Recognizing Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and our AANHPI senior community

Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the United States’ observance of Older Americans Month. The theme for 2021 is “Communities of Strength.” Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. This Older Americans Month we celebrate the strength of older adults, acknowledging the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities. To honor older adults in a way unique to the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) we will be sharing content, highlighting partners and bringing awareness to the work being done to support older adults right here in King County. Check back each week this month to learn more about older Americans in King County.

May is Asian American Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AANHPI) as well as Older Americans Month. The month of May was chosen to recognize Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Americans in commemoration of the arrival of the first documented immigrants from Japan in May of 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May of 1869 built by a majority Chinese immigrant labor force. The first AANHPI community to arrive to mainland United States were Filipinos in 1587.

The experiences of the AANHPI community in the United States are not a monolith.  As a group, AANHPI represent over 50 diverse countries and hundreds of unique languages and ethnicities. Recently, AANHPI elders and community members have also been frequent targets of racial violence across the country. These attacks are reminders of a complex history for AANHPIs (as well as for other Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)) that includes significant forms of violence and exclusion.  The mythologies of Model Minority and Yellow Peril place AANHPIs in an impossible and complex situation, as perpetual foreigners and perceived as a threat yet docile or complicit. This creates an illusive binary that dehumanizes, dismisses and harms.

While people who are AANHPI make up roughly 20.6% of the population of King County, our own, often overlooked local history includes racialized attacks like the Seattle Anti-Chinese Riot of 18861908 Bellingham Riots that targeted South Asians, specifically our Sikh community, and the Yakima Valley Riots against Filipino and Japanese communities—to name a few. The very first civilian internment order for Japanese Americans in the US was issued for Bainbridge Island. Despite all of this, AANHPI elders today are leaders, changemakers, activists, bridge builders—survivors.

Sili Savusa, a resident of our region, established the first Samoan Pacific Islander Parent Teacher Student Association in the country; Alan Sugiyama, a community activist and champion for racial equity, was the first Asian American on the Seattle School Board; and Velma Veloria , Dr. Sutapa Basu and Emma Catague created statewide legislation to combat human trafficking which was replicated across the country. Many more AANHPI community elders have paved the way and inspire much of the representation we see today.

AANHPI elders have faced unique challenges throughout US history with even more unique challenges today yet continue to demonstrate incredible resilience and strength. In King County, a network of culturally informed senior service providers have helped support AANHPI elders, ensuring they do not weather challenges alone.

Support for AANHPI Seniors in King County

The Veterans, Seniors & Human Services Levy (VSHSL) provides supports for seniors and their caregivers in King County by funding diverse senior centers and community organizations that are embedded in the communities they serve. The following are examples of VSHSL-funded programs that offer an array of opportunities for socil engagement, connection and support to AANHPI older adults in King County.

Senior Hubs

VSHSL-funded Senior Hubs serve as recognized resource centers on aging services and provide support, outreach, connection, and opportunities for social engagement to elders throughout King County.

Senior Hubs in the AANHPI community work to engage isolated elders and offer culturally informed and in-language services and work collaboratively with other Senior Hubs and senior services providers to provide resource navigation and culturally specific hot meal and grocery delivery. The India Association of Western Washington offers a weekly virtual meditative art workshop where seniors can expand their personal wellness. The Hub for Asian American Pacific Islanders (HAAPI) which includes Asian Counseling & Referral Service, Chinese Information and Service Center, International Drop-In Center, and South Park Senior Center provide opportunities for social connection such as, virtual karaoke, yoga, qi-gong, and connections to mental health and social service counselors. In South King County, seniors participate in a community garden and receive self-defense educational resources at the Korean Women’s Association (KWA). KWA offers seniors opportunities for connection and safety.

Evidence-Based Senior Health Promotion Programs

The Evidence-Based Senior Health Promotion strategy of the levy funds evidence-based and evidence-informed programs addressing prevalent senior health issues such as fall prevention, chronic disease self-management, and mental wellness. Providers serving AANHPI elders include International Community Health Services, whose Tai Ji Quan balance and fall prevention program has served assisted living residents with an average age of 87 and Kin On Community Care Network, whose multiple programs addressing fitness, balance and chronic disease have served various groups of Chinese-speaking seniors residing in Seattle and East King County.   

Virtual Villages

Through the Senior Virtual Village strategy, VSHSL funding enables seniors in King County to age within their communities of choice by offering opportunities for neighbor-to-neighbor volunteer support, community connections and reciprocity. Virtual Villages serving AANHPI communities and their elders include the Iraqi Community Center of Washington, Khmer Community of Seattle King County, and Filipino Community of Seattle. Many of these villages incorporate an intergenerational connection into their model. The Khmer Community of Seattle King County’s village represents a responsive learning platform, where the younger generation helps elders with support such as technology and transportation. In return, the younger generation has the opportunity to learn and benefit from the wisdom, teaching and guidance of the elders in their community. Both Filipino Community of Seattle and Iraqi Community Center offer weekly Zoom meetings that allow a space for their members to learn from other members and receive supports in their own languages. Learn more about VSHSL’s Senior Virtual Villages in last week’s Older Americans Month blog post.

Thank you

As we spend the month of May honoring Older Americans, we uplift the older Americans from Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities who enrich King County. The work of supporting elders in our community would not be possible without the collective efforts of our AANHPI senior serving VSHSL providers:

We thank you for your unwavering dedication to King County’s seniors.