By Pradip Rodrigues
Listening to our national leaders and media commentators go on about our Canadian values, you’d think we had the sole proprietary on superior values. Not so long ago, I watched a video where a prominent media commentator couldn’t get over the fact that we Canadians were an incredible people. We are after all not the second best country in the world after Germany for no reason. But this commentator was comparing Canada vis-a-vis Europe when it came to refugees. While Europe was closing its doors to Syrian refugees, hundreds of private sponsors here in Canada were fighting to bring more of them into the country. To him this was just one more piece of evidence of our moral superiority that gives us bragging rights
So are we better than those selfish Europeans?
Let’s put things into perspective here. When Syrian refugees first began streaming into Europe they were heading to rich and welcoming nations like Sweden, Norway and Germany. German Chancellor Andrea Merkel then said what could rival the phrase on the Statue of Libery which is “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Chancellor Merkel essentially declared Germany would take any number of Syrian refugees who arrived, so much so that even Syrians who had no interest in fleeing decided, ‘What the hell, why not’ and set sail or took flights to Europe. Germans who formed welcome committees, opened up their communities and purse strings to feed, clothe and house this endless stream of humanity, but soon they were overwhelmed.
Millions of Syrian and other refugees from around the world continue to invade Europe, and there is little that can be done to really stop that human tide.
Now what if 500,000 Syrian refugees appeared on Canada’s border last year seeking asylum and another 500,000 were expected through 2016, would we still have private sponsors begging to take in more?
Canada took in 25,000 government-sponsored refugees last year and thousands more are being let in through private sponsorships. Many of these sponsors are church groups in small communities and genuinely want to make a difference, but are so enthusiastic only because they aren’t overwhelmed.
Immigration consultants are cashing in
Meanwhile Syrian-Canadians in the immigration business are also doing their bit to bring in Syrian refugees for a hefty fee. These are technically refugees working in the UAE. Immigration consultants with cultural and language ties to the area are setting up shop in hotels where they hold meetings with prospective Syrian refugees.
The psychology of private sponsors
When it comes to doing charitable acts, many of these volunteers are the kind you’d see volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens but honestly, many of Canada’s poor have options to get themselves off the street. Importantly they won’t ever go hungry or lack world class free healthcare. So very often Canadians who volunteer to help the poor and needy don’t feel overwhelmed with emotion or feel as good about themselves like western volunteers who build homes in Africa and feed the poor in Bangladesh. And the reason for that is that our own local poor aren’t poor in the true sense of the word. They have several government-sponsored agencies that the poor can reach out to if and when they are ready.
On the other hand, many of these church group volunteers view Syrian refugees as truly vulnerable, they’ve seen the devastation of that country and the conditions of refugees in Turkish and Lebanese camps. When they put their money and effort toward assisting one, two or three Syrian families they no doubt feel like Mother Teresa.
Ethnic Food in North America
I am really looking forward to reading Krishnendu Ray’s The Ethnic Restaurateur. Ray is chair of nutrition and food studies at New York University. Americans and Canadians revel in the fact that the restaurant landscape from coast to coast is enriched by ethnic restaurants from all corners of the globe. Foodies love to say they find Thai, Indian or Chinese cuisine scrumptiuous, but despite the praise no one is willing to pay more than $15 for a Chinese or India meal despite the complex preparation and time that goes into creating these dishes. On the other hand foodies are quite prepared to pay $30 and more for essentially boiled chicken with thick gravy with steamed veggies on the side at an Italian or French restaurant. This has led Krishnendu Ray to conclude that the way we value a culture’s cuisine is reflective of the status of those slaving in the kitchen.
So much so that if an Indian or Chinese restaurant is expensive, foodies conclude that the cuisine cannot be authentic. Ethnic food after all is expected to be cheap in order to be authentic.
It will take several decades before Indian and Chinese cuisine is accorded the status they deserve. Italian and Greek food in the 1880s was seen as inferior to the Anglo-Saxon cuisine and that perception remained until Italian and Greek people moved out of ghettos and made remarkable economic and social strides. Then suddenly their cuisine was accorded more respect.
Food, race and culture overlap
The reason why most customers won’t pay more at an ethnic restaurant is because it is considered inherently inferior cuisine often with interiors to match. Customers often have lower expectations when dining at an Indian or Chinese restaurant.
This has really created a Catch-22 situation. To stay competitive prices are kept unrealistically low. Ray in his book points out that 70 percent of Indian restaurants in New York City are run by a cheap labor force comprising of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and frankly it makes no difference to the ‘discerning’ foodie who is seeking spicy Indian curry. Spicy has become synonymous with authentic.
Japanese Sushi restaurants have become all the rage but frankly most chefs are Chinese. Getting an authentic Indian or Japanese chef of some repute from the home countries is expensive and customers aren’t going to pay more because you’ve got well-paid chefs.
All across North America and Europe a large number of ethnic restaurants are often run and operated by non-professionals who charge little or nothing for poorly prepared cuisine. Only a local would know the difference and the foodie in search of ‘authentic’ ethnic fare finds a meal satisfying if it is high on the spice factor and low on the price. Because after all, ethnic food is inferior to haute French or Italian cuisine, ofcourse no one would quite put it that way.