“Several years ago, I began taping an oral history of my grandmother, an artist born to a very wealthy family in Shanghai, China, who came to the United States in the 1940’s to attend Columbia University. The Communist Revolution happened, her family lost everything and, like many lucky and wealthy Chinese at the time, she was able to stay in the United States. This came with a high price tag – she lost her wealth, her education was cut short and she would never return to China or see her parents again.
One day, I asked her to describe her life in one sentence. She said, “The opposite of a fairy tale.” She then broke down and told me that her son was abusing her emotionally and financially. So began a dreadful roller coaster ride that ultimately involved social workers and even the police. I felt frustrated at every turn trying to help her. People just don’t want to fight as hard for the elderly. We kept coming face-to-face with the not uncommon roadblocks that prevent the elderly – particularly Asian American women – from getting help. So it was just a really horrible way to end a really beautiful life.
After my grandmother passed, I had all these tapes from the oral histories we recorded. And I was just trying to make something small for myself, to remember her by. But I was also trying to understand what had happened to her. I felt like a horrible person, like I hadn’t done enough. I wasn’t able to save her. I decided to create a film, “The Opposite of a Fairy Tale,” to try to shed light on this issue, using my grandmother’s story as a starting point.
I started researching and found out that elder abuse affects so many people, and nobody knows about it or talks about it, especially within the Asian immigrant communities. And so I thought that even though I couldn’t help my grandmother, maybe there was a way I could still help somebody else. I decided to create a film that focuses on non-physical elder abuse.
I think there has to be so much more dialogue and a complete social shift in the way we look at aging. Because when we talk about aging as being awful and being a disease, we take away all the power of the human being. And all of us are going to get old, so it’s our power that’s being taken.”
Jennifer Betit Yen
Actress, Producer and Recovering Attorney
New York, NY, Chinese Diaspora
NextDayBetter Storyteller: Sherina Ong (TW: @SherinaOng)
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