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New documentary highlights young veteran caregivers of color

A scene in the new documentary “Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation” shows siblings Kamaile, 23, and Kaleo, 18, from Hawaii talking about their “kuleana,” or responsibility to care for their grandfather, an 80-year-old Korean War vet with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Sky Blossom,” in part, examines how cultural factors play into caring for a loved one. The film is an honest exploration of how five young people of color, ranging from 12 to 26, work as caregivers for a family member who is a veteran with disabilities.

The documentary premieres Wednesday, Veterans Day, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The film’s title refers to the phrase “here come the sky blossoms,” used by the troops when they were receiving aid from paratroopers, and is meant to highlight how younger generations are ascribing their own meaning to caregiving. One in 4 caregivers is a millennial, according to AARP, and more than half are Black, Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islanders.

The first-time director Richard Lui, an MSNBC anchor, told NBC Asian America that he wanted to make an intergenerational film that resonates with teens and 20-somethings but also older generations. (NBC Universal is the parent company to NBC News and MSNBC.)

“It goes against the stereotype that young people are usually selfish or don’t devote time to care for loved ones,” he said.

For Lui, the story is also personal. He is a caregiver for his father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago and has a military background. “So it’s also a film made about caregivers by people who are caregivers. It’s about people of color made by those who are people of color.”

He added that while searching for subjects for the film with the help of various nonprofits, he made sure to look for young people not just from different races but also varied regions and cultures.

The five families featured in “Sky Blossom” are the Griers, who are Black from Pennsylvania; the Alvarados, who are Latino from California; the Ploofs, who are white from Michigan; the Allens, who are Native American from Tennessee; and the Kapanuis, who are Native Hawaiian from Hawaii.

“We seem to be living in very diverse times right now, and I wanted to show that through their stories,” Lui said. “We are all different and deal with these things in various ways but underneath we are all very similar.”

Lui added that the focus on how these teens and millennials are dealing with supporting their veteran parents and grandparents is meant to be inspiring and informative.

“The toughest thing for people to understand is that they do this for free. It’s almost a full-time job,” he said. “They are not getting paid or receiving formal training. They just do it.”

Lui said one of the most important things for him was that the film highlights diversity organically through its characters’ stories.

“These are not stories you’re going to see play out often,” he said. “I’m grateful that we get to tell them.”

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