If there’s an expert on what it means to age in Los Angeles, it’s Dr. William Vega, Executive Director of USC’s Royal Institute on Aging. We talked to him at the beginning of this project as we started to learn more about what it’s like to grow old in a city made for the young.
After talking at length about many of the challenges facing LA as its population ages, we asked Dr. Vega one final question, something to the extent of “Do you have any parting words as we embark on this series?”
His answer was illuminating, and has guided us throughout: “I take this from a book by an anthropologist at Harvard, and the title of his book is ‘What Really Matters’. I think that’s what we don’t know. What really matters for ethnic communities that are low-income in terms of their satisfaction in life? What are the critical things that make their lives worth living? Because in the end, it’s an existential question.”
Rev. Chip Murray, 87 years old
“I would say, as you age remember what your life is about. It’s not how old you are, but how healthful you are. It’s not your bank account, it’s not what you have to live with, it’s what you have to live for. Ask yourself: What am I living for? And if you don’t have an answer, keep on asking the question. But if you don’t have a focus, then your life is in vain. It’s useless.”
Bobbe Akalonu, 82 years old
“You asked me what keeps me going. It’s having a deep-rooted, a deep-seated curiosity about life, about all of the ways in which life supports itself. So I think my spirit, my interest in those things that matter in life are what sustain me. And I’m not finished with living.”
Kenwood Jung, 65 years old
“My family is very important to me. But also I have a real sense of extended family, and that’s through my community. My community is my extended family; that’s very important to me. And then of course, all the work I do. I’m not organizing, but I’m more just trying to empower people and watch and see if any large movements develop. Because that’s what I want to be part of: movement building.”
Phyllis Chu, 64 years old
“I realize that two thirds of my life, at least, is gone and at the most I have one third of my life remaining. I now have a lot more free time than when I was working. I want to spend time giving back to the Chinatown community, which I wasn’t able to do so well when I was working and now I can go back to my younger days when we were all organizing together in Chinatown. I find that there are many things that have changed, but too many things that have remained the same.”
Orlando Estrada, 82 years old
“Probably being in good health is one of the most important things at my age. It’s to stay in good health and to be as kind to everybody as I can be.”
What makes life worth living for you? Please share your thoughts with us here.