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‘Auntie Linda’ Helps Herself & Others by Staying Busy

New America Media, Profile, Jun Wang Posted: Mar 14, 2009

auntie Linda
Anaheim - Linda Yen has been staying busy throughout her life, a habit she believes brings good things to her and others.

The 82-year-old — known by family and friends alike as "Auntie Linda" — recently persuaded a Chinese immigrant who's in her 60s and doesn't speak English to provide baby-sitting service for families in her community. The woman had been afraid that people would look down on her for taking on such a task — she didn't view baby-sitting as a respected vocation compared to the "more intellectual" work she had back in China.

"But I told her nobody would look down on her here because she works and gets paid," said Yen, adding that she also gave the woman her firm opinion that "doing nothing is just too boring; you need money; and you're in good health."

So why not baby sit?

Yen says that the woman ended up making $20,000 a year and some families in the community have been helped by her service.

The energetic Yen is always on the lookout for way to share her active spirit with other elderly people.
"I don't have loneliness or depression in my dictionary," Yen said, "because I always have someone and something to care about."

Perhaps Yen built up her resistance to loneliness and depression as she lived through epic miseries earlier in life. She was born into a well-to-do family in mainland China and went to Fudan University in Shanghai in 1945, amid final battles against Japanese invaders in China. The same year saw the outbreak of China's Civil War between the rulers of the Kuomintang and their Communist opponents.

Yen's father was a big landowner, but lost all his properties in the war. Yen, then 19 years old, had to work as a tutor and at another part-time job to help support her parents and six siblings. She managed to study banking at the same time.

Then came 1949, and the Communists took over mainland China as the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan. Yen had just graduated from college, and she, amid the crush of refugees fleeing, managed to find passage for her entire family to Taiwan.

Yen thought there would be freedom in Taiwan, but found disappointment instead. She settled into family life in Taiwan, got married, had two children when she was arrested in 1953 for little more than having too many social activities.

"The government suspected that I was a communist," she said. "I was detained in prison for one year and two months. I gave birth to my third daughter there. The government released me without any explanation when they (became) convinced that I had nothing to do with communists at all."

Yen kept quiet after being released and emigrated to the U.S. with her husband and children in 1972.

Freedom came with more tragedies. Yen's youngest son had been born with a debilitating disease and required much care. Her husband died of hepatitis just a couple of months after arriving in the U.S.

"I had to work 12 hours a day and seven days a week in restaurants," Yen recalled. She was 46 by the time the family made it to America. But she jumped right into the challenges.

She said her daughters were model children who took jobs at a young age to help. That and "God's blessings" allowed her to keep moving forward, she added. "I started studying English and driving in such a brand new environment where I barely knew anyone."

Yen worked at a number of jobs — waiting on tables, caring for elderly women, and others. Yen could relax now that her children have good careers and are close at hand, and her son being cared for by professionals at a live-in facility. But she kept working, providing care to other elderly women and selling plots in cemeteries to Chinese in Southern California.

She eventually retired, but soon began an even more active life than when she was working.

She said she stayed busy helping republican candidates and causes during the 2008 elections, driving to markets and shopping malls to hand out flyers to passersby. Sometimes she would run after potential voters to get their attention.

"People live a longer and longer life," she said. "It's too painstaking to (do nothing but) wait for death. Although we're old, we can be still useful to others. At lease we can give people encouragement in hard times."

Every Friday evening she attends a young people's fellowship at her church. The fellowship consists mainly of graduate students and young professionals from China. Yen is the only retiree there. Yen said she constantly asks the younger members of the group to "work hard" and "make great effort" in order to achieve their dreams. She said it's all the more important these days, adding that she knows what a young person's life is like in a time of economic crisis and war.

"I love the United States, where we enjoy great freedom," Yen declared. "I always vote, and I want people to vote also to keep the country from being messed up and to make it a better place to live."

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