Do Ethnic Enclaves Impede Integration?

Marina Jimenez, Globe and Mail (Toronto), Feb. 8, 2007

It is here, on the border of Brampton and Mississauga, that it is most striking: Canada’s famed multicultural mosaic has morphed into a series of monocultural neighbourhoods.

If it weren’t for the snow and salt in the parking lot, Plaza McLaughlin Village outside Toronto could as easily be in New Delhi. There is goat and lamb for sale at the Doaba meat shop. The latest Bollywood hit, Guru, is at West End Video. You can do your taxes, go to the doctor and book a flight in Punjabi. And the clock in the photocopy shop shows the time in New Delhi. The only Caucasian faces are the officers at Brampton’s community policing station.

The number of ethnic enclaves like this one has exploded in Canada. In 1981, there were only six in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. By 2001, there were 254, according to a study by Statistics Canada, which defines ethnic enclaves as communities with 30 per cent of the population from one visible minority group.

Some neighbourhoods are low-income, underscoring the reality that visible minority families make up three-quarters of the country’s poor. In a way, they mirror earlier waves of immigrants, such as Jews and Italians, who congregated in ethnic enclaves out of economic necessity and cultural identity long before anyone had ever heard of multiculturalism policies.

Today, Canada seeks out immigrants with more money and earning power, and many bypass inner-city neighbourhoods and head straight for the suburbs. There, in expanding and well-heeled communities, they either buy houses or rent basement suites in the homes of other newcomers.

“In Canada, we may live in a multicultural society, but the evidence suggests that fewer and fewer of us are living in multicultural neighbourhoods,” says Allan Gregg, who has written about geographic concentrations of immigrants and is chairman of the Strategic Counsel, a polling and market-research firm. “We spend so much time congratulating ourselves on tolerance and diversity that we have allowed it to slide into self-segregated communities, isolated along ethnic lines.”

The change over the past 15 years has been dramatic, with the three largest visible minority groups—Chinese, South Asians and blacks—experiencing a marked increase in their residential concentration, according to Statscan.

Second-generation immigrants of South Asian origin are snapping up homes in new developments such as Brampton’s Chandni Chowk Plaza project, named for a famous Delhi trading centre. Chinese families are flocking to Markham in north Toronto, with its five Chinese-themed malls, while on the other side of the country, they settle in Richmond, B.C., where the Golden Village mall boasts Asian shops with Chinese-language signs. In Richmond, the immigrant population grew from 31 per cent in 1986 to 54 per cent in 2001; in Brampton, it increased from 19 per cent to 40 per cent over the same period. The black community, which is more diverse in its origin, tends to be less residentially segregated.

What are the long-term consequences of this explosion in ethnic enclaves? Does self-isolation impede integration? Will the children of these immigrants eventually blend into Canadian society like previous generations, or will their status as visible minorities block their progress no matter where they live?

Mostly, it’s too early to tell. But one thing is already clear: Multiculturalism isn’t working that well for visible-minority newcomers.

In a landmark study this year, University of Toronto sociologist Jeffrey Reitz and co-author Rupa Banerjee concluded that the offspring of visible minority immigrants integrate at a slower rate than the children of white immigrants. They are less likely to identify as “Canadian” and report more incidents of discrimination.

Lovedeep Padda, who works with his father in the Indian Punjabi Bazaar at Brampton’s Plaza McLaughlin Village, says he has never experienced discrimination for the simple reason that he has grown up surrounded almost exclusively by other Sikh Canadians. The Canadian-born son of Sikh immigrants, he has also never been to summer camp, taken in a Blue Jays or Maple Leafs game or a rock concert.

“Parents who come from back home and raise their kids here, they’re not aware of things like summer camp,” he says. “Their kids just go to school, temple and back home.”

Some researchers are beginning to question whether the nation’s famed multiculturalism policy—first articulated in 1971 by prime minister Pierre Trudeau and still considered a model in Europe—may in fact be exacerbating differences.

Canada has the highest per capita immigration in the world—three times higher than the United States—and its geographic self-segregation of immigrants and their offspring could become an explosive issue. So far, the country has avoided the social upheaval under way in Europe, where riots struck the mainly Arab and African Paris suburbs two years ago. In London, there was the terrorist attack of July 7, 2005, and, more recently, the arrest of nine Muslims for allegedly plotting to kidnap and behead a Muslim member of the British Army.

In Canada, there are disturbing signs of cracks in the mosaic. While many newcomers disappear willingly into ethnic silos, some Canadians are starting to reject diversity. In Quebec, the debate about accommodating religious minorities has been heated, with critics denouncing single-sex public swimming classes for Muslims. The town of Hérouxville recently issued a set of rules for newcomers, including a ban on veiling one’s face, and a reaffirmation of cultural norms such as drinking alcohol.

Hérouxville’s proclamation, mimicked so far by two rural Quebec towns, underscores the building of walls that multiculturalism was supposed to prevent. A recent Environics poll on Canadian attitudes toward Muslims found that the more contact Canadians had with newcomers, the more favourable their attitudes. “The reverse, of course, is that the absence of contact facilitates the demonization of the ‘other,’ ” Mr. Gregg says.

Many immigrants are not even aware of the extent to which their world has come to reflect only their own ethnic group. “Once communities become so separate, then their problems also become ‘Indian’ problems instead of Canadian ones,” observes Harminder Dhillon, an engineer from India. “If there is no intermingling, then there is no true diversity.”

The concentration of ethnic enclaves in part reflects the dramatic increase in the number of immigrants—from a low of 83,000 in 1984 to 200,000-230,000 a year in the 1990s—and the change in source countries.

My parents, a Spaniard and an Australian, were part of a wave from Europe in the 1960s. I grew up in a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant neighbourhood in North Toronto, a member of the only “foreign” family around. I was used to the neighbours snickering at our bizarre middle names (Consuelo, Mercedes, Ramon and José). We wore itchy, hand-knit Spanish sweaters and went to mass, not church. Come July, we didn’t go camping or to a lake retreat; we flew across the Atlantic to the northern Spanish coast. In winter, my father wore a Russian fur hat and a green cloth coat—a source of embarrassment at the ski hill.

However, my three siblings and I became fully unhyphenated Canadians. I could hardly claim to have experienced discrimination—unless you count having your surname mangled. As the child of white immigrants, I was never marked as the “other” or asked: “Yes, but where are you really from?”

By the 1990s, almost all of Canada’s immigrants came from Asia and China. In 2001, visible minorities made up 13.4 per cent of the population and nearly half of big cities such as Toronto.

These immigrants have found integration to be a more complex pursuit—and are perhaps not always assisted by multiculturalism, which in practice has often focused more on celebrating diversity than achieving equality.

Prof. Reitz’s study found that 35 per cent of recent immigrants of Chinese origin reported experiences of discrimination; so did 28 per cent of South Asians and 44 per cent of blacks, compared with 19 per cent of whites. The gap widened with the next generation, with 42 per cent of all visible-minority, second-generation immigrants reporting discrimination.

“Multiculturalism is the single biggest con job done on racial minorities. It should be replaced with true equality and anti-racism programs,” says Tarek Fatah, a Pakistani immigrant and co-founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Certainly, immigrants’ experiences with multiculturalism are as varied as the newcomers themselves. Back at Brampton’s Indian Punjabi Bazaar, Indian housewives snap up everything from imported okra to Bhindi Masala frozen meals. This is Lovedeep Padda’s world. As a teen, he began helping out at the store owned by his father, Sukhraj Padda, and went to a high school with a predominantly South Asian student body.

“I never had to look outside the community for help, or for a job,” says Mr. Padda, now 21. At home, he grew up with many Indian cultural traits, sharing a room with his parents and brother. Today, he and his new wife still live in his parents’ home and are getting a nursery ready for their first baby.

“I’m still attached to my roots, because I’m Indian. But I’m Canadian too because I was born and raised here.” He plans to introduce bits of Canadiana into the next generation, and dreams of teaching his children to skate and taking them on vacation to somewhere other than India.

Across town in the northern part of Brampton lives Amrita Kumar-Ratta, the Canadian-born daughter of Indian immigrants. She still feels like an outsider as one of the only “brown” students at Mayfield Secondary School, an arts and drama school in nearby Caledon. “I have been called Paki. People say things like, ‘Go bathe so you don’t smell like curry any more,’ ” says the 17-year-old. “In Grade 10 drama, we were preparing for an exam and the teasing started. One kid said, ‘Why don’t you just go hijack a plane?’ ”

At the same time, Ms. Kumar-Ratta doesn’t want to disappear into an all-Indian cocoon, and hopes to study this fall at McGill University in Montreal, with students from all over the world. A fluent Hindi speaker, she has studied East Indian classical dance, loves Bollywood films and dreams of getting married in India. “I consider myself an Indo-Canadian,” she says.

Second-generation immigrants from South Asia and China may be retaining their cultural traits, but they are also integrating, says Peel Regional Police Constable Darren Naismith, who works out of several different Brampton high schools. “You don’t see a lot of turbans or kirpans in the schools,” he says. “At the same time, the students have to balance out their hobbies and interests with their traditional cultural habits. That could slow down their integration. But they eventually catch up.”

Some experts also discount the idea that geographic concentration of immigrants is anything new, or leads to isolation. Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University, believes congregating in racial groups can help immigrants get settled.

In his view, marginalization of visible minority immigrants is more a result of economic hardship and political exclusion. The waves of highly qualified newcomers from South Asia and China who have arrived over the past two decades earn less than their white counterparts, despite being better educated. Often, they cannot get jobs in their fields.

While immigrants have had success in some sectors, they are still largely excluded from others, especially private companies that aren’t regulated by the federal Employment Equity Act. The Public Service Commission, for example, is launching an investigation into why visible minorities aren’t landing jobs in Ottawa’s civil service in anywhere near the proportion in which they apply.

Prof. Siemiatycki’s research shows that visible minorities are also under-represented at every level of government, especially at the city level. Immigrants also vote at lower rates than whites or people born in Canada. “Even when they become citizens, many feel this isn’t their country to run,” he notes.

And yet, there are encouraging signs of change—including efforts under way in Ottawa and the provinces to assist immigrants in obtaining recognition for their foreign credentials. Ontario’s new citizenship curriculum, All About Ontario, aims to teach newcomers about the province’s history and government, as well as responsible citizenship and voting.

But Ms. Kumar-Ratta of Brampton feels the changes must go further, that Canadian society must become more welcoming. She bemoans the fact that her school doesn’t celebrate Diwali, a Hindu holiday, while embracing Christmas and even Valentine’s Day.

“Sure, Trudeau passed the multicultural bill in 1971,” she says. “But still I feel people are discriminated against.”


Multiculturalism defined

Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. Acceptance gives Canadians a feeling of security and self-confidence, making them more open to, and accepting of, diverse cultures. The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding, and discourages ghettoization, hatred, discrimination and violence. Through multiculturalism, Canada recognizes the potential of all Canadians, encouraging them to integrate into their society and take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs.

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