Haroon Siddiqui on South Asians
South Asians | Lecture delivered
for The Annual Asian Heritage Month.
Lecture Presented in association with Innis College, University of Toronto,
the Centre for South Asian Studies and the Hong Kong University
Alumni Association of Ontario |
May 18, 2004
Before I speak about South
Asians, I want to tell you a story about South Asians and astronaut
No sooner had Armstrong landed
on the moon and taken one small step for man and a giant step
for mankind than he saw a Sikh standing on the lunar surface.
"When the hell did you
get here?" he asked.
"Oh, I came right after
Partition," said the Sikh.
For those of you not familiar
with the reference, Partition refers to the 1947 division of
British India into India and Pakistan -- a partition that triggered
mass migrations of people north to south and vice versa. Millions
of people had to move and make a new life in new places.
As Armstrong listened to and
looked at the Sikh, he realized that the bearded and turbaned
man had no space suit, no oxygen supply, nothing.
"How can you live like
that on the moon?" he asked.
"Ah," said the Sikh,
"we Indians, we can live anywhere!"
That's how 20 to 22 million
Indians now live all over the world. There's no country you can
go to where you would not find Indians.
That's one of the best examples
of living globally and thinking globally.
Who are South Asians?
Let's first clarify the definition of South Asians. For the purposes
of the census, Statistics Canada defines South Asians -- rather
awkwardly but usefully -- as persons, other than aboriginal people,
who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.
This is a more specific designation
than some of the old ones which, besides being imprecise, tended
to be racist.
About 100 years ago, South
Asians were called Hindoos, even though most of them were Sikhs.
In the 1930s, immigrants from India were called simply "Asians".
In the 1970s, they were derisively called "Pakis",
though most were not from Pakistan.
Next, they were called "East
Indians," to distinguish them from the West Indians and
native Canadian "Indians", even though there's no country
called East India.
The Indian Diaspora
The story of the Indian Diaspora begins in India after 1834,
the year of the abolition of slavery. The end of slavery caused
labour shortages in various British domains. Imperial Britain
went looking for labour in its far-flung empire which, at that
time, had a staggering 372 million people around the globe, three-fourths
of them in India, the biggest jewel in the British crown.
So, it came to be that hundreds
of thousands of Indians were shipped as indentured labourers
to the tea, coffee, rubber and sugar plantations of Ceylon, Malaya,
Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, British Guiana (now Guyana), Jamaica
and British Honduras (Belize). Others were sent to work on the
first African railroad, from the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria.
Sikhs went as policemen to Singapore and Hong Kong. Sikhs and
Nepali Gurkhas were recruited as soldiers.
The Dutch and French colonials
had their own recruitment drives, for Dutch Guiana (now Suriname)
and Martinique and Guadeloupe.
These "coolies of the
empire" were followed overseas by the merchant classes of
Gujarat, on the Arabian Sea north of Bombay, to provide spices
and services to fellow Indians abroad.
It was an illustrious son of
Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi, who served as a lawyer among South African
Indians before returning home to emancipate India from the British
and leave a legacy of non-violence that would inspire such disparate
figures as Canada's own Ovide Mercredi, former national chief
of the Assembly of First Nations.
The story of South Asians in
Canada begins in earnest 1901, inevitably, with a British connection.
That was the year of the coronation
of Edward VII for which Indians and Canadians alike sent contingents
of soldiers to London. India was represented by 83 officers of
the Hong Kong Regiment who docked in Vancouver to a "rousing
welcome," according to the Daily Province, which headlined
the story: "Turbaned men excite interest awe-inspiring men
from India held the crowds."
Mostly Sikhs, they boarded
the train for Montréal and sailed for London. They made
their return journey to Hong Kong through Canada as well.
These visitors were followed
two years later by 45 others who became the first South Asian
immigrants to Canada. They were the unintended beneficiaries
of the 1904 Canadian law imposing a prohibitive $500 head tax
on Chinese immigrants.
By 1908, there were 5,179 Indians, all men, too many to be tolerated
as exotica. The Vancouver press portrayed them as a danger to
chaste "white women." J.S. Woodworth -- the Methodist
founder of the CCF, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party
-- described them as "decidedly grotesque," a people
"sadly out of place in Canada" who "cannot be
Vancouver's Trades and Labour
Councils passed a motion of "emphatic protest" against
the "Hindoo (sic) labourers," even though not one was
The Trades and Labour Council
of Canada called for the exclusion of "races that cannot
be assimilated," a resolution it kept approving annually
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, under
relentless pressure from Liberal and Tory Members of Parliament
from B.C., wrote: "The situation with regard to the Hindoos
is serious . . . and, to speak frankly, I see no solution for
it except quietly checking the exodus from India."
In 1907, the B.C. legislature
disenfranchised all "natives of India not of Anglo-Saxon
parents," and barred them from logging on Crown lands as
well as entering the legal and medical professions.
A year later came the infamous
rule of "continuous journey."
One had to travel non-stop
from India to be allowed on Canadian shore, but no shipping line
offered direct passage. Another rule required them to pay $200
on arrival. Another barred those not speaking a European language.
Yet another disallowed the re-entry of those who had gone home
to visit wives and family. Disheartened, many returned home or
smuggled themselves to Yuba County, California.
By 1911, the Indian population
was halved, to 2,342, at a time when the West was welcoming 100,000
This racist disparity in the
treatment of white and non-white immigrants was dramatized in
1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese freighter hired by an
enterprising Sikh from Malaya, anchored in Burrard Inlet on May
23. It carried 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, and included two women
and three children who had been picked up in Hong Kong, Shanghai
and two Japanese ports, Moji and Yokohama.
Unbelievable as it sounds today,
they were not allowed to disembark for two months, as legal and
political battles raged in Vancouver, including two demonstrations
by their compatriots and a counter-rally by the whites led by
As food and water dwindled
and living conditions deteriorated aboard the ship, one passenger
died and many became sick.
Unmoved, the port authorities
despatched 160 armed policemen aboard the sea-going Scallion
to force the Komagata Maru out to sea. When that failed, Prime
Minister Robert Borden ordered the gunboat H.M.C. Rainbow to
escort it out into the Pacific Ocean on July 23.
After Hong Kong and Singapore
refused entry, the passengers reached India where British police
killed 26 and jailed many for five years.
The conscription crisis in
Canada offered a telling commentary on official racism. While
many French Canadians were resisting, many South Asian Canadians
were offering their services, and 50 were called for medicals,
including a Toronto Sikh, R. Gill. But they were turned down,
primarily because of the bar against those other Asians, the
were made to sit out a war in which British India and Indians
played a heroic role and the maharajahs contributed millions
of pounds in cash and gold to the allied war effort. The Nizam
of Hyderabad, for example, donated 23 million British pounds
to World War II, making him by far the single largest donor to
the allied war efforts.
Partly as a reward for India's
loyalty, as well as the impending independence of India, Canada
granted South Asians, along with others, the right to vote in
1947. Ottawa opened a visa office in New Delhi, and in 1951 set
a quota of 150 Indians, 100 Pakistanis and 50 Ceylonese, relaxing
it further in 1957.
In 1962 it removed almost all
racial barriers to immigration, and in 1967 further liberalized
the law, just as British doors were being slammed shut on Asians.
Engineers, doctors, skilled white-collar workers -- the urban
elite of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- started boarding flights
to Toronto and Montréal.
Canadians welcomed them with
open arms, stopping women on the street to admire their silk
saris or inviting strangers home for a meal and a discussion
about exotic India. But when about 175,000 had come by the late
1970s, an old pattern repeated itself. Just as the surge of Sikh
immigrants in early 1900s had led to anger in Vancouver, a backlash
greeted the latest arrivals, especially in Toronto. "Pakis"
were shunned, harassed and humiliated on the streets, in apartment
buildings, in schools and at work, and ill-treated by immigration
and customs officials, as well as Bell Canada operators handling
their overseas calls. Headlines from The Star tell the tale of
those sad times:
Pakistani deaf after racial
Students talk of racism in schools
Racism costs top salesman his livelihood
In 1975, a South Asian, who
was a Tanzanian immigrant, was pushed in front of a moving subway
train by a group of youths, and was crippled for life.
All this ugliness pushed the
well-known Indian-born novelist Bharati Mukherjee into quitting
Canada for the United States. In a searing essay for Saturday
Night magazine, she outlined her double burden of being brown
and a woman in Canada:
"I was frequently taken
for a prostitute or a shoplifter, frequently assumed to be a
domestic. The society, or important elements of it, routinely
made crippling assumptions about me and about my 'kind.' People
first saw the colour, then the gender. Never the person. I was
imprisoned in a racial image and locked into all its stereotypes.
I quickly learned that the country is hostile to its citizens
who had been born in hot, moist continents like Asia."
Acclaimed Toronto filmmaker
Deepa Mehta identified with Mukherjee's rage: "I've been
called a Paki bitch many times; I've had tomatoes thrown at me,"
However, others, including
myself, never faced any racism.
Neither extreme obviously represents
There is no denying the discrimination,
overt and subtle, faced by South Asians; and the chronic and
yet-undressed scandal of their under-employment. I will come
back to that in a minute.
South Asians today
Not only have South Asians come to Canada from South Asia but
from the vast Indian Diaspora.
Most of the Indians in East
Africa have come to Canada, fleeing Idi Amin's and other regime's
racism -- about 55,000 of them from Uganda (b. 10,710), Tanzania
(19,315) and Kenya (19,815). About 125,000 have come from the
Caribbean, mainly from Guyana (b. 83,535) and Trinidad. Another
25,000 have come from Fiji.
Many have done a second immigration
- having gone from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to the Persian
Gulf, and England, and then migrated from there to Canada.
According to the last census,
done in 2001, the total of South Asians was 917,000. They are
the second largest visible minority after the Chinese, who totall
1.02 million. About half are from India. (438,000, from single
The figure of 917,000 was from
three years ago. Now the total is well past one million.
That's more than the population of five provinces, namely, Saskatchewan
(978,000), Nova Scotia (908,000), New Brunswick 729,000, Newfoundland
(512,000) and, of course, eight times the size of PEI (135,000).
In the Toronto CMA -- that
is, Census Metropolitan Area, from Oakville to Ajax and north
up to Lake Simcoe -- South Asians constitute the number one visible
minority -- at 473,000 compared to Chinese population of 409,000
and with blacks in third spot at 310,500. That's four times more
South Asians here than Filipinos, 133,000.
In the Greater Toronto Area,
which includes Oshawa and Burlington, StatsCan adds another 18,000
South Asians -- for a total of 491,00 South Asians in the GTA.
For the three years since, add at least another 60,000, for a
total of 550,000 South Asians in the GTA.
But, even at the 2001 figure
of 491,000, there are more South Asians here than the total population
of Hamilton (484,000), or London (432,000), or Kitchener (414,000);
or Halifax (359,000), or Victoria (311,000), or Windsor (307,000);
or more than the combined population of Saskatoon and Regina
(225,000 and 192,000 respectively).
Or, there are as many South
Asians in GTA as there are Newfoundlanders in Newfoundland.
Among the South Asians, Hindus constitute the largest religious
segment, at 297,000 across Canada. (Not all Hindus are South
Asians but almost all are, except for Hare Krishna and other
white converts to Hinduism).
A close second are the Sikhs,
at 278,000 across Canada.
The third group are Muslims
at 212,805. (This is South Asian Muslims we are talking about,
because Muslims have become the largest non-Christian religious
group in Canada at 579,000).
In Toronto CMA, the numbers
are: Hindus 191,300; Muslims 124,735; and Sikhs, 90,500.
There are more Hindus in Toronto
CMA than there are Baptists or Presbyterians or Jews.
Five Indian languages feature in the top 25 languages spoken
Chinese, as we know is the
third most spoken language after English and French. But Punjabi
is in sixth place -- with 284,000 speakers across Canada. Tamil
speakers total 97,670, Urdu 86,000, Hindi 61,000 and Gujarati
In Toronto CMA, Punjabi speakers
total 99,625, Tamil speakers 77,000, Urdu 57,000, Gujarati 36,000,
and Hindi 22,000.
But, here is the more interesting
Nearly 84 per cent of South Asians speak English. Out of Canada's
917,000 South Asians, 780,000 speak English. In Toronto, a similar
proportion applies. Using my population projection for this year
of 550,000 South Asians in GTA, we would end up with 490,000
English-speaking South Asians in this region. That's more English-speaking
South Asians here than the whole population of Hamilton.
Another figure: English is
the home language of 396,000 South Asians. i.e. 43 per cent of
South Asians speak only English at home.
This explains why the most
dominant media in the South Asian community are in English: the
five-day a week evening news on OMNI, in English; several TV
and radio shows English. Among the newspapers, the leading ones
are in English: Asian Voice and India Abroad. The glossy fashion
and bridal magazines that are coming out are in English.
Those who may not know that
the Indian languages have, in fact, enriched the English language
with such colourful words as bazaar, bamboo, bungalow, chador,
chit, cummerbund, khaki, pashmina, pyjama, pepper, punch, maharajah,
teak, sandal, shawl and veranda.
A third of South Asians are Canadian-born. They, along with South
Asians who grew up in Canada, constitute a significant chunk
of new entrants to Ryerson, York and Toronto universities, as
well as many of community colleges, especially George Brown.
(Hence the move by the universities to recruit South Asians to
their boards of governors and to launch fund-raising drives in
The median age of South Asians
is much younger. It is 28 for Muslims, 30 for Sikhs and 32 for
Hindus, compared to 37 years for population as a whole.
We have seen some spectacular individual successes:
Sir Christopher Ondaatje, who
gave $1 million to the South Asian Gallery at the ROM -- an idea
born in the Sindh;
Navin Chandaria of Conros Corp.
-- North America's biggest fire log manufacturer and the biggest
competitor to 3M corporation;
The other side of the Chandaria
family runs Camcroft on five continents, run by Keshav Chandaria
who was awarded the Order of Ontario for his humanitarians services
The Ajmera brothers, Sam and
Shreyas, of Seenergy Foods;
Rai Sahi, head of Acktion Corp.
a major Canadian real estate and property management company
with extensive retail, office, industrial and residential holdings;
Aditya Jha, born in Nepal,
is one of the founders of technology company Isopia Inc., sold
to Sun Microsystems Inc.;
Vinod Patel, chief executive
officer of the Northampton Group Inc., which has an interest
in 13 hotels in southern Ontario and Quebec.
Among the executives, there
has been Clarence Chandaran, CEO of Nortel -- before the stock
fell -- and there is Sabi Marwah, CFO of the Bank of Nova Scoria
and a director of The Toronto Star.
There is a whole crop of middle
and upper management of South Asians working their way up, especially
in the banking and investment industries. That's because South
Asians are said to have the highest savings per capita.
But there seems to be a glass
ceiling at the higher levels, especially on corporate boards.
In the civil service, there is Cambridge-educated Nurjehan Mawani,
a 44-year-old Muslim woman from Kenya, headed the largest tribunal
in Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, and is now one of three
Civil Service Commissioners of Canada.
Other economic indicators
South Asians have been an integral part of the suburban boom.
The last census shows that whereas Toronto CMA grew by 9.8 percent,
the regions around Toronto grew even more:
York region, 23.2 percent
Peel region, 16 percent
Durham region, 10.5 percent
Halton region, 10.4 percent
Cities within those regions
are also enjoying a population boom. Whereas in previous generations,
immigrants came to the cities and then gravitated to the suburbs
in the second or third generation, today's immigrants are going
to suburbs within the first generation. That means, first, that
most of them are doing well economically, or at the very least,
bringing a sizeable bank account with them into Canada, and secondly,
that your service areas are geographically bigger and your clientele
is different, as are the municipal governments that you must
South Asians have fed this
boom, population-wise and by the purchase of homes and paying
property taxes - a lesson that Hazel McCallion has obviously
The economic health of South
Asians is above the average for visible minorities but below
that of Chinese community: The average Canadian employment income
is $43,000, that of visible minorities is $37,957, that of the
Chinese is $40,817 and of South Asians $39,470.
But not everything is rosy.
Earlier generation of immigrants used to earn more than the native-born.
Now they don't.
There are several reasons. First, Canadians themselves are more
educated. Second, the economy itself has changed. Third, there
is a huge discounting of experience for incoming immigrants,
which is what creates the issue of lack of access to trades and
All immigrants are earning
less than previous cohorts, and are taking longer to catch up
with the average Canadian incomes. They are now taking 16 to
17 years to catch up. The latest survey released by StatsCan
shows that immigrants who came between 1995 and 1999 earned 24
per cent less in their first year than the cohort that came in
One third of that 24 per cent
is explained by the fact that all entrants to the job market
in Canada are earning less than the 1965-1969 entrants to the
job market. Another third is explained by origin and lack of
familiarity with either official language. This partially affected
South Asians. The final third is explained by the total discounting
of experience. This is what has most affected South Asians.
There is one inescapable conclusion:
The resistance to foreign training and qualifications has grown
in direct proportion to the fact that most of the immigrants
are no longer white.
Professor Geoffrey Reitz of the University of Toronto estimated
the loss of productivity due to this discounting of foreign education
and experience, and he put the figure at $15 billion. If a third
is applied to South Asians, they -- and the Canadian economy
-- have lost $5 billion.
What has the community done
about it? Not much, except those affected have formed associations
and have been agitating for public policy changes. The Maytree
Foundation, headed by Alan and Judy Broadbent, has done more
than any South Asian organization.
There is yet another worrying
In 2000, Professor Michael
Ornstein of York University measured how 89 ethno-racial groups
fared, reported "extreme high levels of poverty" among
four groups (Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Afghans and Somalis). In
the next tier of poverty were three groups of South Asians: Tamil,
Pakistani and Bangladeshis.
Another report, just done for
the United Way, "Poverty by Postal Code", told that
of all the poor people living in the very poor neighbourhoods,
eight in 10 are visible minorities. There is no breakdown of
South Asians available in this report, but since a third of new
immigrants are South Asians, you can safely assume that there
are great pockets of poverty in the community.
One ought not to draw a wrong
conclusion from this: These people are poor not because of their
genetics but because they happen to be the latest immigrants,
battling newer economic forces and systemic racism.
This is the conclusion of the
United Way, the Social Planning Council and Professor Ornstein.
This is bad news for Toronto the Good. This is bad news fro South
In certain areas, the disadvantages
are being passed on to the second generation, to the Canadian-educated
children. We are ending up with extreme wealth and extreme poverty
in the South Asian community.
What is the community doing
about it? Not much! The job has been left mostly to social service
immigrant agencies, run mostly by women and for women. This is
not good. While you cannot change all those conditions overnight,
the easiest and quickest thing you can do is to help provide
mentorship and a network of references. Those two factors alone
would make a great deal of difference.
Literature and sports
In the field of literature: Michael Ondaatje from Sri Lanka,
Rohinton Mistry from Mumbai; Moiz Vassanji from East Africa,
Neil Bissoondath from Trinidad and Ottawa and Cyril Daybedeen
from the Caribbean.
In sports, there were the Canadian
squash champions Sharif Khan and Sabir Butt. There is Emmanuel
Social and cultural
There's a great cultural ferment in the South Asian community
at both the classical and popular level. Classical music and
dance studious and performances abound. There is also an artistic
renaissance. And Bollywood movies and performances, as the one
in Toronto on Sunday, are doing well.
At the social level, the Ismaili
community has clearly provided the lead. A religiously and socially
a cohesive group, working under a progressive religious leader,
they have moved by leaps and bounds. The Aga Khan Foundation
is now the biggest Canadian foreign aid program outside of CIDA.
Also, the community runs the annual Partnership Walk for the
last 25 years. This year's -- on Sunday, May 30 -- will involve
60,000 volunteers and 800 corporate sponsors who between them
will raise $3.25 million, which will be matched by CIDA.
The South Asian component of
the United Way, led by Bahadur Madhani, is doing a great job
of tapping the community both for funds and volunteers.
How are South Asians doing
in politics? Here,
the Diaspora experience is useful.
Where the South Asians did
not participate politically, i.e. in Africa, they suffered the
political consequences in expulsions, as led by Idi Amin in 1972.
Where the community participated in politics, as in South Africa,
the community is strong. In Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago
-- where Indians formed a majority or near-majority -- South
Asians have had ups and down but remain in the throes of political
battles, led by the late Cheddi Jagan in Guyana and Mahendra
Chaudhry in Fiji.
Here in Canada, the political
involvement has been patchy. The Sikhs are clearly the most successful.
It is one of the unintended consequences of the 1984 attack on
the Golden temple. When some of the Sikh leaders, scandalized
by the fury of some of the Sikhs and the Air India tragedy in
1985, decided to channel the energy into peaceful democratic
We can see the results today.
First South Asian premier Ujjal Dossanjh and at the federal level,
Herb Dhaliwal. In Ontario, we have Harinder Takhar. The second
group that has been active have been the Sri Lankan Tamils -
again, driven by home country politics.
A similar thing is happening in the United States.
Muslims are organized on behalf
of the Kashmir issue or on behalf of Pakistan. The Indo-American
community has been working hard on behalf of India. They were
instrumental in Bill Clinton's visit to India, for example, and
in the creation of the 185-member India caucus in Congress. They
have also been working with the Israeli lobby, to cooperate on
pressing Pakistan to stop infiltration in Kashmir, and also on
the sale of four Phalcon early-warning radar aircraft to India.
The role of the 1.8 million-strong
Indo-American company is helped along by the fact that it is
a rich community -- led by 38,000 doctors, by motel owners (who
own 40 per cent of America's motels) and others in the hi-tech
sector. Back to Canada, Professor Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson
University is finishing a study on electoral participation of
Despite being 43 per cent of
the population of Toronto, visible minorities have only 11 per
cent representation on city council; 13.6 per cent of the MPPs,
and 4.5 per cent of the MPs.
On Toronto council, there is
only one South Asian: Bas Balkissoon. This despite the fact that
last fall's election was a golden opportunity -- there was a
31 per cent turnover of personalities on council. Yet visible
minorities did not increase their overall representation: five.
Professor Siemiatycki also
analyzed voter turnout. Of the 44 wards, he compared the five
with the highest proportion of the foreign-born to the five with
the highest proportion of the Canadian-born and the news is bad:
Turn out was lowest in the foreign-born wards -- three of them
in Scarborough and two in North York.
He also analyzed voter turnout
in last year's provincial election. He found not much difference
in the turnout among homeowners versus renters, high versus low
level of education, and high-income and low-income voters --
the traditional indicators on turnouts. Instead, he did find
a co-relationship between voting and immigrants, visible minorities
and mother tongue. The higher the quotient of one of those three
factors, the lower the turnout.
So, the news is bad on two
fronts: Economically and politically, the system is beginning
to replicate inequities in the labour market and in the corridors
While you cannot totally control
the first, you can control the second -- the power of votes.
And all visible minority communities are failing. South Asians
are an integral part of that failure. This extremely ironic,
because South Asians tend to be political junkies and are big
consumers of news.
Why the failure?
I can speculate. One, most
segments of the South Asian population are fixated on back home
politics. Which is their right. But the more they are concentrating
on this, the less they may be concentrating on issues here. Second,
I think there's elitism at work -- those who have done well don't
do enough for those who haven't.
Third, it's a cultural and
immigrant thing. People are too easily satisfied with the politicians.
Take a picture and came to dinner. I'd rather you nail them on
the agenda, whatever it is. South Asians do not vote for any
one issue -- whatever affects the rest of the population affects
them as well. But they, like any other group, need to develop
their own agenda and hold the politicians' feet to the fire.
A federal election is coming,
and we will see what South Asians will do.
The Canadian Islamic Congress,
for example, has issued a report rating the MPs. Some others
are gravitated to the NDP for its staunch stance on civil rights
in the post-9/11 era.
Speaking of the post-9/11 era, racists don't distinguish between
Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. It was a Hindu temple that was firebombed
in Hamilton. It is the Sikhs who are also being hauled up at
the American border or in pre-clearance at airports. 9/11 was
committed by 19 Arabs but the people hauled up in the United
States and deported were illegal Pakistanis. The 23 young men
arrested in Canada last year on suspicion of terrorism were Pakistanis
and an Indian. Every single one of the terrorism-related charges
was withdrawn. Yet through this scandal, the battle was fought
by young people, not any of the established South Asian organizations.
There is a dangerous trend
coming from the United States in the battle against terrorism:
which is to lay collective blame on all Muslims, or those who
may look like Muslims. So this is not a problem just confined
to this or that group but to all citizens.
Public opinion/public policy
In the media and in the public domain, South Asians are still
either exoticized or criminalized in news coverage -- on arranged
marriages, on parent-youth tensions, on violence against women.
None of these problems is to be hushed up. Yet what is forgotten
that these problems are not the exclusive preserve of the South
Asian, or any other minority, community. It's in the nature of
Canada, where every new immigrant group throws up problems.
There is the racist narrative
of the so-called "hijacking of nomination" meetings
by ethnic voters. Which is a load of rubbish. Ethnics no more
hijack the political process than Bay Street does, or any other
vested interest. That's what democracy is all about.
There is the hoary hypothesis of South Asians voting for the
Liberal Party because it "let them" into the country.
Most came under Mulroney years.
South Asians generally relate to solid things: solid bank account,
solid gold, solid homes, solid properties. They don't really
relate to the soft power of the mainstream media narrative and
the soft power of public opinion, which, in turn, drives public
Still, South Asians make for
great immigrants. Coming from a 3,000-year-old civilization,
they have a great sense of self-worth. Coming from family-oriented
and child-centred culture, they tend to be a very personally
secure people. On balance they have done very well. Their overall
track record is proof of their tenacity, hard work and the disciplined
pursuit of wealth and academic and professional excellence. It
is also a testimonial to the opportunities modern Canada affords
all its citizens, prejudice and discrimination notwithstanding.
Despite the neo-conservatism
in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the conservatives failed to
turn Canadians against immigration and immigrants. It is one
of the unheralded triumphs of the Canadian pluralistic model
that Canadians have developed a visceral repugnance to the politics
of the far right when it comes to immigration issues.
No national anti-immigrant
party can hope to do well in Canada, as happened in Australia,
Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy and Netherlands.
Whereas anti-immigrant parties have done particularly well in
urban European centres, such as Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp,
exactly the opposite is true in Canada. No Canadian leader, or
political party, can hope to do well by alienating immigrants
There is no one Canadian race.
There is no one fixed Canadian culture. But there is the Canadian
creed - that of the common good. Let's keep improving it.
The project was made
possible with the support of the
of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy
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