The other day I had the opportunity and honor to facilitate an online learning lab focused on bias. Teaching others about the impacts of bias and especially racism, is part of my daily life and work. Thinking about inequities that continue to plague society is always at the forefront. But this piece is not about that work.
What I wanted to share with others is a heartbreaking comment stated during the close of the presentation. It went something like this — “I was hoping that you would talk more about age discrimination that is happening because of this pandemic. Many older people are feeling as if they no longer matter. It feels as if because we’re toward the latter part of our lives, that we are no longer considered a priority.”
Moment of silence.
I thought of the most respectful response I could utter to her in those last couple of minutes that remained.
“You matter to me and to the rest of society. Please know that my family and our communities are being especially cautious because we value your life and the lives of elders throughout our state and nation. I am so sorry to hear that you feel this way and I invite you to continue to join us in these important conversations.”
The comment had caught me off guard because the topic was focused on implicit bias. I realized then and especially now that the woman courageously offered this thought because of how she was feeling and of its relevance. Age discrimination has always been and is a hard-hitting reality for many, especially for older women in the workplace.
Since then, I’ve been reflecting even more on how ‘older’ individuals, especially our elders, might be feeling during these challenging times when we are witnessing a microscopic enemy impacting (especially) them in alarming ways.
If I am feeling frightened and a continuous low-grade anxiety that won’t cease, I can only imagine what older individuals might be feeling. Maybe worse? Or, maybe they are at a point of peace and balance that is unphased by this contagion of increased fear?
Because my advocacy work focuses on the preservation and protection of traditions and traditional knowledge connected to land and water, elders have always been a focal point.
Through my work in the community and because of my own connection to Indigenous ceremonies, the teachings of elders have shaped my life, my pedagogy, and my worldview. Elders are at the core of who I am.
This is why when I heard the woman’s comment on how she felt older people were being discarded, it impacted me so deeply and I wanted to take a moment to thank all of my elders and elders around the world for their impact on the rest of us, for their guidance, for their mentorship, for their major contributions to our society, and just for being.
Elders, as we refer to older, usually white-haired individuals in our ceremonies, are the most important group of people. They are the carriers of traditions and teachings. They are the holders of beauty and knowledge. They are the most patient and loving. They are our leaders.
In our traditions, elders are the first to be served, the first to be seated, and the first to be recognized. Our ceremonies are incomplete without them.
Throughout my work on acequias and community advocacy, my elders have set the example for the rest of us on what it means to hold land and water sacred. It is their teachings and philosophies that I use to organize my work with young emerging leaders. Utilizing an intergenerational model with elders at the core is the driving force behind our small nonprofit.
I can’t speak on behalf of all the Chicanas out there, but my abuelitos and abuelitas were such a fundamental part of my upbringing, from their stories shared as we sat around a fire, the magical food that emerged from my abuelitas’ kitchens, to the many loving embraces given throughout my childhood.
My elders always matter as they are the core of who I am. That is something that is not forgotten, especially not at this moment when my elders are vulnerable to such an undeserved threat from an invisible enemy.
Days later and as I continue to reflect on the comment shared by this elder, I want to reach out and tell her all of these things and remind her over and over again that elders are the framework of all societies.
Most of us around the globe are doing everything in our power to keep you safe — from extreme social distancing, hours upon hours of tireless work put in by frontline workers and healthcare teams across the globe, to an unprecedented focus by scientists and experts on understanding everything there is to know about this virus so that especially you can be protected.
Beautiful elders, I think about you many, many times throughout the day. From the moment that I awaken to the moments before I finally fall to restless sleep, you are always in my heart and mind. Please know that I, and countless others across the world, want nothing else but to protect you from any harm.
May you always walk in beauty as you have taught the rest of us.