If you had a broken pipe in your home, would you request that your plumber be somebody who shared an ethnicity and culture with you? Most people, in Canada at least, would not consider such a request. But what about a person coming into your home to provide care for a family member who doesn’t speak English and feels more comfortable with culturally specific care?

Unlike being a plumber, care work involves emotional labour and intimacy. Ana de Sousa, a primary caregiver, firmly believes that the culturally and linguistically specific care she is able to offer as a Portuguese woman helps to create the intimate bond that is necessary for her work.

At the nursing home where she works, Ana recalls a time when the staff were nervous because a resident was losing weight. Ana was assigned to assist, specifically because of her ability to speak Portuguese to the resident at meal times. As the pair bonded, the resident’s appetite began to recover and her weight soon stabilized.

The intimacy created through Ana’s culturally focused care work is rewarding, but it can also be draining. The emotional intensity of care work puts a lot of pressure on care workers. Ana recalls the experience of caring for her grandmother: “…there were moments that I had to walk away for a bit just to give her some timeout, and to give myself timeout.”

Ana’s experience is a reminder that language and culture can mean the difference between somebody feeling comfortable enough to eat, or go hungry. As obvious as it may sound, care work involves people caring for people. Because of this reciprocity, the worker’s well-being is always central to the larger narrative.

 

5.3% OF IMMIGRANT SENIORS
in the GTA receive care exclusively through family and friends, relative to only 3.5% of non-immigrant GTA seniors (2016).

2X
Likelihood of those whose mother tongue is not English to only receive informal care (6.4% compared to 3.4% for seniors with English as mother tongue) (2016).

6.3% OF IMMIGRANT SENIORS  
report having un-met needs in home care, relative to only 4.1% of non-immigrants (2016).