Blogs 2018

(Im)mobilities of transnational ageing care: negotiating separation, solidarity and conflict within Brazilian families

Dora Sampaio • December 2018


It is often said that everything happens for a reason: past experiences often imperceptibly flow into our present and help us navigate our future, often without us paying much attention to them until we are pressed to do so. My research project on (im)mobilities of transnational ageing care, with its focus on ageing Brazilian parents who stayed put, when their migrating offspring ‘sailed off’ to Europe and North America, similarly carries traces of my past personal and professional experiences.  

Ageing, as a socially embodied and emplaced process, has fascinated me from early on, still in my early 20s when I started my Master’s studies. Time and again, I have been the subject of a slightly puzzled inquiry about my interest in studying ageing so ‘early on’, when it seemed such a distant, almost unrelatable, experience. And yet, this became an enthralling journey for me. So much so, that ageing and mobilities became the topic of my doctoral research. I have found older interviewees to be some of the kindest people I have ever met. They relayed their stories, experiences, thoughts and the nitty-gritty of their lives vividly and with great patience and pleasure. Interviewing older people became a mutually appreciating discovery where together we unfolded stories of migration, homes left behind and new-found sites of belonging. As Simone de Beauvoir so effortlessly précised: ‘Nothing should be more expected than old age: nothing is more unforeseen’. From the Azores archipelago, where I conducted my doctoral research, I was ready to broaden my horizons and explore the wider geographical relevance and transnational implications of my research on ageing and mobilities. That aspiration is now leading me to South America.

Photo: Festival of the emigrant in the Azores (Dora Sampaio)

My familiarity with Brazilian migrants extends as far back as my interest in ageing and mobilities. My encounters with them took place in myriad ways around the city of Lisbon, where I also had the opportunity to interview some in the context of academic and non-academic projects. I attended their gatherings and religious celebrations, I visited their homes, places of worship and work sites. I was enthused by the warmth of a people and the candid ways in which they shared their everyday lives.

Importantly, I, too, am a migrant. I have been away from ‘home’ for over a decade, and throughout the years I have witnessed my parents – whom I had always somehow fictionalised as ageless – starting to show the first signs of fatigue and ill-health. The hard realisation that they, too, were growing older suddenly caught up with me. At the same time, my career had driven me farther afield, and I have started to wonder about the arrangements that could lie ahead of me – family and sibling arrangements, ways of being present while absent, and the creative ways of providing care from a distance.

In unsuspecting ways, or so I suppose, these events made their way, in written form, into the research project that I introduce next.

In a nutshell, my project looks at the (Im)mobilities of transnational ageing care and family re-negotiations across borders with a focus on ageing Brazilian parents and their migrant offspring in London, UK and Boston, US. I concentrate on embodied and emplaced experiences of ageing and care constructed over distance. For this, I will interview and follow the lives of Brazilian migrants in London and Boston in connection to their ageing parents in Brazil. I will trace and visually document family negotiations, solidarities and tensions in contexts in which physical mobility across borders or family reunion is not always possible. The project seeks to offer novel insights through its transnational outlook and its combination of in-depth life narrative interviews – both with individuals and their families – mind mapping, and photo-elicitation and photovoice techniques. This methodological approach allows for conversations to be elicited through photographs as well as other objects that enable the research participants to share their experiences of ageing, family separation and ongoing negotiations in contexts of (im)mobility.

But let me tell you more about ageing in ‘youthful’ Brazil. Often perceived and portrayed as a ‘young’ country, Brazil is ageing at a rapid rate. As a matter of fact, by 2025 Brazil will have the sixth largest elderly population in the world (Alisson, 2016). While in 2010, there were 39 elderly (60+) for every 100 young people (under 15), in 2040 these numbers will dramatically change to 153 elderly for every 100 youngsters (Miranda et al., 2016; Ramos, 2000). Simultaneously, the country is experiencing a new wave of emigration as a result of its recent political and economic commotions. This is affecting families – widely regarded in Brazil as traditional care providers – intergenerational solidarity, and raises questions regarding those who stay behind, notably ageing parents, and their options of ageing care. Increasingly restrictive migration policies in the United States and European countries – the main destinations for Brazilian migration – have generated rising numbers of undocumented Brazilian migrants, who are unable to move for care and family support, and have little or no ability to reunite with their family in the host country (Zong and Batalova, 2016). The challenge here, seems to me, is to understand what creative strategies migrants are crafting in order to tackle family separation and related legal constraints in contexts of ageing and need for care.

With this project, I seek to shed light on three sets of questions with wider disciplinary relevance: first, geographies and (im)mobilities of ageing care: how is transnational ageing care enacted and experienced in contexts of (im)mobility and (un)documented lives? What is the potential for new technologies to generate a presence in contexts of absence? Second, intersectionalities and inequalities of ageing: what new family and gender roles can be engendered in contexts of migration? What new intergenerational relationships can be contrived? What new care-related migration flows may emerge in response to children’s emigration? How do gendered, classed, and racialised bodies and identities play into this? Third, temporalities of ageing and migration: to what extent are the temporalities of ageing and the temporalities of migration mutually inducing?

Now that you know a little bit more about my project, I am eager to get back to you with my impressions and notes from the field. May the fieldwork begin!


References

Alisson, E. (2016). Brasil terá sexta maior população de idosos no mundo até 2025. Agência FAPESP, São Paulo. Available at: http://agencia.fapesp.br/brasil-tera-sexta-maior-populacao-de-idosos-no-mundo-ate-2025/23513/ (accessed 01 October 2018)

Beauvoir, S. de (1972). Old age. Cox & Wyman Ltd., London.

Miranda, G.M.D., Mendes, A. da C.G., Silva, A.L.A. da (2016). Population aging in Brazil: current and future social challenges and consequences. Revista Brasileira de Geriatria e Gerontologia 19 (3), 507–519. 

Ramos, L.R. (2000). Ageing in Brazil. Ageing International 25 (4), 58–64.

Zong, J., Batalova, J. (2016). Brazilian immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. Available at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/brazilian-immigrants-united-states (Accessed 01 October 2018).