Aging and immigration

Older immigrants in Canada are often considered as a collective entity but they are extremely diverse. Differences may stem from their national origins and cultural and religious backgrounds, but they may also be related to their migration experiences. Their age of arrival in Canada, their immigration category (economic, business, sponsored, refugee, live-in caregiver, etc.), experience in other countries, and whether or not they arrived before, after or with family members all influence their experiences as older adults. Finally, like all of us, they differ by gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.

My PhD research, A Fine Balance: Family, Food, and Faith in the Health Worlds of Elderly Punjabi Hindu Women, included older adults living in Punjab, India and British Columbia, Canada. I have also conducted primary research with older immigrants and refugees from Chinese speaking countries, Korea, Vietnam, various Central and South American countries, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.

Sponsorship

I began exploring the effects of family reunification immigration or sponsorship of parents and grandparents when I conducted research for my Master’s thesis, Negotiating new lives and new lands: elderly Punjabi women in British Columbia. I have since reframed this work through an intersectionality lens on age and ethnicity. I also delved more deeply into the legal dimensions of sponsorship to produce a book chapter (Promises, Promises …) with lawyer, Charmaine Spencer. We argued that sponsored older adults are rendered financially and socially vulnerable by a constellation of cultural, situational and structural factors and recommended that the ten-year period of dependence on their sponsors be reduced to five or less in line with other Family Class immigrants. My testimony to this effect evoked the same recommendation by a Special Senate Committee on Aging, yet the government chose to increase the dependency period to twenty years. These arguments were captured in the documentary film, The Price of Reunion, for which I was an advisor and featured interviewee.

Lived experiences

The Lived Experiences of Aging Immigrants, is a Narrative Photovoice Project (2014-2017). Our research explored the everyday stories of aging among 19 diverse immigrant older adults in Canada. Shari Brotman, Ilyan Ferrer and I adopted a structural approach to life history narrative that included three in-depth interviews with each participant. Our thematic analysis was framed within an intersectional life course perspective. In published articles, we describe our methodological approach, which combined life history narrative and photovoice methods in order to operationalize the intersectional life course. Case studies from the project are also used to explore the constructs of social isolation and loneliness.

The exhibit was launched simultaneously in Vancouver and Quebec on May 11-12th, 2017, and attracted over 150 visitors. Over a 6-month period, the Vancouver exhibit was on display continuously at four different community and seniors’ centres. The exhibit gained attention in the print and broadcast media.

Given our commitment to utilize the exhibit to raise awareness and influence practice and policy, we also sought additional funding and community partners (The Canadian Centre for Elder Law, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the BC Senior’s Advocate) to run our Learning from the Lived Experiences stakeholder forums. In Greater Vancouver, we held three themed stakeholder forums that use the Lived Experiences photovoice exhibit as a springboard for discussions with diverse stakeholders to effect change in their spheres of influence. Out of these, we generated immediate reports as well as more focused policy briefs on Disability, Housing and Transportation, and Family, Caregiving and Homecare. Nationally, our team hosted similar fora in Calgary, Greater Montreal and Quebec City. See our national report and visit the project website to access all materials in English or French.