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Study Calls for Recognizing Contributions of Older Immigrants in U.S.

China View, News Report, Posted: Aug 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Older Immigrants are not inert drains in the U.S. system but an invisible force of community contributors in the United States, according to a study made public here Monday.

New America Media helped to promote a Community Treasures forum on older immigrants Monday to invite ethnic media reporters in Southern California to join a discussion of the role of older immigrants.

According to the promoting media, for a long time the mainstream media in the United States have described elders as inert drains in the U.S. system, but the new study shows that immigrant elders are partners in the community who can contribute to the society.

A group of scholars at the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University interviewed elders in six languages including Chinese, Vietnamese and Hispanic in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta to collect data and put their findings in the study "Community Treasures: Recognizing the Contributions of Older Immigrants and Refugees."

According to the study, by 2030, the number of older adults in the United States will have grown from 33 million to more than 70 million, which means one in five Americans will be aged 65 or older.

The study said that till now, most researches have focused on the experiences of native-born older Americans. Despite their growing numbers, little attention has been paid to foreign-born elders.

The study finds that between 1990 and 2000, the foreign-born population in the United States increased by more than a half, from 19.8 to 31. 1 million.

Among the foreign-born population, 20 percent of 6 million people are 55 or older. Some immigrants have grown older in America, while others immigrated here in their later years, the study said.

By 2050, the older population of ethnic minorities in the United States is projected to more than double, accounting for more than 35 percent of the older adult population in the United States, according to the study.

Asian and Hispanic elders will be the fastest growing sectors of this population, the study said.

The study found that some immigrant communities have maintained their cultural tradition of giving seniors authority and power. Many elders recognize their responsibility to serve as leaders and assume the "elder role" despite limited English language skills or professional experiences.

Leadership roles described by focus group participants included managing community funds and mobilizing younger generations to support community members in crisis, the study says.

Actions of foreign-born elders tend to be motivated by their sense of interconnectedness, which is grounded in their religious and cultural values, according to the study.

Elders often act in response to a sense of duty for the collective good, which transcends generations, such as transmitting cultural values and contributing to the well-being of future generations, the study says.

Family care-giving is a major contribution made by many older immigrants. For many immigrant elders, family care-giving is a culturally significant way of contributing to society, the study says.

Nancy Cheng, a senior Chinese immigrant who came to the United States at the age of 17 and then received her education as a nurse, became deeply involved in community activities after her retirement.
The study cites Cheng as one example that elder immigrants can contribute and also have contributed to the society.

Cheng volunteers more than 20 hours per week.

"I feel that since I still have good health, I can contribute. Besides, my calling is to help people because nurses help people. All my life, I wanted to be a nurse," she said.

The study finds that ethnic-based senior centers in the United States link older immigrants to current events, community activities and fellow immigrant elders.

Chinese seniors in Philadelphia were grateful for a senior center where they could associate with other older adults who share the same language and culture and where English as a Second Language classes and programs in their native language are offered, the study said.

Vietnamese seniors who attend a senior program at the community center said that they have become an informal network that provides support for one another, according to the study.

The Filipino American Service Group, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and scholars from California State University at Fullerton held a panel discussion after the presentation of the study to discuss ways on how to encourage immigrant elders to get involved in community activities.

-- Editor: Li Shuncheng

Related Articles:

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Polish Elders 'Keep Things Happening' to Stay Vital

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