Care is essential, care is love, and care connects us all

Portrait of Bernadette Choudhary

“Who do you care for and who cares for you?” was the question posed to hundreds of individuals who had gathered at Carefest from across the country to shape the future of care.

While I had come to Carefest to learn about how Blue Shield of California Foundation could support this movement, this question invited me to reflect on my own personal care story and the role that care has played in my family across generations.

My mother had her first child at 19 years old and she spent the following 17 years providing care for her seven children. Time that could have been spent in college and developing a career was alternatively spent as a stay-at-home parent, a role she ultimately loved but which wasn’t recognized as a “job.” Quality care, compassion, and meeting the unique needs of vastly different individuals became her areas of expertise. And how did this translate when she later entered the workforce as a professional caretaker? With $15 per hour.

As for myself, being the second eldest of seven children, I was changing diapers at an early age and opting out of extracurricular activities due to responsibilities at home. This largely shaped my childhood and sense of self. Yet, I never viewed myself as a caregiver. It was to my understanding that providing care was a responsibility that came as a daughter, sister, and now, years later, as a wife and mother.

Ai-Jen Poo, the co-founder and executive director of Caring Across Generations, addressing the audience at Carefest in Los Angeles.

Carefest created the space for my story and that of my mother to be told in different ways by different people as we reimagined care, together. Every story had a uniqueness but with consistent themes, such as the right to receive care comfortably in one’s home, the burdens that often fall on women to play the role of caregivers in families, the joy caregivers bring to a family or care recipient, and how care is often perceived as an individual/family responsibility while it is also a systemic social responsibility. Care work is skilled work that should be compensated. Care work allows all other forms of work to take place. Care work is vital to our economy.

This movement requires our collective support as it impacts each and every one of us. Care is about people and the connections between us. Care is love. It is essential. We know that stories, like mine and yours, open the door for more stories to be told. And when we do this, we realize what connects us more than what sets us apart. This can lead us to a future of care that gives workers and families the support they need. So, I’ll ask you, who do you care for and who cares for you?

The Center for Cultural Power produced an art display at the conference to show different forms of care. This painting is named “Always Open” by artist James Quarles.

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