South and Southeast Asians of Canada - Orientation

Identification. South Asian and Southeast Asian are broad ethnocultural categories. Each refers to a number of ethnic and national groups. All South Asians have roots in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh. One third, though, originate in the South Asian diaspora—in communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Fiji, or Mauritius. Being South Asian is secondary to identification with the more specific, sometimes overlapping ethnic, religious, and national groups. Southeast Asians considered here are immigrants from Vietnam (75 percent), Laos (11 percent), and Cambodia (12 percent). Those from Vietnam are either ethnic Vietnamese or Chinese. Laotians and Cambodians are primarily Lao and Khmer, respectively, though some are Chinese.

Location. Virtually all South and Southeast Asians are urban, and over 85 percent reside in Canada's major metropolitan areas. Of South Asians, 95 percent live in Ontario (51 percent, 80 percent of these in Toronto), British Columbia (26 percent, 62 percent of these in Vancouver), Alberta (11 percent of these in Calgary and Edmonton), or Quebec (7 percent, 90 percent of these in Montreal). Ninety percent of Southeast Asians live in Ontario (33 percent), Quebec (32 percent), Alberta (15 percent), or British Columbia (10 percent). Access to jobs, housing, and community support, as well as chain migration, have resulted in considerable geographical localization. Residential concentration is high for new immigrants and working-class people, but neighborhoods where either constitute more than 10 percent are rare. Most working-class Southeast Asians reside in urban core areas, especially near Chinatowns, whereas South Asians are increasingly suburban. Certain streets and neighborhoods from British Columbia to Quebec have become centers of South Asian and Southeast Asian commercial and institutional development marked by stores, restaurants, and Religious facilities.

Linguistic Affiliation. British colonial influence ensured that in all South Asian source societies English is either a lingua franca of the educated classes or a national language. Thus today English is the mother tongue of 40 percent, and 90 percent of South Asian Canadians claim some facility with it. Other mother tongues are Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, and secondarily Bengali, Sinhala, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu, with 40 to 45 percent using one of these as their primary home language; 20 to 30 percent of Immigrant women speak only their mother tongue. Sikhism places a priority on knowing Punjabi, and almost all second- and third-generation Sikhs can speak and understand the Language. Most Canadian-born whose parents have another South Asian mother tongue can understand it, but few will achieve full speaking fluency. In contrast, few Southeast Asian initially knew English or French, and a majority Presently do not have effective command of either. The key Exceptions are French-speaking professionals and children. Children nevertheless maintain the spoken tradition of their parents' languages. Virtually all immigrant adults use their mother tongue in the home and community, and often in the workplace—Vietnamese (ethnic Vietnamese and some Vietnamese Chinese), Khmer (most Cambodians), Lao (most Laotians), Cantonese (most Vietnamese Chinese), and Teochiu (some Cambodian and Laotian Chinese). Cantonese operates as a Chinese commercial lingua franca in Cambodia and Laos, and many Chinese from there can speak it as well.

Demography. In 1990 South Asians numbered about 410,000, or 1.5 percent of Canada's population. The largest groups are Sikhs (130,000), Guyanese (50,000), Hindiand Punjabi-speaking Indian Hindus (40,000), Pakistanis (30,000), Gujarati-speaking Hindus from India and East Africa (25,000), Ismaili Muslims (25,000), culturally North Indian Muslims from India and East Africa (20,000), Fijians (20,000), and Trinidadians (15,000-20,000). Smaller Communities include Bangladeshis, Bengalis, Mauritians, Tamils from India and Sri Lanka, Sinhalese, and Malayalam speakers from South India. Three-quarters of South Asians are Immigrants, most coming during 1968-1980. Substantial immigration is ongoing (typically 20,000 per year), about 50 percent from India. Over 90 percent of the 150,000-180,000 Southeast Asians in Canada are post-1974 immigrants. Roughly 60,000 are Vietnamese, 60,000 are Vietnamese Chinese, 20,000 are Laotians, and 20,000 are Cambodians. About 10,000 Southeast Asians a year arrive as refugees and as conventional immigrants.

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