Nitzia Chama arrived in Los Angeles from Veracruz, Mexico with dreams of becoming an actress. Eight years later, at age 30, she is balancing freelance gigs, running errands with her grandparents and attending health education classes to learn more about diabetes.
Chama is the only family her grandparents have in the area and, as their health needs increase, so do Chama’s responsibilities.
Chama’s grandparents are Albano Villa, 83, and María de Jesús Caro Villa, 82. She affectionally called them Papá Albanito and Mamá Chuyita.
Mamá Chuyita lights up with emotion as she shares the many ways her granddaughter helps them. Speaking in Spanish, she says. “Nitzia takes us to run errands, to get a haircut for me and my husband, to the fashion district alleys and wherever we feel like going — Nitzia takes us.”
“As a Latina,” says Chama, ” I can see and I just like feel like we are different with our family. We are very close.”
According to a study by the AARP, there are some 40 million people in the United States considered to be family caregivers. Of the 40 million, 1 in 4 are millennials and more than half of those caregivers identify as African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic.
AARP’s study does not provide citizenship data, but Chama’s situation shows the unique experience of families with mixed immigration status. Chama is a legal permanent resident. Her grandparents are U.S citizens.
Although she did not anticipate being a caregiver, Chama quickly filled the role as she saw her grandparents health take a turn. Papá Albanito was diagnosed with diabetes, early stages of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Mamá Chuyita developed high blood pressure and arthritis.
These conditions motivated Chama to learn more about their health issues and the resources offered within the U.S. healthcare system.
“I’m 30 and I’m working yes, I’m doing my own things,” says Chama, “but my happiest place is with my family.” For her, caregiving is not a burden. Although it may be a sacrifice, Chama considers it to be the right thing to do.
In fact, AARP reports Latinx millennials clock in an average of 42 hours a week compared to 36 hours by other millennial caregivers. This is in addition to the full time jobs many already have.
“There’s already disparities in pay when we think about women, let alone women of color,” says Josephine Kalipeni, the Director of Policy and Partnerships with Caring Across Generations. Her organization is a national initiative working to transform the long-term health system in the U.S.
“It’s things that we do out of familial obligation and honor and wanting to really honor our parents but, it is a sacrifice in both career mobility and the pursuit of long term financial security,” says Kalipeni.
Kalipeni’s group wants to make it easier for family caregiving to be recognized as a form of in-home care that’s eligible for financial subsidies from the state and to be counted toward Social Security.
“We’re talking about really ethnically diverse communities made up of immigrants and sometimes really mixed-status families,” says Kalipeni. “And so if we’re really thinking about solutions, we have to think about the current immigration structure and the challenges that it poses for care and for caregiving.”
Papá Albanito and Mamá Chuyita did not expect to live such long lives nor age in the U.S. Papá Albanito told Chama that he would die without her because she is all they have. In Spanish he says to Chama, “I can’t say anything else because I already told you.”
Chama is saddened to hear her grandparents talk about death. She tries to keep their spirits up by planning fun social outings and tries to make every errand an adventure by posting pictures on social media and using Facebook Live.
“If we have this tremendous opportunity to take care of them we have to do it with love, with patience.” Chama says. “We have to make them feel like they’re so important in our lives.”
Chama’s dreams have shifted a bit since her arriving to Los Angeles. They now include buying a home for her grandparents so they can all live together as they grow old and as Chama starts a family of her own.
BY ISABETH MENDOZA