The Graying New Yorker"
As America "grays up" along with the world's elderly, ageing focuses a "spotlight" on this transition process and tinges it with wisdom and understanding of this final phase.
Does impending parental mortality look any different from the eyes of their children? Traditional Filipino, Filipino-American, or cosmopolitan New Yorker? Death can be a comedic illusion, as no one really "dies" and parents & ancestors live on in our genes and DNA, like cutting-edge DNA technology has graphically & scientifically established (See PBS.org's series, "Finding Your Roots," by Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.). The Ancients have known this all along; hence elaborate rituals honoring Ancestors have always been an integral essence of every indigenous or ethnic culture in the world. The graying New Yorker, living longer and spinning life as never before, must also confront this transition from being just a Parent or relative to that of becoming an Ancestor. The person (or memory of) plays beyond physical life as indeed, we can and have become Who our parents and/or ancestors were.
A Soldier’s Story: Joseph’s Wonderful Life
He joined the military despite the objections of his family, as the stigma relates to the vagabonds and uneducated. But he made a career out of it and lived thirty years of his life with “soldiers”. He became a Prisoner of War and was missing in action for 39 months under Japanese prison. He befriended his jailers and lived 3 more years in Japan as a free man. He married late and had 3 children. On his death at 95 years old, he was given a heroes salute at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
Legacy in Progress
A life without line dancing not for Consuelo Almonte
Perhaps no Filipino has ever come to be as intimately associated with Pakistani officialdom as Consuelo Almonte.
For 43 years, Connie, a cheerful woman who stands out for her sparkling laughter and striking summer hats, served as a link between foreign journalists and the Pakistani government.
Depressed over the breakup of her marriage, she came to New York in 1968 to pursue her Master’s in Education at Hunter College. She was enrolled for a year when she found work at the Pakistani Mission to the UN as secretary to the Press Counselor. She retired in 2011 with the title of Assistant to the Press Minister.
Her job was to connect visiting Pakistani presidents and foreign ministers with top network journalists and made sure she got them press interviews. Through her, Pakistani leaders attending the annual UN General Assembly got to sit down with the likes of Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric, and until recently Megan Kelly and Rachel Maddow in primetime news. In those days, very few women worked in the Mission, and some didn’t speak English all that well. Connie spoke the language confidently.
“I found my work exciting. I knew people from ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times,” she said in an interview with The FilAm. The Mission, the first and only job she’s ever had in New York, treated her very well, she quickly added.
Connie became a critical but largely unheralded part of a government that carried on a prickly relationship with the U.S. especially in the days following the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. She made sure Pakistan’s voice echoed in American media.
One particular episode in 1971 tested Connie’s mettle. Pakistani leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was attending a UN Security Council meeting when he delivered a fiery speech criticizing foreign diplomats for their indifference to Pakistan during the war with India on East Pakistan. Angrily, he raged, “My country is bleeding and here people are sitting discussing what will be for breakfast tomorrow!” With that he ripped his speech to pieces and stormed out of the council meeting.
A press conference had to be called. As her boss, the press minister, was undergoing a heart surgery, Connie stepped up and assembled the media on short notice to make sure Bhutto’s statement made it to the evening news. Connie, as always, delivered.
In recognition of her long and dedicated service, the Pakistani government gave her two awards: the Tamgha Kidmat for meritorious service in 1996, which she received in Islamabad with her husband Mark Shaffer as guests of the government; and the medal of appreciation in 2011, which she received from the President of Jammu and Kashmir. In New York, she received the Life Time Award of Excellence from the Pakistani League of America during their Annual Dinner in 2011.
This was not her only job then. With her lively personality, Connie worked as a night manager for 10 years at Le Steak, a French restaurant in midtown Manhattan. This was followed by another restaurant, a barbecue joint, which she also managed for five more years. But time and health were piling on so she decided to focus solely on her work with the Pakistani Mission.
Connie, a proud cancer survivor, may be recently retired but hardly idle.
A sprightly 76, she is currently the head of the Pagasa Social Foundation, Inc. (Pagasasfi), a non-profit for Filipino seniors. She inherited the leadership position when founder Hector Logrono died in September. As Pagasasfi’s current executive vice president, she is trying to familiarize herself with the needs of her sector and getting the community to give recognition and joy to senior citizens as a vulnerable sector of society.
For Connie, old age is a milestone she would like her fellow senior citizens to acknowledge with grace and without isolation and bitterness.“We have three options,” she said. “Going back to the Philippines and retiring without Medicare health benefits; staying home and being a burden to our children; or ending up in a nursing home.”She is offering a fourth. Joining Pagasasfi or becoming a volunteer to make a difference. Since she took over from Hector, she officially launched Pagasasfi at the Philippine Center on October 11, 2013. The foundation has been organizing health fairs, cultural activities, workshops, field trips, and bingo games to seniors free of charge. Coming up is a Mother’s Day celebration and a one-dollar flea market to help raise funds.
And as promised, there will be plenty of time to have fun, like “line dancing with a glass of wine in hand.” Because, for Connie, aging is not about giving up but continuing a life with a swing and a spin.
By Cristina DC Pastor
The FilAm/May 3, 2014
In Search of a Nonagenarian