South and Southeast Asians of Canada - History and Cultural Relations



The first South Asian immigrants were Sikh (and a few other Punjabi and Bengali) men who settled in British Columbia during 1903-1907. Economically driven anti-Asian hostility quickly focused on Sikhs, and in 1907 South Asian immigration was banned. This ban lasted until 1947, but in 1919 aggressive protest secured for Sikhs permission for wives and dependent children to immigrate. Immigrants during 1947-1962 were primarily Sikh chain migrants. In the mid-1960s the last racial, ethnic, and national immigration restrictions were eliminated. Since then, the ethnic, national, and class backgrounds of South Asian immigrants have broadened greatly, though chain migration has kept immigrant flows ethnically and nationally selective. South Asian settlement has been remarkably smooth, including relations with others. Even so, since 1975 South Asians have faced some intolerance manifest in name-calling, vandalism, and denial of jobs and housing. Relations between South Asian groups are weakly developed save for when institutionally linked needs (especially concerning religion) require them, when specific ethnocultural groups are small or when groups share a Common or closely related language. Social and cultural links with source countries remain very strong.

A thousand Southeast Asians, mostly students and professionals, lived in Quebec in 1971. Six thousand political refugees came after the fall of Thieu in Vietnam. They, too, were typically well educated and skilled. Sixty thousand boat and land people were accepted as political refugees during 1979-1980, and through government and private settlement schemes initially were spread across the country. Many soon migrated to major cities in search of relatives, community support, and jobs. Subsequent immigrants have primarily been the relatives of those already here and have joined extant big-city communities. Both intra- and intergroup relations were initially chaotic and under rapid flux. Each major ethnocultural group—Vietnamese, Vietnamese Chinese, Cambodians, and Laotians—essentially went their own way, sharing neither language nor identity. Vietnamese Chinese soon established contacts with other Chinese. Most Southeast Asians at first found themselves on the receiving end of well-intentioned but paternalistic, highly asymmetrical relations with Canadians involved in facilitating their settlement. These relations did not persist, and many Southeast Asians are socially and linguistically isolated from those of other backgrounds. School-age children, though, have developed wide-ranging social relations with their peers. Active prejudice against Southeast Asians is minimal, although their stereotypical portrayal as refugees is occasionally problematic.

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