Last week Minister for Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney in an interview with Can-India stated that his idea of multiculturalism is rooted in integration. “I don’t want kids of Punjabi immigrants in Brampton growing up in neighborhoods that in some respects resemble their parents’ neighborhoods in Punjab. They end up being held back in terms of their integration, not perfecting English or learning Canadian customs as quickly. It may not be an acute problem now, but with the velocity of immigrants, 300,000 every year, there is a tendency to settle in certain areas and we’ve got to be careful,” he said. He couldn’t have put it more eloquently.
Coincidentally in the same week I met two foreign students from India living, studying and working part-time in Brampton who’ve been here for over a year and have yet to interact socially with any Canadian other than <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people from back home. Their English was poor and for all practical purposes they could well have been living in Punjab. Did they agree? “Yes, very much,” they answered.
Historically immigrants came from Europe where they were often fleeing famine, persecution, poverty or all three. Haunted by bad memories of the old <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>country their idea of moving to the New World was to start life anew. While keeping their unique identity they strove for acceptance from the more established and dominant Anglo-Saxons and in time they assimilated into the mainstream.
Tendency to recreate the old country
But going by the settlement patterns of some recent immigrant groups, it would appear that many haven’t come to Canada to start a new life but to live their old lives in a new <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>country. Over time they achieve their objective by colonizing neighborhoods and ultimately certain regions and making them resemble the old <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>country. Over time, these regions lose their diversity as residents belonging to other cultures move out when they find themselves outnumbered and out of place. Invariably these once multicultural neighborhoods soon turn into distinct ethnic ghettos.
I’ve heard arguments from liberal-minded individuals who believe it is really charming to have areas in a city that are inhabited predominantly by <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people belonging to the same ethnicity. They point to tourist attractions like the Danforth which is shaped by Greek immigrants, or Little Italy, Little Portugal and ofcourse the burgeoning Chinatown in Toronto. But to compare Markham and Richmond Hill which has a large and growing Chinese population and Brampton with its South Asians or Mississauga’s growing Muslim presence with the quaintness of Little Italy is a bit of a stretch.
Brampton is hardly a tourist destination. I’d find it hard to imagine a tourist looking forward to visiting Brampton because he or she has heard so much about its large South Asian population. Tourists who may visit Chinese-dominated Markham may only be after the deals they can score at the Pacific Mall.
How neighborhoods change for the worse
I once talked to a South Asian man who has lived in Brampton for 35 years. Back then he was the only non-Caucasian in the neighborhood, the neighbors were friendly, everyone played by the book. Most of the homes had single families and some had in-law suites in the basement. There were one or two cars in the driveway and sometimes when his neighbors were having a summer barbecue, they’d let him know the week before and apologize in advance for any disturbance even though their late night parties ended by 10.30 pm.
Fast forward today, the South Asian now retired still lives in the same home. His neighbors are now all South Asian. Almost all the houses have basement apartments that are rented out to one or even two families. There are more cars on the driveway. A few garages are living quarters and one garage on his street had men sitting inside drinking and playing cards late into the night. There is more noise, more disturbance. “I have not moved my house, but it just feels like I’ve moved into a new neighborhood. Some homes have offices suites where the resident has clients come in all the time. Other houses are often like hotels, with <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people coming and going at all hours. And on most weekends there are atleast one or two big parties,” he said.
Not every South Asian neighborhood in Brampton or for that matter anywhere else is like this, but here’s what tends to happen when a neighborhood ends up being populated by mostly first generation immigrants. As long as a neighborhood as the right mix, immigrants will strive to fit in and integrate. Their <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children will consider playing hockey or baseball, they will be exposed to fun things like Halloween and enjoy Christmas time when almost all the homes in their neighborhood are decorated and lit up.
Colonized neighborhoods can be stiffling
But when a neighborhood is filled with immigrants from one part of the world, they are more likely to continue living the way they did back in the old <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>country. There is little incentive to participate in mainstream activities. South Asian parents for example will feel compelled to send their <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children to learn their mother tongue rather than perfect their English or French. Others will go out of their way to immerse their <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children and themselves in their culture. It will be cricket and field hockey, not baseball and ice hockey for their kids.
I know of one pretty secular Pakistani immigrant with <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children who tells me he gets scolded and encouraged by others from his community to enroll his <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children in Koran classes and to consider moving them into a faith-based school. He narrated a story of the time he had friends with <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children over who were shocked that he had cable television and let his <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>children watch cartoons which were deemed un-Islamic. And this is one consequence of being surrounded by <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people from back home, there is pressure to conform. Integration is not high on the agenda.
Sure there are many advantages of living in a neighborhood filled with <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people from the old country, but often it can be a barrier to integration and not a bridge. Second generation immigrants who’ve never had friends outside of the community end up preferring to live and socialize the same way as their parents even in adulthood. Second generation immigrants who grow up neighborhoods filled with <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>people from all cultural backgrounds are often more socially integrated.