AARP AARP States Texas Community

Engaging the Asian-American Community

Mari Okabayashi, of Houston, is one of many Asian American volunteers for AARP. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman

By Ellen Chang

Mari Okabayashi, of Houston, has volunteered with AARP at state legislative sessions, congressional and city council hearings, and community events. She has advocated for defending Social Security, making Houston more walkable, limiting payday lending fees, helping older people avoid becoming victims of fraud, and opposing utility rate hikes. She also serves as a Texas Silver-Haired Legislator for Harris County.

“Volunteering for AARP allows me to meet so many of our seniors,” said Okabayashi, 67. “I get to help seniors with socialization through our many and varied events, as well as through the cultural events generously sponsored by AARP.”

Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the Houston area—about 6 percent of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, like Okabayashi, they are an integral part of the community.

Recognizing that growth in Houston and elsewhere in the state, AARP Texas is expanding its outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. One example is the Asia Society Texas Center’s 2017 Asia­Fest on Saturday, May 13. AARP will host a recording booth where all attendees will have an opportunity to share their stories with volunteers who are interested in interviewing a parent, grand­parent, child, teacher or neighbor.

“Storytelling helps us convey important lessons and assists us in relating and understanding each other’s points of view,” said Tina Tran, AARP outreach and advocacy manager for Houston and other Texas cities.

“Stories can also preserve a moment in history. It is important for all cultures and ethnicities to see who their role models are and to pass their experiences along to younger generations,” Tran said. “The acknowledgement of these Asian Americans means that the histories of these cultures will be recognized by future generations.”


AARP is also partnering with Asia Society Texas Center in Houston for a series of free classes held throughout the year that promote health and wellness, including movement and healthy cooking. Members can learn more about the classes and register at

Last year, AARP Texas hosted the H.T. Chen Dance Company for a half-day of exercise, dining and a performance highlighting Chinese immigrants’ experience in the American South.

“It was a great opportunity for AARP to meld culture and the arts in addressing healthy living,” said Daphne Kwok, an AARP vice president.

AARP also supported the 2011 Congressional Gold Medal for the World War II-era 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service, units of Japanese American soldiers, many of whose families were held in internment camps.

In Houston, AARP also supports the Asian Senior Holiday Luncheon every December for about 800 older people. Multicultural entertainment is a feature of the event.

Recently, AARP created materials on caregiving and fraud prevention that are tailored for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Forging bonds between cultures is significant because it leads to an increase in understanding, awareness and acceptance, said Bonna Kol, president of Asia Society Texas Center.

“It also leads to experiences and knowledge that enrich our lives, which is why Asia Society believes it’s important to celebrate the diverse cultures of Asia and to help build bridges of understanding between the East and West,” she said.

Ellen Chang is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas

About AARP Texas
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.