What is it like to grow old in a new land? Immigrant elders have often lived lives that involve two births, and their aging process is no less complicated. Many have come to the US at a time in their lives when they have to begin afresh by learning a new language, acclimatizing to a new culture, and learning how to navigate a society that can seem alienating or even hostile. Then there’s the everyday challenges of finding a job, bringing up kids who speak a different language, and getting used to the food. Migrants can feel like children again as they begin afresh. But when they grow older, become elders in communities that are still rapidly evolving, a whole new process begins.
Queens, New York is evolving new spaces and possibilities for growing old gracefully amidst a rich mosaic of interlinked cultures, old and new. But it’s also a community that grapples with poverty and social divisions. Across the city, immigrant elders (who make up around half of all seniors) struggle with economic hardship as well as mental and physical health challenges that mainstream systems are often ill-equipped to meet.
Community groups in the South Asian diaspora are helping their elders weave many generations of history and many perspectives on modernity, and face new challenges of aging in a relatively new home. Sruti Penumetsa and Alex Wynn with the Feet in 2 Worlds Project of the New School takes a look at India Home as an example of a new movement toward community-based aging. Although many multigenerational households struggle to adjust to the stress of family caregiving, and elders cope rapid-fire changes in culture and politics across the city, instability is never far off at a time when seniors should feel the most secure in life. But at their adopted “home,” migrant seniors from many backgrounds are finding new ways to branch out across familiar roots.
--Michelle Chen, July 7, 2017
I Feel Like I’m Home
Senior citizens from India and across South Asia who have immigrated to New York City have found an antidote to loneliness and isolation at India Home, a series of community centers in Queens.
Reporters Sruti Penumetsa and Alex Wynn produced an audio portrait of this unique program that offers everything from classes in Yoga and Ayurvedic practices to comfort food and information on social services.