The Generational Diaspora Effect and Canadian Multiculturalism
Posted on Sep 27, 2012 / Author: Anita Singh / Tags: Education, Culture and Communities, culture, immigrant, immigration, language, muliculturalism
My dad was recently reminiscing that he has been in Canada for 35 years, nearly twice as long as he had lived in Fiji, the country where he was born. For him, Canada is the only home he knows, his time in Fiji and India now relegated to pleasant but distant memories. Like my dad, other immigrants that came into Canada after the immigration liberalization by Prime Ministers Pearson and Trudeau have now established life-long careers, settled homes, had children and are now experiencing life in Canada with their grandchildren.
However, this raises an interesting question about the integration of second- and third- generation immigrants in Canada. For some, the immigrant history of their families has had little effect on their identification with being Canadian. Indeed, it has become more politically correct to suggest that we are all Canadians, regardless of our family origin. For others, the complex interactions of their homeland identity with being Canadian is a puzzling reality - and this is especially true for second- and third-generation Canadians.
There are many indications of how later-generation immigrants are reconciling their cultural roots with their lives as Canadians. First, maintaining mother tongues has been an effective way immigrant communities have maintained cultural links. Census data has shown that language transmission from first-generation immigrants to subsequent generations has increased between 1981 and 2006. For example, 61 per cent of children born to Chinese immigrants were able to speak their mother tongue in 1981. In comparison, by 2006, 70 per cent of second-generation Chinese-Canadians were fluent in their mother language. The statistics for other communities are even more telling. The rate of second-generation Punjabi speakers increased from 64 to 81 per cent, while Korean and Japanese speakers increased from 32 to 54 per cent in the same period. While these numbers suggest that immigrant families are making a conscious effort to maintain their linguistic heritage, it suggests that the assimilative properties of Canada’s linguistic landscape have given way to a more inclusive multicultural and multilinguistic ethic over time.
Additionally, second and third- generation immigrants have become increasingly active participants in cultural activities. Toronto’s annual India Day celebrations at Yonge and Dundas Square feature children of all ages participating in dances and singing competitions, dressed in brightly-coloured sarees and salwar kameez. Similarly, the Toronto Chinatown festival and Chinese New Year celebrations show second- and third- generation Chinese-Canadians participating in parades and Dragon and Lion dances, while impressive culinary treats line Spadina Avenue. In some cases, the cultural festivities become an even bigger spectacle than those that take place at their point of origin. One example is Toronto’s Caribana parade, which originally began as a copy of the Carnival experience in the West Indies; in 2012, Caribana had over 2 million people in attendance, and has become the largest Caribbean festival in North America.
Finally, second- and third-generation Canadians have increased social integration and political participation by becoming active in various political parties, non-profit organizations, and interest groups. For example, the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada have robust and active ‘Young Professionals and Youth’ divisions within their organizations. These groups have organized social committees, networking events, charity drives and sports and dance teams which have allowed them to form strong connections within the community and be active in Canadian social and political life.
What do these trends say about both the identity of later-generation immigrants and about Canadian multiculturalism? First, it suggests that immigrants have achieved a stronger level of congruence between their Canadian and cultural roots. They have used their economic, professional, cultural and linguistic selves to build on, rather than differentiate themselves from, the Canadian experience and identity. It also suggests that Canada’s pursuit of a truly multicultural society is closer to being realized. A 2012 Angus Reid poll has shown that 63 per cent of Canadians believe that multiculturalism is a positive development for Canada. The same poll also showed that younger Canadians between 18 and 34 - those that have grown up in a multicultural environment - support multiculturalism by 73 per cent.
This is not to say there are not challenges on the horizon for immigrant integration in Canada. The same poll has shown that 41 per cent of Canadians believe that immigration rates need to decrease from their current levels, and that Canadians are divided on the positive impact of immigration. Further, there remain important divisions within immigrant communities themselves. Educated, professional immigrants have shown success in socio-economic growth and integration in Canada. In comparison, other segments continue to live in isolation, unable to reap the benefits of their immigration to Canada.
Like my dad, I celebrate the evidence that shows how younger generations of immigrants have maintained their cultural foundations and integrated into an increasingly diverse Canadian mosaic. The question is, what exactly will I be reminiscing about when my time comes?
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.