Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=220210
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Courtesy of Pauline Blomstrand

The Benoits and Blomstrands celebrate Christmas 1993 with extended family in their shared three-flat building in Chicago. Back row from left to right: Kim Blomstrand, Jonathan Morris, Matthew Blomstrand, Jeremy Morris; front row from left to right: Russell Blomstrand, Paul Benoit (Paw-Paw), Samantha Benoit, Gladys Benoit (Maw-Maw).


Asian-Americans most likely to live in multigenerational households, study says

by Jayna Omaye
Apr 18, 2013


When Pauline Blomstrand’s mother, Gladys Benoit, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, initiated the idea of living together, Blomstrand agreed to the arrangement.  

Two of Pauline Blomstrand’s children, Russ and Matt Blomstrand, were born after she moved into a three-flat building the family shared in Chicago. Growing up, the two boys did not understand why their classmates needed to visit grandparents, because theirs were always at home with them.

“At the time, they didn’t realize how lucky they were because a lot of people don’t know their grandparents,” Pauline Blomstrand said.

The Blomstrand’s living situation reflects a national trend that Asian-Americans are more likely than the general public to live with multiple generations under the same roof, according to a Pew Research study updated in April.

Nearly 28 percent of Asian-American families live with at least two adult generations in the same household, the study found. Vietnamese and Filipinos are most likely to live in multigenerational households, followed by Chinese, Indian, Korean and Japanese families, according to the study’s findings.

According to 2012 U.S. census data, nearly 6 percent of Chicago residents are of Asian heritage.

Living in multigenerational households reflects Asian-Americans’ strong familial values, said Kayoko Kawaguchi, the cultural and community affairs representative at the Japanese American Service Committee of Chicago. Kawaguchi lived with her in-laws and with her mother while her children grew up under the same roof.

“They think about the blood they carry from their ancestry and … they have pride,” Kawaguchi said. “Even if they live in a separate house, they’re responsible for taking care of their parents. The grandchildren and children have respect for their grandparents.”

This responsibility of adult children caring for their aging parents is common among Asian-Americans, said Emily Walton, assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, who specializes in race and ethnicity.

“It’s a part of the family cultural values of when people become older, you wouldn’t send them out to the nursing home,” Walton said. “The family would take care of them.”

After Gladys Benoit died, her husband put himself into a nursing home to escape the constant nagging from his children to take better care of himself, Pauline Blomstrand said. However, she said this was his decision, and they would’ve been more than willing to care for him.

“It’s just family taking care of each other,” she said.

There were many times, Pauline Blomstrand said, when her parents would discipline and care for her children. Benoit would take her grandchildren to the bowling alley and even took karate lessons with them, she said. Russ and Matt Blomstrand remember when their grandmother, whom they called Maw Maw, would scold them for causing trouble after she fell asleep in her recliner. Maw Maw had sharp ears, they said, and she would immediately wake up and yell at them.

“At the time, you become so accustomed to it,” Russ Blomstrand said. “It seems like the older you get, the more you appreciate it.”

This family support benefits each individual in the household, said Woon-Ping Chin, visiting professor of English, who studies Asian-American literature at Dartmouth College.

“The richness, texture and continuity of traditions in a multigenerational household are unmatchable,” Chin said. “Children absorb learning in so many ways from their grandparents, from language, values and etiquette. … Their parents are given support in child raising, and elders feel secure and cared for.”