Academic journal article Generations

Intergenerational Programs to Address the Challenge of Immigration

Academic journal article Generations

Intergenerational Programs to Address the Challenge of Immigration

Article excerpt

Strengthing the American Dream.

This article examines strategies for meeting the social, economic, and linguistic needs of older immigrants in the United States while at the same time helping them serve as resources for younger generations. Though they are vulnerable in a new land, this population should also be viewed as an untapped resource for learning about history, language, culture, and survival. Intergenerational approaches can benefit both the immigrant elderly and the provider of services and may provide bridges between elderly immigrants and their younger neighbors.


Numbers of immigrants entering the country are increasing, from an average of 450,000 in the 1970S to 700,000 in 1992. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that over the next five years approximately 850,000 immigrants will enter the United States each year (Skilton-Sylvester and Henkin, 1997). Also, the elimination of nationality quotas in 1965 has resuited in changes in the nationality of those coming to the United States, to include growing numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America and fewer from European countries. In the 19080s, Asians made up 43 percent of admissions, Latin Americans and Caribbeans 40 percent, and Europeans only II percent (National Research Council, 1996). In addition to increases in immigrant populations in the United States, the aging population is also increasing. And, while relatively few new arrivals to the United States are elderly (approximately 4 percent in 1992) (U.S. House of Representatives, 1994), the elderly segment of ethnic groups is growing at a faster rate than the elderly proportion of the white population and is expected to be 15 percent of the total aged population by 2025 (Barressi and Stull, 1993).

Immigration affects various regions of the United States in different ways. One of the reasons for a number of political actions against illegal im'grants in California, for example, has been that this state was being disproportionately affected by the entry of legal and illegal immigrants. Major cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego have been influenced most by increases in immigrant populations. The cost of immigration for those communities disproportionately affected by high rates of immigration greatly influences public opinion about immigration. While immigrants may bring skills and other positive attributes to the community, the costs of education, healthcare, and social programs are often more visible to the public, particularly in the short term. The National Research Council (1996) suggests that the benefits of immigration for the larger society may not be evident immediately.


Elderly immigrants face a number of particular challenges.

Adapting to life in a new culture. In attempting to understand the experience of elderly immigrants as they adapt to life in a new culture, it is important not to view home or host cultures as monolithic and unchanging or to view acculturation as a simple process of replacing the old with the new. As scholars have pointed out, complex relationships between old and new-what they brought with them and what they have encountered in a new land-shape the identities and cultural practices of immigrants and refugees (e.g., Krulfield and Camino, 1994; Ledgerwood, Ebihara, and Mortland, 1994). Individuals of every age find that moving to another country requires adaptation to new places, languages, and customs, but elderly immigrants and refugees experience relocation as more difficult. Elderly newcomers to the United States must seek ways to remain connected to beliefs and practices that have mattered to them throughout their lives while at the same time learning to adapt to new ways if they are to shape a fulfilling life in a new country.

Maintaining and transmitting cultural traditions. While finding ways to maintain cultural traditions in a new country can be quite important, especially for older adults, it can also be particularly difficult for elderly immigrants and refugees. …

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