes—you name it. She continues to live with my parents, my sister, and myself today.
But as she’s gotten older, life has become more difficult for her. She finds that the cold winter in Canada is particularly harsh. She also has difficulty with walking and has little mobility, cannot speak English, and has chronic stomach pain.
I’m now 21 and my sister is 18, and we are no longer dependent on my grandmother’s care. Growing up in a Chinese household, I was always told that filial piety is of upmost importance; it would be my obligation to care for my grandmother as I got older. And so I have—I’ve spent countless hours teaching her to use the computer, driving her to weekly opera sessions, and taking her out on the weekends. When my grandmother complains that she’s in discomfort, both my sister and I try our best to care for her. We reciprocate the care she gave us when we were young.
But my responsibilities to my grandmother are not because of my Chinese upbringing and filial piety; it’s simply the right thing to do. My grandmother is vulnerable. I hear her often remark that she would rather return to her home in Beijing. But her Beijing flat, which lacks an elevator, is located in an apartment on the fifth floor. We try to reassure her that she is more than welcome to live with us in Canada.
Although I would not hesitate to live with my grandmother, I shudder at the thought of living with my parents after I get married. Recently, my mother asked about living with me in the future. I told her bluntly I would never live with my parents. My response surprised and confused her. Even though my parents have been living in Canada for the past 25 years, as with most immigrant parents, they still cling onto Chinese cultural baggage, and believe that their children are obligated to provide for them in the future.
Of course, if my parents were to ever become ill, I would definitely be there for them. But it is unreasonable for my parents to expect me to live with them in the future. Despite my Chinese heritage, North American values have played a far greater influence on my life. As opposed to Chinese culture, it is rare for Canadian parents to live with their children after marriage; individualism trumps collectivism. In fact, some interpretations of ‘immediate family’ in Canadian law does not even include parents.
Growing up in Canada, I have been more influenced by the North American culture and my concept of family and duty largely stems from that of Canadian norms. The truth is that my parents come from a very different generation from my grandparents—both my parents are professionals, are fluent in both English and Mandarin, and enjoy financial security. After all, my parents are Baby Boomers, which is the most successful generation—ever in North America. My mother will never be as vulnerable as my grandmother. While it is my moral obligation to help my grandmother, my parents can more than be independent and take care of themselves. Along with most of my peers who are second generation Chinese Canadians, my parents will almost never need me to provide for them.
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