News / Edmonton

Research aims to make aging immigrants feel more included

An assistant professor hopes her research will lead to more inclusive policies and services for aging immigrants

Hongmei Tong is doing research on helping Chinese seniors integrate more into Canadian society.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Hongmei Tong is doing research on helping Chinese seniors integrate more into Canadian society.

Seniors are often enthusiastic voters, but aging immigrants from Asia often feel excluded from civic activities due to language and cultural barriers.

A MacEwan University researcher is hoping a five-year research project will help Asian seniors become more involved in Canadian society.

Hongmei Tong, an assistant professor at MacEwan’s school of social work, is conducting focus groups with elderly immigrants from Asia who face isolation and social exclusion due to their age and inability to speak fluent English.

“It’s not only academic; we want change to develop programs, services and social policy to make it easier for aging immigrants to participate in civic activities,” Tong said, mentioning voting, volunteering and public exercise groups as activities Asian immigrants may be discouraged from participating in.

Tong is focused on immigrants from China, India and the Philippines, the three countries that have sent the most newcomers to Canada over the last five years.

She wants to determine how aging Asian immigrants view civic participation and what kinds of barriers they face in integrating into Canadian society.

“We also want to know whether other factors such as cultural, political or societal affect their participation,” she said.

Betty Wills, CEO of the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre, said language barriers mean challenges in accessing healthcare, social services, public transportation and city services such as the library.

“On top if it you don’t know the language, you have a double whammy,” Wills said.

“When you don’t have the language ability, how are you going to ask which bus you get onto or how you’re going to get to and from where you need to go?”

As a result, many Chinese seniors stay at home and feel isolated. There is also physical isolation, because many seniors face mobility issues.

While most of the Cantonese-speaking Chinese people who came to Edmonton in the 1900s came from Hong Kong and settled downtown, there has been a shift in recent years, with more Mandarin-speaking Chinese coming from mainland China settling all over the city, Wills said.

That adds an additional challenge for Asian seniors in the suburbs who live with their children.

“There’s a lot of social isolation, because most of the time they’re staying at home looking after their grandchildren. So they don’t have time to communicate with other seniors.”

To help with the research project, Tong has received a $172,853 funding grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to hire a research assistant, cultural broker and coordinator.

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