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The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose by Paul Irving

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Chapter 12 Aging in a Majority–Minority Nation

Fernando M. Torres-Gil 19

Director, UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging; Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs 

New immigrant groups offer opportunities to revitalize our economic, social, cultural, and national security. As the population grows older, we have a self-interest in recognizing and responding to these opportunities.

It was like being in a foreign country. Having never lived anywhere but California I arrived at Brandeis University in the 1970s, to study gerontology and geriatrics, as a young graduate student, polio survivor, grandson of migrant farmworkers, and one of the first Latino students from the Southwest to attend a Boston-area college.

I found myself assigned to interview white retirees in New Hampshire as part of a survey of long-term care facilities in New England. The subjects were God-fearing, patriotic men who found it rather strange for a young, disabled Latino to inquire about their personal lives. I later learned that Brandeis faculty members had qualms about sending me into this uncharted territory, concerned that my ethnicity might not be well received. To the contrary, I not only completed the surveys but I made new friends among these research subjects.

How? By drawing on my personal background, understanding their concerns and appealing to their good sense and compassion. Acceptance and understanding from both sides were key to these interactions. ...

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