Growing ethnic enclaves hurt sense of Canadian 'belonging'
By Douglas Todd
The Vancouver Sun
11 Sep 2010
The University of Victoria's Zheng Wu is leading an important study into one of the most profound challenges facing Canada, which has the highest per-capita immigration in the world.
How can waves of newcomers to Canada feel they belong here?
That question, explored by Wu and his sociological team, is particularly crucial to cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, where about two out of five residents are foreign born.
The disruption that comes with pulling up stakes and leaving one's country -whether China, India, the Philippines, Nigeria or Norway – can be shattering, even leading to depression.
Arriving in Canada, immigrants are often jolted to find weather, language, food, buildings, holidays, ethical norms and neighbours bear little resemblance to their homeland.
Where, some newcomers ask, can we find decent Malaysian or Armenian food?
Why is Halloween such a big deal here?
Why does my next-door-neighbour seem bothered my in-laws and grandparents live with us?
How come homosexuality is not illegal in Canada, as it is where I come from? What is the mania about ice hockey?
Instead of blending into mainstream Canadian culture, many immigrants try to deal with disorientation by moving in among “their own,” to neighbourhoods that are ethnic enclaves.
In Metro Vancouver, early Italian immigrants strove to join fellow Italians in East Vancouver.
Many Chinese immigrants now flock to Richmond (photo of Aberdeen Mall in Richmond). East Indian Sikhs have been buying homes in central Surrey.
The statistical study by Wu and his University of Victoria sociology colleagues, Christoph Schimmele and Feng Hou, suggests many new immigrants feel “comforted” and “protected” by settling into ethnic neighbourhoods.
However, on the down side, Wu also discovered that first-generation immigrants who relocate to ethnic enclaves are more likely to report that they don't feel “a sense of belonging to Canada.”
For new adult immigrants, “where they live really matters,” Wu says.
“Ethnic enclaves and in-group exposure slows the pace of their integration.”
Given the stark reality, the question of ethnic enclaves, sometimes referred to as self-imposed ghettos, is no small matter. According to other research, in 1981 Canada had only six ethnic enclaves, which are defined as neighbourhoods where more than 30 per cent of the population is of one ethnicity.
Now there are more than 260 such enclaves.
How far do Canadians want this trend to go, particularly when the vast majority of immigrants avoid small-town Canada and flood into the nation's three largest cities.
Wu's study used 2001 Census data and Statistics Canada's 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey, and included more than 21,000 participants living in thousands of neighbourhoods.
It measured social integration based on people's answers to two related but distinct questions, one being: “How strong is your sense of belonging to Canada?”
The second: “How often do you feel uncomfortable or out of place in Canada now because of your ethnicity, culture, race, skin colour, language, accent or religion?”
The University of Victoria researchers explored many issues, but the results related to ethnic enclaves were among the most intriguing, if not disturbing.
Many immigrants and their offspring experience a double bind in Canada, the study confirms.
Many end up feeling less “out of place” by grabbing apartments and houses among neighbours of the same ethnicity.
That makes it possible to hold onto the same language, share familiar foods, uphold inherited morality and follow the religious rhythms of their old country.
But, when immigrants alleviate their worry through ethnic enclaves, they're also less likely to feel loyalty to Canada.
That suggests they're less likely to feel healthy patriotism, send their children to diverse public schools, move beyond ethnic loyalty in the voting booth or find common ground with others, to protect the environment or supporting the United Way.
Even though Wu's team found the negative effects of ethnic enclaves receded after the first generation of immigrants, his research reinforces how self-chosen ghettos are an expanding phenomenon to be taken seriously.
It is understandable that immigrants seek reassurance in neighbourhoods filled with members of their own ethnicity.
Many of us are often nervous about interacting with The Other.
But, for the sake of building a country where citizens can have shared purpose, reaching out beyond our own ethnicity and traditions is becoming a necessity.