We started the LCS program by reflecting on how we imagined our lives to be when we were eighty years old. My first thought was “Well, I hope I'm still alive when I'm 80”. I don’t have to look far into my family tree to see that genetically I’m predisposed to heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, to name a few. That prompted to reflect on my life choices now and how they may or may not be fueling that predisposition. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that aging begins earlier than we think. The choices we make when we’re twenty years old will affect us fifty years down the road. We’re not invincible. Another part of this assignment was to imagine what we’d be spending our time doing. The consensus was that we all wanted to spend our days working in our community and with our families. No one really mentioned anything about degrees or jobs, which is almost the opposite of what most college students are thinking about right now. This assignment helped me put into perspective where my priorities lie and how my actions now might be leading me away from how I imagine my life to be down the line.
I met Miguel at Gary and Mary West’s senior center. The oldest of his brothers, Miguel went to work at a young age and spent most of his spare time working. He looked forward to Sundays because his mother stayed home to work around the house. He worked in factories most of his adult life. He was injured during one of his first factory jobs in the U.S. and had trouble finding a stable job afterwards. He shared with me that his mother worked hard to support their family, he never met his father. He came from Mexico when he was about twenty years old pursuing the American dream. He left behind his family and his girlfriend. Miguel shared with me that his girlfriend changed his life because she helped him open up to people. As I listened to Miguel share his story, I realized how important senior centers can be to elders because it gives them a space to engage with other people at least temporarily. Someone is able to check on them at least for a bit, make sure they're fed and doing alright.
The last senior center we visited was Casa de Manana right alongside La Jolla Cove. The drastic difference between this center and the others we visited was unbelievable. The very first thing I noticed was the lack of an antiseptic scent. I could tell right away that this was a place where wealthier elders retired. There were no crowds of elders lined up waiting for food, in fact we only saw a handful of them. There was a heated pool, a newly designed home theater, a library, everything that all senior centers should have really. I felt almost sick walking around in Casa de Manana. It is unfair that St. Paul’s and Gary and Mary West’s senior centers can’t provide their elders with the luxuries found at Casa de Manana. The idea that low-income folks don’t need to have the nice things that higher income folk can get. We see this in our healthcare system, when you compare Obamacare and privatized insurance. Obamacare is a system that on paper sounds appealing, but in reality is a disjointed system that fails to meet the needs of the people it is intended to serve. The application process is difficult to access and social workers are almost impossible to get a hold of. But someone that can afford private insurance might not be on hold for thirty minutes to try and get some information.
I think it's important to analyze the services that are being offered to low-income and high-income folks because we can always find ways to make them better. It would be disservice not to do so.