Beware the colonizers
Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010
In the first of a two-part piece on immigrants last Wednesday (“Four kinds of immigrants,” Aug. 11), I suggested that newcomers might be classified more profitably by their attitudes than by such factors as ethnicity. We focus on where people come from geographically, but I think where they're coming from figuratively matters more. When we say to someone: “I know where you're coming from,” it really means we know where he's going.
The literal and the figurative aren't unrelated, of course. Still, a new arrival of any religion or ethnicity, whether economic migrant or political refugee, may come to Canada with the attitude of what I've called a homesteader, an exile, a gold digger or a conquistador.
All four attitudes have historical roots and legitimacy, offering different benefits, and presenting different challenges, to the host country. A homesteader looks at a street and sees a house for his children; an exile looks and sees another street in his mind; a golddigger sees a street paved with gold, and a conquistador sees a street whose name needs changing. The first has come to settle, the second for refuge, the third for riches and the fourth to colonize.
All these categories have benign aspects. Exiles include good people resisting or fleeing tyranny. Gold diggers may discover and create wealth after much risk-taking and heavy lifting, like Northern Ontario's famous Yankee gold miner, Sir Harry Oakes, only to be fleeced by the government later. Even conquistador isn't a pejorative. Canada's founders were colonizers. Our country wouldn't exist, at least not as we know it, without the “conquistadors” of England and France.
These categories don't fit everyone and may not fit anyone completely. Definitions often overlap in individual cases. All homesteaders are keen to assimilate and become Canadian (I've called them their own melting pots) but some are better at it that others. Gold diggers travel light, packing only their brawn and brains, but may find that their hearts follow them to Canada on a later ship. In short, there are permutations. Even confirmed exiles aren't entirely impervious to the country they're planning to use for a temporary shelter. Canada has a way of growing on people.
An exile I knew spent 20 years doing nothing but plotting the downfall of a despised ruler in his dysfunctional homeland. When it finally happened, he started looking for excuses not to having to return to what he always called “home.”
“You're a fake,” I said to him. “You like it here. Why don't you admit it?”
“Okay, okay,” he said. “Is that a crime?”
In his case it may have been. He came here as a queue-jumper and seemed always on the verge of being deported, though he never was.
Queue-jumpers cut across all categories. They're lawbreakers, but accuracy in journalism compels me to point out that many end up being as productive and useful to Canada as properly documented immigrants. Economic refugees in general, while less deserving of shelter than political refugees, may be of more use to Canada. This doesn't excuse or justify queue-jumping, but it's a fact.
Freeloaders with multiple citizenships pose a different problem. Queue-jumpers break the law; freeloaders break the country. They're only partly to blame. Politicians encourage, sometimes virtually solicit, freeloading. It flows naturally from the political parties' attempt to create voting blocs. Immigrants are the medium of this kind of corruption, not its cause.
Of course, there are freeloading queue-jumpers as well.
Almost two generations ago, in the 1960s, Canada's charismatic, intellectually curious Pierre Elliott Trudeau decided to emulate the then fashionable immigration policies of former colonial powers. France and Britain allowed large-scale immigration from their defunct empires. Viewing Algeria as “metropolitan France” was all the rage. Something of a sorcerer's apprentice, Trudeau wanted to know what would happen if Canada invited immigrants from “non-traditional” — that is, non-European and non-Christian — sources in large numbers over a short period of time.
As many could have predicted, and some, like British MP and classics scholar Enoch Powell, did, immigrants from nontraditional sources who might have been seamlessly absorbed into the larger community had they arrived in smaller numbers over longer periods, coalesced into their own communities instead. Leaders with conquistadorial attitudes among them, who might have been odd-man out normally, now rose to be their spokesmen. As potential voting blocs, with real political clout, they made their presence felt faster than you could say “multiculturalism.” Instead of accommodating the host country, conquistador-types called on the host country to accommodate them.
Well — some say -and why not? Why does reasonable accommodation have to be a one-way street? Why is accommodating newcomers a bad idea?
It isn't — but that's where attitudes come in. I say this as a newcomer of 54 years experience. Accommodating homesteaders is dandy; accommodating conquistadors, not so much. Ask Canada's aboriginals. They can tell a story or two about what happens when you accommodate colonizers.
Here's an exercise for liberal-minded students of Canada's immigration policies. A lecture series by native leaders on the topic of “Reasonable Accommodation as a Strategy: Lessons Learned.”
To be continued, I am sure.