Friday, February 2, 2007

How does multiculturalism translate for minorities?

How does multiculturalism translate for minorities?
Many immigrants and their offspring still feel they are seen as outsiders

Salima Alladina feels 100-per-cent Canadian. The problem is that with her big brown eyes and brown skin, some people think she doesn't look like one.

"Everyone's like, what are you doing here?" says the 26-year-old medical student from Vancouver, whose parents immigrated from Tanzania.

"As a visible minority, everyone asks where you're from. And you have to kind of explain: No, I was born in Calgary, Alberta."

The question of what it means to be Canadian -- and specifically how that identity resonates with immigrants and their Canadian-born offspring -- was at the centre of a report released yesterday by researchers from the University of Toronto.

It is the trend over time that racial minorities are slower to integrate that troubles the report's co-authors, sociologist Jeffrey Reitz and doctoral candidate Rupa Banerjee.

While the children of white immigrants become more attached to Canada, exhibit more of a sense of belonging to Canada and identify in greater numbers as Canadians, the reverse is true for children of visible-minority immigrants, the study found.

Those findings, based on a sample size of more than 40,000 respondents, suggest that Canada's famous policy of multiculturalism isn't working as well for non-whites.

Ask second-generation Canadians about how they see themselves, however, and you'll hear answers as nuanced and diverse as their backgrounds. Most say they are proudly Canadian. But visible minorities in particular say the presence of their parents' heritage sometimes feels magnified, if only because other people see them differently.

"It's not so much discrimination, but I think I get stereotyped," says Joan Chang, 23, who was born in Toronto to Taiwanese parents.

"I've gotten a lot of, 'Oh, I didn't expect you to be like this,' and I think it's because I look pretty quiet. But I think it's because I'm an Asian female, so I don't think I'm seen as someone who would be vocal or has a lot of opinions to express."

On the cusp of a broadcast journalism career, she says she fears being "slotted into that Asian category, where it's like, 'Oh, we've got three Asians already so we don't need you.' "

Katherine Qureshi, 19, of Halifax says the white skin and hazel eyes she inherited from her mother, a native of Newfoundland, means she is rarely questioned about her father's Pakistani roots.

"Some people ask me if I'm Italian. A lot of people are like, 'Qureshi? That's a weird name,' " she said. In contrast, she thinks she stands out when she's with her father's family members in Toronto or Montreal.

"If I'm at a wedding in Toronto, I'll be stared at for sure, because I'm like, white, but I'll be dressed in Pakistani clothes."

Oisin Coll, 26, was born in Edmonton to Irish parents, and like many immigrants or their children, considers himself "hyphenated" -- an Irish-Canadian. He says his white skin probably gives him a reprieve from the kind of stereotypes faced by others.

"My experience is very different from someone from New Delhi. It's completely different for someone like me."

Several of those interviewed said their experiences depend on where they live, or the environment in which they were raised -- diversity being more the norm in places like Toronto or Montreal than in smaller cities.

"I did grow up in a predominantly white environment," says Sheyi Fol-bolumole, 29, who has a Manitoba-born mother and father who immigrated from Nigeria.

"I've thought about it before, and all of my friends are white. And most of my African culture would have been taken in from what I've seen on TV."

The report, released yesterday by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy, found that children of visible-minority immigrants feel less of a sense of belonging than their parents, and fewer identify as Canadians, compared with their white counterparts. They are also less likely to vote.