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Journal Article

"Community ambassadors" for South Asian elder immigrants: late-life acculturation and the roles of community health workers

Elder immigrants face multiple barriers to accessing health care and other basic services. The Community Ambassador Program for Seniors (CAPS), based in Fremont, California, trains volunteer "ambassadors" from several ethnic and faith communities to perform information and referral services for elders, particularly immigrants. The purpose of this study is to examine the roles of ambassadors in ecologic context as community health workers (CHWs) for clients undergoing late-life acculturation. Ambassadors from three different communities, all of South Asian heritage, were interviewed using a semi-structured guide. 20 out of 23 ambassadors from these communities participated, from December 2008 to December 2009. Data collection and analysis followed grounded theory methodology. Results are presented as an integrated explanatory model, with three major components: (1) acculturative stress, particularly within elders' families; (2) polygonal relationships, a construct that includes elders, their caregivers, CHWs, and service providers, and builds on the notion of a "geriatric triad" (Adelman, Greene, & Charon, 1987); and (3) role hybridity, a novel explanation for CHWs' social niche. Ambassadors mediated elder clients' acculturation both inside and outside elders' families. As such, ambassadors worked in polygonal relationships with elder clients and elders' children, rather than simply working in dyads with elder clients themselves. In the CAPS context, this polygonal framework integrates intra-familial and extra-familial acculturative dynamics into a single relational model. Within these relationships, CHWs exhibited hybridity of social roles, integrating familial and professional attributes, but fully achieving neither familial nor professional status. Practical implications, including importance of outreach to elders' children, accessibility of social programs, and the consequences of role hybridity as a property of CHW identity and function, are discussed.

T.R. Blair
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