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«Vancouver Centre of Excellence Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis Working Paper Series No. 06-08 Parental Sponsorship – ...»

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In considering sponsored elderly women’s experiences, it is particularly important to locate them within the context of their everyday lives. Feminist researchers who focus on immigration experience and draw from post-colonialist and anti-racist perspectives stress the importance of placing individual experience within the social, economic and political contexts “to implicate the societal context as a source for change” (Ward-Griffin and Ploeg 1997: 284). These theorists often use narrative – that is, the stories that people tell about themselves, that express lived and bodily experience through language and that portray individuals’ experiences in relation to their views of larger societal forces (Becker 2003). Narratives may provide a place from which marginalized groups begin to counter the overriding discourses that shape their world. Storytelling enables marginal

groups to direct issues “to the sites where people live, work, learn and socially interact” (Dossa 2002:

355). In the absence of forums to engage in activities and relationships that acknowledge their presence, narratives, anchored in the larger social-political context, can capture the world of people who have suffered and therefore suggest paths to a just world (Dossa 2002). This paper provides a preliminary analysis of sponsored South Asian elderly women’s stories as a place from which to begin countering misleading and harmful discourses. Before turning to the narratives of the women in this study, the next section locates their experiences within larger trends in Canada and BC.

Family class immigration from India

The largest source of family class immigrants to Canada comes from India. In 2001, for example, 12,627 family class immigrants came from India to Canada compared with only 6,472 from China, the second-largest source country of family class immigrants (Walton-Roberts 2003). Spouses are the largest category of family class immigration from India, with parents the second largest category.

Over the five-year period of 1995 to 1999, the annual intake of spouses from India continued to grow:

from 4,009 to 4,851. The annual intake of parents generally declined: from 2,965 (1995) to 2,592 (1999). In recent years, the skilled worker class from India has risen steadily, and since 2000 has become particularly large relative to family class immigration, which overall has declined. In 1994, 2,126 skilled workers emigrated from India to Canada in contrast to 14,640 family class immigrants.

In 2001, 13,640 skilled workers emigrated from India compared with 12,627 family class immigrants (Walton-Roberts 2003). The overall decline of parental sponsorship and dramatic increase of skilled workers from India during this period of time reflects the general trend of Canada increasingly admitting skilled workers. As parental sponsorship has declined, families from India may particularly feel the impact.

In her research on immigration from India, Walton-Roberts (2003), emphasizes the importance of family class immigration and its intricate link with economic immigration. We cannot, she argues, “easily define immigration into distinct categories and classes with a desire to control numbers over time without recognising the social and emotional disruption this causes to families whose migration strategies evolve over years, if not decades” (p. 246). For example, a purely economic rationale for immigration misleadingly casts older family members who provide childcare as a possible drain on the Canadian economy, when such a contribution to families may be as “economically significant as it is culturally mediated and is a major influence in determining strategies of family migration” (p. 247). A purely economic rationale mistakenly assumes that the category of skilled workers is more economically desirable than that of family class and that workers are autonomous in their mobility. To counter that rationale, Walton-Roberts cites a study (Winchie and Carment 1989) that indicates the most cited reason for coming to Canada was the presence of family members or friends, which suggests that “the mobility of economically defined subjects is actually shaped by pre-existing social factors” (Walton-Roberts 2003: 144, emphasis in the original).

In Vancouver – which is home to the second largest (after Toronto) South Asian-origin population in Canada – the sponsorship process has been vital in community formation in the 1970s and 1980s and is still evident in reconstituting the extended family (Walton-Roberts)3. From 1980 to 1994, 90 percent of Indian immigrants to British Columbia were admitted to Canada under family class status (BC Stats 2001), and from 2000 to 2003, that proportion declined to just under 80 percent while economic immigrants were almost 20 percent (BC Stats 2004). From 1999 to 2004, family class immigration from India to BC averaged around 3,762 yearly compared with 937 economic immigrants. The highest number of family class landings occurred in 2002 at 4,196 and has decreased in the years since (3,392 in 2004). While these admission data indicate that immigration from India to BC has been composed largely of sponsored, family class immigration, they do not provide a breakdown of family class categories to show the proportion of parents or grandparents. An indication that fewer elderly are migrating from India to BC is the declining proportion of those over 50 years of age. Between 1980 and 1984, on average 33% were aged 50 or older; from 1996-2000, 27% were 50 or older (BC Stats 2001), and from 2000-2003, 24% were in that age group (BC Stats 2004).

Approximately one third of Indian immigrants destined for BC between 1996 and 2000 chose to settle in Surrey, an outer suburb of Vancouver. Almost one-quarter chose Vancouver (BC Stats 2001). According to statistical categories, the population of South Asians by visible minority group in the City of Vancouver in 1996 totaled 26,040. By 2001 it had grown by 18% to 30,655. In the City of Surrey the South Asian population totaled 49,805 in 1996, growing by 52 % to 75,680 in 2001 (Statistics Canada 2001). In Vancouver, the South Asian population is concentrated in the South East section of the city (roughly 33rd Ave to the Fraser River and Ontario St. to Boundary). Provincial Electoral Districts Fraserview and Langara housed a combined population of 14,240 in 2001. In Surrey, this population is concentrated in the West and central parts (72nd Ave. to the Serpentine River and 120th St. to 156th St.). Provincial Electoral Districts, Green Timbers, Newton and Panorama Ridge had a combined South Asian population of 58,610 (BC Stats 2001 Census Profiles).

While South Asian immigration to the Vancouver area is concentrated, Hiebert and Ley’s (2003) survey of 2000 recent immigrants to Vancouver shows strong South Asian transnational connections. The 109 Punjabi speaking respondents indicated a high level of connectedness to their home country. 89% answered positively that they had family in their home country and 99% reported that they kept in touch. Roughly 64% had traveled to their home country and almost 58% still held property there. In their study of a Vancouver Sikh family, Walton-Roberts and Pratt (2005) discuss the ways that several members of the well-to-do family negotiated transnational geographies, and their gender, class and sexual identities. The authors show, for example, how the ‘entrepreneurial In 2003 BC’s share of immigrants from India was 19% of Indian immigrants to Canada, down from 37% in 1980 (BC Stats 2 2004).

mother’ was able to maintain her businesses in the Punjab through her extended family network and focus on building her commercial interests in Canada.

Besides geographical clustering, immigrants from India are concentrated in specific occupations. Census data indicate that a comparatively higher portion of South Asian BC immigrants than those from other source countries worked in farming, manufacturing or processing-related occupations. Recent figures indicate that Indian immigrants were relatively more likely to report an intended occupation of farm labourer (BC Stats 2001). The educational level of immigrants from India to BC has, however, increased over time, suggesting a wider educational and occupational distribution than previously, and an increase in economic class landings. Between 1996 and 2000, 30% had obtained post-secondary education (BC Stats 2001). By 2000-2003, the percentage of immigrants from India to BC with post-secondary education had increased to 35% (BC Stats 2004).

The lower education levels of immigrants than that of other immigrants in the province may in part be attributable to a relatively high portion of family class immigration in which the educational qualification is not part of the selection criteria (BC Stats 2001). Of the immigrants landing from India in BC between 2000 and 2003, 33% reported having English language skills compared with 16% of those who arrived between 1980-1984 (BC Stats 2004).

These studies provide a context for locating sponsored South Asian elderly women in Vancouver. The research shows the importance of Indian immigration to BC and Vancouver, and in particular, the significance of family class immigration that has continued (though lessened) over time, despite the emphasis in immigration policy and discourse to select economic immigrants. These studies also suggest some of the complexities and intricacies of immigration from India to Canada.

The following discussion turns to an analysis of the study of sponsored South Asian elderly women to explore what their immigration has meant to them and to their families.

The study

This study draws on twenty semi-structured interviews that took place from January to May 2005 with sponsored elderly South Asian women. The range of years in which the women had arrived in Canada was from 1987 to 2002. Their current ages varied from just over 60 to 80 years of age. Over half of the interviews took place in Surrey; the others took place in South Vancouver. Most interviews were conducted in people’s homes, a few occurred in offices in a Sikh temple. In one case, two women asked to be interviewed together, and a son was sometimes present. An immigrant community organization in Surrey and a Neighbourhood House in Vancouver helped to recruit the interview participants. A trained researcher conducted the interviews with the assistance of an interpreter who also translated the consent form into Punjabi. Most of the participants spoke Punjabi in the interviews. Two settlement workers, immigrants themselves with many years of experiences of working with Punjabi-speaking immigrants, assisted with interpretation, providing the words in English of the elderly women who spoke Punjabi. As a highly mediated, social and political site (Dyck and McLaren 2004), the interviews opened up spaces for the women to tell their stories, but not ‘like it is’. In addition, the interpretations of the words in the transcripts offered here comprise another layer of meaning. In reflecting ‘their voices’, the following sections give a preliminary sketch of the women’s immigration experiences: why they came to Canada and who sponsored them; their living arrangements and types of housing; their family networks; household work and childcare; adult children’s work and activities; farm work; community activities and mobility; health-related concerns, and implications of sponsorship.

Sponsorship to Canada

The women in this study came to Canada for a variety of reasons, which mostly had to do with family. In talking about who sponsored them and why, many of the women said they were sponsored by their eldest son, a typical pattern in Indian sponsorship (Walton-Roberts 2003) or another son (and often their daughter-in-law). Some said that their daughter (and usually her partner or husband) sponsored them. In one case, a nephew had sponsored the woman.

One came because she was a widow. Others came because they wanted to join a son or daughter, and often because of grandchildren. Some women came on their own; others were accompanied by their husbands (about half) or other members of their family. Most had left family in India, which often included children. They had settled in Canada, but maintaining relations in India

was important. Some travelled back and forth between the two countries. Here are a few examples:

So she said, I got only one son, and he came over here….when she got a grandson.

So when he got a grandson, you know, he was one month old, so that time they come over here to look after, you know, to support his son….She said she got two daughters, one daughter is here, one is in India. So specially because she got only one son when she got a grandson, so that time when she decided to come over here.

My son and daughter-in-law, they sponsored us and that’s why (we) are here. I’ve got 3 sons and 1 daughter in India.

My son, he sponsored us so we want to come, and help our son, so it’s both ways, we want to help our son but at the same time our kids, they want us here.

I came just for the sake of my children, to help them. Because they have to work, too.

--- for these children, how to manage it. I came only for these children.

These examples illustrate that the women came to Canada through various kinds of family sponsorships, but usually to help their adult children (and their spouses or partners). It would be misleading, however, to assume that sponsorship was unidirectional and simply the case of an adult child being able to sponsor and financially support a parent. As a woman noted: “We help them sometimes financially, we help them. They are at initial stages, so we bought a house, we helped, we gave some money, because they are not able as yet. Because they are only two years in this country”.


She said we have helped our kids a lot. She said we helped, trying to bring them money and other assets to settle here, financially and otherwise as well. So yes we’re very clear if we help them financially by bringing some money from India to here so they will settle quickly so that’s why they provide all the help financially and emotionally. So not only emotionally.

Family and housing In coming to Canada, the women lived in a wide range of family arrangements and different types of housing. They usually lived with their sponsor. After being in Canada for a while, some changed their housing arrangements. Most lived in an extended family household.

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