Research, Gerontology

Photovoice Exhibit Explores Immigration, Aging, and Lived Experiences

May 16, 2017

“The Lived Experiences of Aging Immigrants” is a photovoice exhibit that explores the impact of immigration on aging within the context of the life stories of immigrant older adults. The exhibit combines life history narratives of immigrant seniors with photographs from their daily lives to reveal powerful stories of strength and resilience in the face of many life challenges. Originally scheduled to run until May 12, it has been held over due to popular request until July 01, 2017 at the Sunset Community Centre in Vancouver.

The exhibit stems from a research project lead, in part, by Sharon Koehn, Gerontology, and a team of researchers from Quebec and British Columbia. Their project, “Intersectional identities and interlocking oppressions: Stories of the everyday among ethnocultural older adults in Canada” investigates the challenges and barriers seniors face, with an aim of lobbying for program and policy changes that affect immigrant older adults (like health and social services, immigration, work, family caregiving and retirement policies). As Koehn explains, “the process of immigration shapes one’s experiences over the life course and into old age. This is true whether seniors immigrated in the past as young adults or more recently, and whether they came to Canada as independent class immigrants, refugees, as temporary workers, through the live-in caregiver program or as sponsored members of families.

Unfortunately, as Koehn points out, most research on immigration and aging does not leave room for people to relate what is meaningful to them: “We know a lot about the structural barriers they may face, such as those related to access to services or language barriers, but not how these systemic challenges have shaped their lives in old age. As researchers we want to [affect policy change]; we also want to pay attention to how older people identify themselves and how they feel about such issues as family, community and belonging. All of these factors impact their health and access to health care.”

For the exhibit, Koehn and her co-investigators interviewed 19 older immigrants in Quebec and British Columbia who came from different communities, and immigrated at different times and under different programs. They spoke with them about their journeys and experiences and gave them cameras to take pictures of their daily lives. The exhibit summarizes each participant’s story and, Koehn says, extracts six dominant themes: Housing & Transportation, Traumas of the Past, Precarious Employment, Community Engagement, Family & Care, and Agency & Resilience. Koehn says their stories highlight how policies and services need to be more supportive, flexible, and accessible: “The problems and solutions alike require an intersectoral approach.”

Dr. Sharon Koehn

“The stories and photographs in the exhibit provide insight into the complex ways in which structural discrimination across the lifecourse, particularly that associated with immigration, shapes older adults’ interactions with family, community and formal services. It is also a testimony to the resilience and resourcefulness of these seniors who have much to teach us.”