Why immigrants need to look beyond their community

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week I interviewed Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Arshad Khan on the release of his documentary called Abu. We spoke about his life growing up in Canada as a new immigrant and what he told me is what I’ve heard from other immigrants who came here at an early age- that kids in school can be cruel.

Many second-generation South Asians who were born here say they experienced ‘racism’ from their white peers, notable among them is NDP leader Jagmeet Singh who says he had his turban pulled in school and was beaten up on occasion.

But many Canadian immigrants who were brought here as children or in their early teens say they were victimized and bullied in school, oftentimes by South Asian children who were born here and looked down on those who were fresh off the boat. That was the experience of Arshad Khan who suffered at the hands of his classmates who shared his background.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has repeatedly stated that he was bullied as a young boy growing up in Scarborough, he even had his turban pulled off on occasion, but he hasn’t revealed the ethnicity of his tormentors.

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Arshad Khan like so many new immigrants were bewildered as they made attempts to fit in and become Canadian. Arshad being a young boy was especially keen on fitting in and becoming Canadian. There was one problem, he didn’t know how. No one was there to chaperone him around town and introduce him to the culture.

He did have family and friends that had come to Canada much earlier but they were indifferent toward him and his family to put it mildly. The successful friends and family they knew wanted as little to do with these fresh-off-the-boat people.

This sort of alienation faced by new immigrants and inability to navigate the culture causes them to retreat into traditional community groups that get together to celebrate festivals that are no longer celebrated on a large scale even in the countries of their birth and inevitably they fall back on religion, oftentimes experiencing a religious awakening in Canada. This is why on seeing NRIs in the west, Indian visitors are shocked at their adherence to tradition and social and cultural backwardness. They would not fit into the societies they left behind and neither can they successfully fit in here in among Canadians.

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Meanwhile you have the spectre of a previous wave of immigrants looking down on immigrants who came later.

So here you have second-generation South Asians who were born here who say they were victims of racism, those who suffered the same fate as young immigrants call it bullying.

Many second generation immigrants who’ve experienced racism and bullying as children often end up projecting an unconscious or conscious bias against new immigrants. I’ve heard stories from new immigrants who’ve said they’ve felt disrespected by second generation South Asian managers who tend to gravitate toward white colleagues and do everything they can to distance themselves from new immigrants.

In many companies, you end up seeing new immigrants socializing with each other often because few Canadians or second generation Canadians want to be seen with them.

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Not having a kind of social mentorship from Canadians and other immigrants with tenure results in immigrants finding it harder to integrate socially and professionally.

I know many immigrants who are made aware of the location of temples, grocery stores and cultural associations from their towns and villages back home when they have visited some settlement agencies seeking social interactions. While that serves its purpose to some extent, it leaves progressive immigrants hoping to make wider and more diverse connections with other Canadians clueless on how they could go about it. The unintended consequence is that few immigrants want to leave their comfort zones in big cities and find newer opportunities in smaller communities across the country. It also inhibits them when it comes to fully participating in the mainstream. This is something that is often overlooked by the promoters of multiculturalism who encourage just the opposite. – CINEWS

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