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Sunday Special » Columns

Posted at: Jul 8, 2018, 12:40 AM; last updated: Jul 8, 2018, 12:40 AM (IST)

Diverse ethnic enclaves of Canada

Immigrants arrive here and try to integrate. Yet, they retain their cultural identity, making society more multiracial

Peeyush Agnihotri

Noted author Arnold Ediboroughonce said: “Canada has never been a melting pot. The fact is we are more like a tossed salad. We are green, some of us are oily and there’s a little vinegar injected when you get up to Ottawa.”

Obvious to a humour-laced reference to our neighbour down south (the USA), where society is likened more to a soup, or a melting pot, wherein immigrants lose self-identity while forming a concoction of so-called mixed culture.

Not so for Canada. Here, immigrants arrive and try to integrate yet retain their cultural identity, thereby making society more multiracial and diverse. Canada has a much more robust multicultural policy compared to the “grumpy neighbour”.  It even celebrates Multiculturalism Day in the end of June. This very diversity is the propane that firepowers the Canadian economy.

However, when it comes to immigrants buying a home and settling down, there is a slight twist in urban context. They tend to overpopulate a stretch of the city, thereby giving a rise to what social planners dub as “urban shadow” or an “ethnic enclave”. Unpolished street wags call them cultural “ghetto” (derived from Italian word borghetto, meaning little town).

So yeah, we do have these enclaves in most of the major cities of Canada. Notorious for desi population are Brampton in GTA (Greater Toronto Area), Surrey in Metro Vancouver and our very own North East (NE) quadrant in Calgary. Urchins condescendingly joke that NE stands for No English. Whatever!!

As I entered NE Calgary — famous for Indian cuisines, my Canadian-born friend, who was accompanying me, took a deep breath of wafting curry flavours and said: “Man, the smell is surreal.” I gave him a half-baked smile, trying to make sense of what he meant. He, perhaps, understood and said: “It’s Surrey-al (smells like Surrey and not surreal).” I did guffaw at his sheltered suburban attitude, while trying to figure out what it meant for an outsider like him to be in an ethnic enclave.

Despite some negativity attached to it, these areas are a source of strength for the community. New immigrants live together and unitedly break social isolation, besides seeking a decent place for shelter. They feel relaxed amidst those who understand the culture. Where native language is understood and not mocked at. Cultural traditions during Gurpurb, Diwali, Eid, including iftaar, are fairly respected and don’t raise an eyebrow from behind those wooden fences.

The premise behind these ethnic enclaves is the fact that together people can support each other and break social barriers. They do offer low-housing prices (comparatively) in prime location and authentic ethnic food, with an ambitious capability to redraw some government policies. Look how politicians make a beeline for these “urban shadows” during election time. Such is the collective strength that inhabitants of these places can sway decisions at federal, provincial or municipal levels.

It is a boon for elders who form impromptu groups in community parks trying to be just themselves. Such enclaves have also given credence to “basement entrepreneurship” for many from within the community. Especially women, who face multiple and overlapping barriers — unemployment, cultural, linguistic, social and economic. Unable to break into the Canadian job market, many take to meaningful work that empowers them. Salons, stitching, embroidery, parlours and even tiffin service — you have it all. Mini-India, with a mohalla concept intact.

This does not mean these ethnic enclaves are not the hotbed of vices that our population tags along when they move abroad. Besides reluctance to accept another culture, female foeticide, domestic violence, organised crime, and elder abuse keep social workers, counsellors and law-enforcers on their toes. Check municipal data — one realises that most of the police carding (random check on ids) happen around these areas. Urban planners do not want such lopsided growth, if city-funded community integration projects are any indication. It does create societal dysfunction, according to them. They hate seeing city quadrants being labelled good or bad, thereby affecting school system, zoning and property prices.  For them, it is the Canadian salad with seasoning unevenly spread.


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