Lian KuangAlumna class of '09

If talking about death or illness is perceived as invoking bad luck, how does an elder care attorney working with Chinese seniors talk about wills and advance health care directives? “With great understanding of cultural traditions regarding death,” replied Lian Kuang (’09), CUNY Law’s first Borchard Fellow in Law & Aging.

“I can’t say to a Chinese elder, when you die,” said Kuang. “Instead, I have to say when a person dies or if a person becomes ill. If I talk about their death directly, it may appear that I am wishing them death or illness,” she explained. “When you are an attorney working on delicate subjects, it’s important to understand cultural sensitivities.”

Fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Taishanese, three of the most widely spoken Chinese dialects in North American Chinatowns, Kuang had early experience in recognizing how important it is to bridge cultural divides, particularly concerning language and family values. She and her family moved to New York’s Chinatown from China when she was 9 years old.

“I was my mom’s interpreter during many important life events, so I understand when the elders talk to me about feeling isolated because they don’t speak English,” Kuang said. “And since both my parents died at a young age, without the chance of enjoying being cared for by their only child, I still have some guilt about filial piety. So, I’ve lived these issues, and I understand them deeply.”

Considered one of the highest virtues in Chinese culture, filial piety is a sign of fulfilling one’s duty to ensure that parents live a long and happy life, said Kuang. “Some children, driven by filial piety, want me to draw up legal documents that plan for every life-saving and life-sustaining measure possible, so that their parents can reach old age. Chinese elders, on the other hand, are more concerned about becoming a burden to their family and, therefore, may not want those measures.” Knowing how to deftly address these differences in opinion is a balancing act, noted Kuang.

Kuang’s dream of bringing greater cultural competency to the bar and working with the Chinese elderly community was realized when she was selected for the prestigious Borchard Fellowship in Law & Aging, one of just two law graduates nationwide to receive the honor. “Professor Joseph Rosenberg’s unwavering support and encouragement were instrumental in Bridging Cultures and Generations Lian Kuang getting me here,” remembered Kuang. Rosenberg directs CUNY Law’s Elder Law Clinic, where Kuang did her clinical practice before graduating last year. “Professor Rosenberg shares my vision of promoting cultural competency, and his vast knowledge and experience on elder law issues have been a strong supporting force in my learning and professional development.”

Kuang pursued the Borchard Fellowship, she said, because her goals match the mission of the Borchard Foundation: to “help improve the quality of life for elderly people, including those who are poor or otherwise isolated by lack of education, language, culture, disability, or other barriers.” For her fellowship, Kuang has provided advice or direct representation to more than 50 elders and their caregivers in matters such as advanced care planning, government benefits, and guardianship.

To meet elders, she traveled to Chinese senior and residential centers, conducting presentations on elder law issues and educating people on their rights. To help elders and their families, she wrote the pamphlet Important Legal Documents to Have in New York in English and Chinese. To educate the bar, she wrote Guide to Presenting to Chinese Elders on Advance Directives.

As Kuang wrapped up her yearlong fellowship, she conducted a legal needs survey in the Chinese community in order to identify the legal needs of Chinese elders and to provide a basis for future improvements in the delivery of legal services to this community. “I also hope the work I have done in this fellowship can be a model that is replicated in other minority groups where cultural and language barriers create a particular need for a more tailored system of providing essential services.”

In the fall of 2010, Kuang started as a junior associate at Ronald Fatoullah and Associates as the firm’s elder law attorney reaching out to the Chinese community.

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