Respect for Elders Is Theme in Asian Film

Posted May 18, 2009 at 2:53pm

If there is one thing Westerners can learn from Asians and Pacific Islanders, it is the value of respect and care for elders.

This can be seen in the Library of Congress-sponsored screening of “I Wanna Babysit Lola— on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Madison Building’s Pickford Theater.

The event is part of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, which the nation has been celebrating since 1992 when President George H.W. Bush signed the law to commemorate Asians’ and Pacific Islanders’ contributions to the United States. The month was chosen because of notable historic events. May 10, 1869, marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was primarily built by Chinese immigrants, and May 7, 1843, was when the first Japanese immigrant came to America.

“I Wanna Babysit Lola— tells how taking care of the elderly can strengthen family values in America. “Lola— means grandmother in Filipino.

“I want to show the Asian heritage and tradition of taking care of our elders,— said Philippines native Reme Grefalda, LOC’s in-house expert on its Asian-American and Pacific Islander collection. She is also the playwright and director of the 22-minute film, adapted from her one-act play, “Milkshake’s Bad for You.—

The film tells the story of a grandmother and a 12-year-old boy spending the summer together. “It’s the idea of keeping family together, of building relationships and of how these two people, who are generations apart, can learn from each other,— Grefalda said.

Playing the grandmother in the movie is Grefalda’s mother, Remedios Cabacungan, who in February turned 101.

“I cannot believe I am that old. Am I really 100 years old?— Cabacungan asked in an interview at the Arlington, Va., apartment she shares with Grefalda. “I feel the same, only I cannot walk much anymore. I read newspapers all the time,— she said.

Every morning, Cabacungan clips stories and pictures that interest her from the newspapers, particularly anything related to President Barack Obama.

At 101, Cabacungan keeps busy by watching television, redecorating her apartment and painting furniture. Because of her age, she can only hear through her left ear and uses a walker. But every two hours, she makes it a point to walk the hallway of her building or outside when the weather is warm.

Asked how she has become a centenarian, Cabacungan replied: “There’s no secret. I eat everything.—

But Grefalda believes it is because her mother is not in a nursing home. In the late 1980s, she said, her mother managed a home for the elderly in Florida.

“My mother saw how the elders on weekends waited for their children to arrive. My mom did not like it,— Grefalda said. Sometimes in the waking hours of people in nursing homes, “they are feeling abandonment. That’s what kills them,— said Grefalda, who has been living with Cabacungan since 1991.

“As good as a nursing home is,— Grefalda said, “the bond between me and my mother is strong because she lives with me. That motivates her to stay healthy.—

Grefalda said living with Cabacungan has motivated her to be more active in their theater and in filming “I Wanna Babysit Lola.— “It’s supposed to show off her talent. She’s a professional and good at reading scripts and figuring out what would work or not,— Grefalda said.

She added that it is also a way to keep Cabacungan’s mind sharp.

Cabacungan will attend Wednesday’s screening and answer questions from the audience.