The Mosaic Loses To Segregation

The mosaic loses to segregation

Ethnic minorities have little motivation to join mainstream Canada, preferring the balkanization they find

Scott Young
The Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My grandmother speaks atrocious English, eats only Chinese food, has only Chinese friends and has been a Canadian citizen for nearly 50 years.

She's citizen of a country where she can't read the local newspaper, can't order pizza, and has no desire to do so.

Can she truly be considered a Canadian citizen? According to our de facto mosaic, she is as much a citizen as her English-speaking, sushi-swilling Vancouver Canucks-supporting, Toronto-despising grandson. But is the “mosaic” truly the best possible formula for our multicultural society?

The mosaic says that minorities can retain their heritage while immersing themselves in Canadian culture. But notwithstanding ethnic-restaurant tokenism, ethnic minorities have little motivation to challenge the status quo, preferring the balkanization of Canada.

Metro Vancouver's Chinese community is now the most mature ethnic community in Canada. Chinese-language media, churches, shopping malls, service clubs and social agencies dominate a community where English is rare.

Schools, the one common thread that crosses ethnic lines, now see students fluent in English using Chinese as their preferred language. Although internally heterogeneous, the Chinese community offers new immigrants a relatively familiar community amid unfamiliar circumstances. Thus, while new immigrants may self-segregate, their children and grandchildren usually integrate into mainstream Canadian culture.

So is time the best cure?

Eventual integration is not enough; social fragmentation is today's problem.

As it stands, ethnic communities wield significant political power. Residents of Fleetwood-Port Kells will remember the 2004 federal election, when busloads of immigrant South Asian Tory members descended on the party nomination to vote for Nina Grewal.

None of the federal political parties requires Canadian citizenship for party membership, letting nominations be easily exploited by non-citizens. In all fairness, I respect Grewal's desire to serve her community, regardless of the fact that immigrants in that riding made a sham of our electoral system.

The benefit of segregation isn't limited to those inside an ethnic community. Sam (Singh) Sullivan knows exactly where Vancouver's key voting blocs lie. His barely passable Cantonese and Punjabi woo these communities unlike any other savvy Caucasian politician. An English-speaking, integrated ethnic community would undercut that advantage and their persistent segregation benefits that His Worship enjoys.

This phenomenon isn't limited to Vancouver. Toronto school board's recent approval of Africentric schools to combat the dropout rate of black students sets a dangerous precedent. The motivation is laudable, but the method is flawed.

Pro-Africentric activist Angela Wilson stated: “It's not about segregation, it's about self-determination.” That is complete hogwash. Ethnocentric schooling is institutionalized segregation at its worst. The Toronto school board's decision is a foolhardy precedent with serious consequences.

Statistics Canada recently reported that small-city immigrants are more likely to learn one of the official languages than large-city immigrants. The report also linked official language proficiency to economic integration and eventual income parity.

By contrast, settling in a large city delayed economic integration by nearly a decade. The report did not link large urban areas with the critical mass of ethnically targeted social service agencies, which negate the need for English or French. While these agencies play an essential role, they have unfortunate side-effects. Despite these findings, 75 per cent of immigrants still settle in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.

Unfortunately, attempting to reveal the perils of segregation is usually buried in simplistic accusations of racism (Remember Bruce Allen?) Canadians revel in the romanticism of Trudeau's multiculturalism, but fail to realize its role in creating ethnic ghettoes.

Jack Granatstein stated: “The [Canadian] state should spend its limited funds on helping newcomers adapt to Canadian society by teaching them the basic knowledge, the symbols, and the ideas that literate, culturally aware Canadians understand . . . . To do anything else condemns immigrants to isolation, to low-paying jobs, to the expanding ghetto of the ill-paid and uneducated.”

Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, recently lamented that social capital is weakest where diversity is strongest. He noted that while “the task of becoming comfortable with diversity will not be easy or quick . . . it will be speeded by our collective efforts and in the end well worth the effort.”

Putnam cited real benefits of diversity, including higher creative capacities and more rapid economic growth. Diversity is a good thing, but immigrants and Canadians naively fear that integration equals the loss of their individual heritages.

That fear has paralysed Canadian social growth.

Until we acknowledge that our self-imposed mosaic is not a perfect system, we'll never construct a mature, cohesive national identity.

Without a national identity, it remains extraordinarily presumptuous for us to claim to be the world's first modern multicultural society.

Scott Young is part of Simon Fraser University's semester in dialogue. He lives in Langley.

The Vancouver Sun 2008