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Milpitas Senior Day a Call to Public Service for Ethnic Media

New America Media, News Report, Video, Words: Ketaki Gokhale // Video: Michael Siv Posted: Mar 18, 2008

Editor's note: Milpitas Senior Day - organized by the publisher of the San Jose-based Vietnamese language daily newspaper Cali Today - honored seniors in a traditional Asian way. Ketaki Ghokale is an editor and Michael Siv is a video producer with New America Media.

MILPITAS, Calif. A colorful procession passes through a corridor of silk umbrellas outside the citys community rec center. At its head is 98-year-old Vo Toan, the oldest member of the local Vietnamese community, wrapped in a brilliant robe and flanked by his wife, Toan Vo Vietlien Dinh, 92. The traditional trong drums, which have been hauled out especially for the citys Honoring Seniors Day, ring to the rhythm of their march.

This is a streaming MP4 video - you'll need Quicktime 6 or later to view it.

Its a proud day for Nam Nguyen, publisher of the San Jose-based Vietnamese language daily newspaper Cali Today, because the event represents the fruition of his dream of honoring all seniors, the way we do it in the Vietnamese community. Although most of the thousand attendees who turned out for the Feb. 17 event are Vietnamese, theres a sprinkling of white, South Asian and Chinese elders in the crowd as well.

According to Nguyen, all cultures honor their elders in unique ways. In Vietnam, he says, elders hold a unique place in the household. Here, everybody lives apart, he explains. Its not seen as a good thing to live with your parents. In Vietnamese culture, five different generations will live in one house, and this is considered the best, the luckiest family.

He hopes make his communitys reverence of elders a mainstream American value. In the Vietnamese community, we expect our elders to be honored in our way, Nguyen says. Events like Honoring Seniors Day bolster Vietnamese elders by bringing the cultures and traditions they think they lost, and they also make American culture more diversewe an learn to honor our elders not in one way, but in all ways.

Vo Toan seems to agree. Theres a custom in Vietnam of respect for elders, he explains through a translator. All over the world, people have their own cultures. We dont need to copy each other, but we can learn from each other.

Roberto Novello, 67, a native of Argentina, couldnt have found out about the event through Vietnamese ethnic media, as many of the attendees did. I saw an article about it in the Milpitas Post, the local mainstream community paper, he says.

Madan Lal, 68, and his wheelchair-bound wife Usha, 64, are on a short visit to Milpitas from Haryana, India. Lal says the stereotype that South Asians respect their elders doesnt always hold true in India. There, the government doesnt do anything for seniorsthere arent social programs like there are in the United States, he says. According to Lal, India could learn a thing or two about the value of seniors from the United States.

According to many of the attendees, the City of Milpitas does do an outstanding job of helping its seniors. Jackie Burgeles and Ellene Balmansana point out the $10K bingo competition the city sponsors, along with various dances and musical events.

This particular event, which featured food and freebies, mostly donated by businesses from Cali Todays roster of advertisers, was organized by Nguyens charity group Warm Hearts in the Winter, with the support of Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves. Compelled by Nguyens enthusiasm and his own commitment to senior services, Esteves recently got the city council to approve a proclamation making Honoring Seniors Day an annual event in the Milpitas.

Its certainly not usual for an ethnic media news outlet like Cali Today to play such a key role in organizing an event for the mainstream community. But Nguyen says that it is part of every newspaper publishers duty to serve his or her communitynot just their readers, but also the neighbors and friends of their readers. In the case of the Vietnamese community, that appears to be the people of Milpitas and Santa Clara County.

The best, most successful newspaper, the L.A. Timesits publisher said a newspaper should have two goals, Nguyen reflects. It should have the fastest news, meaning it should be professionally good, and second, it should provide public service.

With Cali Today, we want to be the fastest, and the newspaper that provides the most public service.

Related Articles:

Madness, Demons, or Loss of Soul: Dementia in Asian Elders

Labor of Love Can be Financially Draining

Vietnamese American Publisher Spearheads Bay Area Seniors Day

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