Thursday, June 21, 2007

Does Canada have an immigration problem? (cont.)

Here’s more of that digital conversation last month on Canadian Cynic’s blog, responding to my query about Canada and non-white immigration. (My first post on the subject is here.)

It’s informative stuff. Keep in mind, the Canadian Cynic site is left-of-center. Also, I’ve reproduced these comments verbatim, with misspellings and idiosyncratic typography in tact (though I have done a little editing for length).
PRETTY SHAVED APE: ... having arived planetside in 1961, i remember the lily white early years of school. my friends were scottish, italian, german, portugese, french, french canadian and from various destinations around the world. visiting a friends house, it wasn’t unusual to be greeted by oma and parents with varying thickness of accent. my folks had their own mid-atlantic british accents and i qwas the first of our bunch born on this side of the pond.

as i grew up in the 70s a greater number of people from africa, the caribbean started turning up in school and neighbourhoods. there was an initial curiosity, but among the kids not much in the way of racism.

i too recall the outbreak of name calling and ignorance directed at indian and pakistani families. there was an incident at my high school, where a girl got pushed around and subjected to slurs. the entire school got halled into the cafeteria for an assembly and we were royally chewed out.

the villain in this incident was suspended, stripped of extra-curricular privileges and had a visit from the constabulary regarding the shoving. it wasn’t cool to call people pakis after that.

in the 80s we saw a fairly quick rise in the south east asian population around my neighbourhood. viet namese and cambodians. there was some fear of gang related activity, though they tended to prey on their own.

it didn’t seem to take very long before these families were established and opening businesses. the only criminal connection i’m aware of in that community is in the grow-op business. canadians like their pot. ...

the jamaican gangs have gotten quite a bit of press.... the thing is that once immigrant families start having kids and those kids enter the school system, they make all kinds of friends. ...

[Canadian Cynic] and i live in a big university town, the university of waterloo has world famous computing and engineering faculties. my folks both worked on campus and there has always been a large chinese population here. my sense is that there are so many cultures existing here, side by side, that no one culture stands to be demonized.

in the last few years moslems have been viewed with suspicion, largely fueled by the right wing and american media fear mongering. still, i ride the bus every day and there are often women with their abayas and traditional dress, with adorable kids in tow.

we are by no means perfect or without racism but i don’t think we’ve ever been quite so homogeneous that any one group can be singled out as the “other”. there is also a fairly canadian response to people casting slurs, something along the lines of don’t be such a dickhead. every now and then, i’ll hear some goober yawping about “those people” coming to take our jobs but it doesn’t seem to get much traction and serves as a social liability. mostly, canadians just want to get along.

perhaps the most serious issue we have is with the treatment of our native population. that is one area that we really need to improve upon. there is quite a bit of resentment among canadians that the indigenous population might want us to honour our promises as regards land claims. our history in that area is shameful. it is worth noting that when south africa went shopping for a solution to the “native” problem, they modelled apartheid after canada. ...

THWAP: A college teacher of mine from the Netherlands said that the perception there was that Canada didn’t have problems integrating immigrants because we didn’t let anybody in.

Around about 1900, our future Prime Minister, then Labour Minister, Mackenzie-King, went around to all the non-white parts of the British Empire and asked that they not send their non-white subjects to Canada (as would otherwise have been their right as subjects of the Empire). He also signed a “gentleman’s agreement” with Japan to limit immigration.

I suspect that American capitalism was less-regulated and therefore less restrained in using immigration as a source of cheap labour, and therefore Canadian workers had less cause to violently protest.

Still, we had significant anti-Chinese sentiments on our west coast, just like in California. There was a fair bit of animosity towards Eastern Europeans throughout Canada.

Future socialist parliamentarian J.S. Woodsworth wrote a book about immigrants and the likelihood of their assimilation: Strangers at Our Gates ...

(There’s a more recent survey of Canadian immigration policy by [Valerie] Knowles with the same title.)

Canada didn’t start to change its immigration policies until the 1960s really, but whenever we did, there’s been difficulties.

Racialized minorities comprise 11% of Canada’s population, with the vast majority of them settling in the Toronto area, and the rest congregating in Montreal or Vancouver.

Go to Canada’s right-wing websites to read the paranoid vitriol that’s quite similar to the (who is it?) Lou Dobbs kind of ranting that’s more typical in your mass media.

Why we’ve kept a relatively better lid on things, I don’t know. Maybe Canada didn’t have as many manufacturing jobs to lose, we didn’t have as much union-busting and welfare-state shredding, so that it wasn’t so easy to lose your job to an immigrant and then plummet to the bottom of the social-economic ladder. ...

BATTY: I’ll chime in from the East Coast. Our cities are not as big as the rest of the country, and I think this means less attractive to immigrants. ... I know anytime someone from here visits Toronto for the first time they always come back with “Now I know what it feels like to be a minority. There are hardly any white people there.”

In the last 2-3 years the Atlantic provinces have been trying to attract immigrants to this area, in order to acquire skilled workers, benefit the economy, etc. We experience a brain drain here, in that after graduating from university a lot of people move to the big cities in Ontario or Alberta in order to make more money (and pay off their student loans).

I know we’ve had a few new employees where I work that have recently became Canadian citizens. I think a lot of people are just excited to talk to people from different cultures. It’s something interesting to talk about.

When I was in high school (early 90s) students from different cultures were treated well, had friends etc, but these were mostly Asian. We had no black students when I attended high school. 4 years later, when my brother went through, there were gang related fights, the skinheads vs the ‘wiggers’ aka white people who are not racist and hung out with the 1 or 2 black people. I’m not sure if they weren’t just doing it out of boredom.

I have heard derogatory names coming from the older men in my family, but not so much from my generation. The big issue here is that of language. As previously mentioned here, there is some sort of rift between the French and the English in Canada. And this has continued into my generation. Name calling and prejudice occurs between the languages, but overall we’re making it work, and it has nothing to do with immigration.

NORTH OF 49: Time for somebody from the West Coast to add to all the good stuff above.

In my high school in the late ‘60s there were a few Chinese and Japanese kids, and only one or two other ethnic groups that I can recall. Partly this is because we lived in a fairly affluent suburb of Vancouver at a time when most of the middle class was white; in other parts of the city there were more visible minorities.

Toronto, when I moved there in 1971, was an eye-opener, very colourful where Vancouver was pretty pale, though there were already sizeable Chinese, Japanese and Indian (mostly Sikh) communities in BC then.

Immigration from Asia exploded in the ‘80s and kept on through the nineties, partly because of the coming handover of Hong Kong to China, but also because successive British Columbia governments were waking up to the fact that our province was in a great position to be a trade gateway between the Asian Tiger economies and the rest of North America. ...

Greater Vancouver now has large communities of Vietnamese (many of the first were Boat People, but more have arrived since), Philipinos, and Koreans, (I’m sure I’ve left some out), in addition to the still larger communities of Chinese, Japanese and Indians, plus large numbers of Iranians, South Africans, and various Eastern Europeans.

Not many blacks, ever, which seems a bit odd, since there’s never been much of an anti-black sentiment out here (UBM, try googling Joe Fortes)-- the main historical racist conflicts have been about aboriginals, Chinese (the head tax), and of course the Japanese internment in WWII. Still, for whatever reason, not many blacks.

There have been gang and crime issues, Vietnamese gangs in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Indo-Canadian gangs more recently, though not much else that’s ethnically related. One hears talk of the “Russian Mafia”, but little hard news. ...

One unique thing about Vancouver, which gives me great hope for the future, is the rate of mixed marriage. (I’m biased here; I’m United Empire Loyalist white and my wife is Philipino.)

Last year, in the 20 to 29 age group, one couple in eight was mixed (married, cohabiting, dating). My own university-age children, and all their friends, seem to be almost totally colour blind. I say “almost” because ethnicity is not ignored; everyone is aware of it, but it seems to be only another identifier among many. ...

Summarizing: Vancouver’s handled large-scale immigration pretty well, partly because of official attitudes and anti-racism programs, but also I think because of what someone above alluded to: it’s been so many different groups, over a fairly long period, that there has never been a huge sudden shock, and so we have adjusted -- not always smoothly -- but adjusted nevertheless.

(It might also help that Vancouver is really only 120 years old; there’s not much here that’s “established”, and everyone’s either a newcomer or related to one no further than three generations back.)

Oh, one more thing: the immigration rate is not slackening, in spite of a fairly tough points system and our newest head tax (check out the “landing and processing fees”, they’re extortionate), but except for a few grumbling dinosaurs nobody seems very much bothered by it.


SJ said...

A show called Little Mosque On The Prairie was also broadcast in Canada this year on the channel CBC. It's about a Muslim family living in one of the small did pretty well ratings-wise and has been renewed for a 2nd season.

I guess that is an indication that Muslims are better integrated in Canada...I don't think people will take kindly to a show about Muslims here in the US.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I sure won't be the one to try to pitch it. There is something called "the path of least resistance"... that's where I'm at.

Anna Laperle said...

A little while ago I did a short documentary called "The Fact of Blackness" and interviewed a few Black people in Kingston about race and racism. One prevailing view what that racism in Canada existed, of course, but was kept under wraps - more subtle. "Racism with a smile", they called it. As Canadians, we're supposed to be for multiculturalism but every once in awhile, after too many beers, someone starts bitching about the Pakis and how crooked they are or how we got ragheads moving into our town or how the Chinese are stealing our healtcare. So, the racist feelings are still there about others, about immigrants, but overall we try to realize more progressive ideals through our government and our culture. We do have a show about Muslims on our national network. We have had a female Prime Minister (Kim Campbell). Our head of state, the Governor General, is a gorgeous Haitian woman (Michaëlle Jean). Making room for the Other, as Michaels Adams would say, is very much a part of our national conscience. How much room we surrender is the real debate.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, Anna. What's more and more stunning to me is how ignorant we Americans are about the culture and history of Canada.

On one hand, our two countries developed so similarly that you could put two average white guys in a room and be hard-pressed to tell which was American and which was Canadian.

On the other hand, you've described a very different national culture than ours.

Did you put that "Fact of Blackness" documentary up on YouTube??

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, very informative.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Toronto I saw an awful lot of mixed race groups of teens, far more than I see in the USA. Sure there can be conflict, but remember this is a place where the Greeks and Macedonians can have a mini-riot over who gets to place a wreath on the bust of Alexander the Great down on the Danforth.

Anonymous said...

I am an African American living in Ontario, and the comments are the usual Canadian white-washing (pun intended). Not only is the racism kept undercover and done with a smile, the more overwhelming thing is the ignorance. No one knows anything about black people they didn't see in a rap video.
I wear my hair natural, and have to hear it called an "Afro," which is a specific natural style different from what I'm sporting, and have it treated like some exotic bird to be examined. And this from the people who are being complimentary. They also feel free to touch and examine my 2 year old son's hair.
And it's not just the whites. I've received far more problems with East Asians than with any white people, especially when I went to Vancouver, where one Chinese convenience store owner refused to serve me. (I do mean "Chinese" as in born in China. I don't get this crap from Asian Canadians, meaning those born adn raised here.)
The best place was in Halifax where they have a longstnading population of black people (mostly who came from the US), even a museum on Black Canadians. Because of immigration, though, the typical black person here is an immigrant, or child of one, from the Caribbean or Africa.


Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks for commenting, AJ.

The hair thing is deep. Real deep. A good friend of mine has long dreads. And a white chick one time asked him if she could touch 'em.

He wanted to ask her in return, "Can I touch your tits?" He ended up explaining to her that his hair was "the signature on my contract with God."

Anonymous said...

LOL! If I was a man, I think I might go with that response. ;-)
(And just so you know, I found this blog because of the story.)


Undercover Black Man said...

^ I hope you keep checking me out, AJ.

Anonymous said...

I remember my Dad complaining about "immigrants" coming to Canada and taking all the jobs.

I had to remind him that HE immigrated to Canada in the 50s, and he had a job.

He said it was different, but he didn't explain how...