by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
For some, Alberta’s history is just about cowboys, oil, and Conservatives, but a new television series is shedding light on the many contributions that minority groups have made in the province.
An Omni TV magazine-style series, “Alberta Roots”, goes under the surface to tell the stories of immigrant communities and their contributions to the wild rose province, since the time of their early settlement to the present.
Gingi Baki, the executive producer of the show, says immigrants with their kind spirit have defined Alberta since its beginning – defying the intolerant redneck stereotype many hold of the province.
“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants,” said Baki, who adds that throughout Alberta’s history when immigrants did well, they also helped others in their communities.
The province’s first pioneers were from Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.
Among the first immigrants to come to Alberta from the U.S. were black farmers who were denied equal rights in Oklahoma. Many Chinese workers made Calgary home as well after the national railway was built.
“There have been small pockets of immigrants through all our history,” says Baki.
Many immigrants have also come to Alberta because of the good economic times – from the gold rush to the first oil booms. However, many of them stayed after because of the beauty of the province, Baki suggests.
“The openness, the skies and the sunsets stay in your soul.”
Facing racism in the pioneer years
Kirk Niergarth, a professor of Canadian history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it was hard for minority groups to settle in Alberta right up to the early 20th century.
In 1911, a white teenager, Hazel Huff, lost her mother’s diamond ring and blamed it on a “big, black, burly nigger”* who broke into her home and assaulted her.
Media hysteria broke in Edmonton, and her assault was blamed on black people immigrating to the province, according to historical archives.
When Huff later told the truth, it was too late. “The damage was already done,” says Niergarth.
In 1892, a Chinese man fell ill with smallpox in Calgary. To contain the disease, city officials burned the laundry where he lived, and put all of its occupants under armed quarantine.
A mob of 300 people tried to run the quarantined individuals out of Calgary when they were released – and the RCMP had to control the situation.
Niergarth explains that Alberta – like the rest of Canada – felt troubled by the changes newcomers were bringing to society.
“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”
Alberta’s changing fabric
It is not a secret that Alberta is growing rapidly. Part of this growth is that more minorities are moving into the province.
According to Statistics Canada census data, the growth of Alberta visible minorities has skyrocketed. In 1991, visible minorities made 9.4 per cent of Alberta’s population. As of 2011, they represented 18.4 per cent.
Of those visible minorities, a 2008 report shows 91 per cent settled in the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton. But that also appears to be changing.
Presently, the city of Lethbridge attracts many visible minorities thanks to its low cost of living and good job market. The city is home to the biggest Bhutanese community in Canada.
Surya Acharya, an agricultural research scientist and immigrant from India, moved to Lethbridge from Edmonton in 1989. His friends told him that he was moving into “redneck country.” They said he wouldn’t survive too long in the small southern Alberta city.
It has been almost 30 years, and Acharya says he has been comfortable in Lethbridge since he arrived.
“They were wrong,” he adds.
Today, he is the president of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, where 32 different ethnic groups from four different continents are represented.
Acharya says things have changed extensively since he moved into Lethbridge. “It is more common these days to see visible minorities in Southern Alberta.”
Acharya says the reason why there aren’t more visible minorities in rural Alberta isn’t because of intolerance, but lack of resources and entertainment opportunities.
“Jobs only keep them busy for 40 hours,” he says.
Alberta’s immigrant spirit
Acharya says that the redneck stereotype is untrue in modern Alberta. For him the pioneer immigrant spirit is what represents the province.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from, people only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion,” he shares.
Niergarth says the stereotype of Alberta being a redneck province comes from the interpretation of its culture and politics in other parts of Canada.
Things like the Calgary Stampede and the platform of the Reform party were associated with the redneck image, he explains.
However, these views of Alberta aren’t always accurate. “It is not based in research, so proceed with caution,” Niergarth says.
If Alberta was really intolerant there would be no immigrants in the province, he adds.
“Maybe the proof is in the dough.”
“Alberta Roots” is being aired on Omni TV in Alberta and British Columbia. In the future it will be aired in Ontario, and it will be available on the Omni website.
*Editor's Note: "The racial slur, albeit disquieting, was quoted precisely from a historical context to establish the type of mentality that existed among some people."
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Family reunification is at the core of the Liberal government’s immigration policy. After our two-part in-depth piece on the pros and cons of the family class immigration stream, this new series takes a closer look at the process from the perspectives of major immigrant groups in Canada. What are the opinions and experiences of individuals and families who took this route or are in the process of doing so? We find out what works and what needs improvement. The following report is the first in our series and looks at what can happen when family reunification rules bring together and split apart a family at the same time.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Canada’s family reunification program brought Simei Wu’s parents to Canada, while simultaneously separating her from her husband, who chose to return to Mainland China to be with his parents.
Wu and her husband Feng Xie immigrated to Canada in 2008. Two years later, after they settled down in Toronto working full-time in the service sector, Wu applied to have her parents come to Canada under the Family Reunification (FR) class.
“I’m the only child to my parents,” she says. “They [wanted] to live with me and help me take care of my child.”
As a popular tradition in the Chinese community, elderly parents often help their children by looking after their newborn grandchildren and assisting with housework.
Wu had her first child in early 2010. At that time, both she and her husband earned just enough to pay the bills. There wasn’t too much leftover to hire a nanny or for Wu to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I sent applications to sponsor my parents to immigrate in May 2010,” she recalls. “I learned from CIC’s (Citizenship and Immigration Canada's) website that the average waiting time was five to eight years.”
She initiated the same application process for her husband’s parents later that year.
The impact of changing policies
When Wu submitted her applications there was no yearly intake cap for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program.
This soon changed, under the Conservative government, due to the large backlog of applications.
On Nov. 5, 2011, CIC imposed a two-year moratorium on new applications and announced that when they were accepted again, only 5,000 a year would be permitted. As such, the government also created the super visa allowing elderly parents to visit Canada for two year periods. The visa is good for 10 years.
Wu’s parents were consequently on the super visa, remaining with their daughter while waiting for their FR application to progress.
“My parents were anxious when they learned [about] the halt on new applications. They didn’t know when they will receive immigrant status and worried [that] they might not be able to afford going to the hospital if sick,” Wu shares.
In addition, when Wu initially applied, the minimum required income for a family of her size (four grandparents, two parents, one child) was $59,907. This was determined based on the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) established by Statistics Canada annually.
The Conservatives then introduced a 30 per cent increase, meaning Wu’s family would need earn $77, 879 annually in order to sponsor all four grandparents. This posed a challenge since the family had been earning a humble $60,000 a year.
Last summer, after Wu’s second child started to walk, she found out through CIC’s website that her parents’ applications had been approved and their next step was to undergo a medical check.
Her husband’s parents’ applications, however, had been forwarded to a Hong Kong office for further review, meaning possibly another five to eight years of waiting.
“Everything goes back to zero for my in-laws,” Wu explains.
She says the prolonged process has already consumed her relationship with her husband Feng. The different outcome of each other’s parents’ applications has caused tension between Feng and his in-laws. He now works in China to look after his ailing parents, and only returns to Canada during holidays.
Getting through the red-tape
As a result of her own experience, Wu has become more involved in talking with her immigrant friends and helping their elderly parents to apply for family reunification.
She and her friends formed an unofficial parents’ immigration club at the Peanut Plaza in Toronto’s Don Valley West community.
Group members exchange information with each other on the bench outside of the Feng Tai (Foody Mart) Supermarket. They pick up free Chinese weekly newspapers and magazines, searching for knowledge-based articles or immigration consultant advertisements.
Each November, Wu and her friends begin preparing application documents. They secure Purolator couriers and meet them right at 9 a.m. on the first work day of each new year for CIC, to hand in their application packages, which are now only accepted by mail or couriers.
“People pay couriers an extra $200 or more for this job,” explains Wu. “They have to line up at CIC’s office to ensure the application is sent … it’s a battle to get your hope started.”
Skeptical of changes ahead
Yang Haifeng, the president of New Canadian Community Centre, is doubtful about the Liberal government’s campaign promise to double the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 a year.
“We’re not sure if it is really 10,000 applications yet because the additional 5,000 applications are not a small amount. It takes four to five years for applicants to get their FR status approved,” Yang says.
“I’m concerned that doubling the application numbers will also double the process time, making the waiting time as long as eight to 10 years. How could our seniors afford to wait for such a long time?”
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by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Depending on whom you ask, the actions of Louis Riel, and Dr. Norman Bethune, along with others who lived through difficult times, can be seen as verging on treasonous or justified. Add to that list Mewa Singh.
Outside of Canada’s sizeable two million plus South Asian community, few Canadians will have heard of Singh who is revered as a Che Gueverra-like figure, in particular by Sikhs. A new play, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, which opened January 8, is the first major artistic production to re-evaluate a man whom many view as Canada’s forgotten martyr.
In the play, Mewa Singh is placed on the stand to answer for his real life shooting and killing of William Hopkinson, a Canadian immigration official. The incident took place in the same art gallery 101 years ago on October 21, 1914 when it served as the Vancouver’s Provincial Courthouse.
On that morning, Singh walked up to the third floor rotunda and killed Hopkinson with four shots from his revolver. He then handed over his weapon to the authorities and took full responsibility for his act, knowing he would receive capital punishment.
“I shoot. I go to station,” he proclaimed, in his limited English.
Within three months on Jan. 11, 1915, Singh was hung from the gallows in New Westminster. He died at age 33, the same age as Hopkinson.
Lionized by Sikh Canadian community
Despite the violent nature of Singh’s act, he has been lionized by Canada’s Sikh community in the same way Louis Riel has been by the country’s Metis population. Though he is a character written into Canadian history books as an assassin, in the Sikh community he is their version of Tiananmen’s Tank Man, the solitary protester saying no and standing his ground against the machinery of institutionalized repression.
There are numerous sports and literary events organized annually in his tribute. The dining hall in Vancouver’s Ross Street Sikh temple, the country’s largest gurdwara where India’s Prime Minister Modi stopped by with Stephen Harper for a visit last April, bears his name and iconic image in memorial.
For playwright Paneet Singh, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson is a forum to cast light on the murky events that led to the shooting and to reveal the social conditions that made the collision between Singh and Hopkinson unavoidable.
“I have been surrounded by this story since I was a child, when my mother would tell it to me,” said Singh. “Mewa Singh’s name resonates in the South Asian community, but it has been locked out of the mainstream. This play exposes his actions through the framework of the times in which he lived in order to move the story into the 21st century. He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”
Hopkinson and Singh were born and raised in India, and in adulthood, both migrated to Vancouver. Singh left a small village near Amritsar, Punjab to find his fortunes while Hopkinson left his post as a policeman after his first wife died. The Raj in India was beginning its slow fade. Hopkinson had never lived in England and so chose to renew his life in Vancouver.
But at the turn of the 20th century, Canada’s promise as a new world Gold Mountain came with caveats for non-white immigrants over their European counterparts. The Canadian government had institutionalized racism through legislation like the Chinese Head Tax and the continuous journey clause. The latter was utilized in 1914 in the infamous Komagata Maru incident which was playing out at the same time as the Singh versus Hopkinson duel.
Despite holding very different stations in life, the destinies of Hopkinson and Singh became intimately tied to each other in B.C. Hopkinson’s fluency in Hindi landed him a job as a government agent. His assignment was to harvest information from the Sikh community about their sympathies for Indian independence from British rule. He had a number of active moles in the community burrowing for intelligence.
Singh's legacy reflected in politics today
Hopkinson’s methods were as heavy handed as his agents were clumsy – they shot and killed two Sikhs at the local temple. Hopkinson threatened Mewa Singh to become an informant, or to find himself the next target.
What Hopkinson didn’t anticipate, was that Singh would accept death before turning. Killing Hopkinson would not save Singh, it would only give rise to another Hopkinson. But making a public statement by killing him in the open and by embracing the death penalty would make a statement that resonates to this day.
For Sikhs in Canada who were struggling for a foothold in Canada at the time, Singh’s defiance would inspire their push for political equality – an achievement coming 30 years later in 1947 when South Asians and Chinese were granted the right to vote.
Mewa Singh’s singular act echoes still in the disproportionate success of South Asians in Canadian politics – there are 16 MPs of Sikh heritage currently serving in Canada’s Parliament. Had the Chinese community their own version of Mewa Singh, perhaps they too would be better represented at the highest politics levels.
William Hopkinson’s pernicious agenda was a spear foiled by Mewa Singh’s shield. Hopkinson left India seemingly to find his piece of the Cotswolds in the new world. But the new world would not be shaped by the old rules, as he fatefully discovered in his encounter with Mewa Singh.
Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast.
For more information on the play click on the link for The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Just weeks before its 40th anniversary one of the three major Chinese daily newspapers in North America has ceased printing in Canada.
The World Journal issued its last edition on Dec. 31, 2015, marking yet another setback for the ailing Chinese ethnic media.
From daily newspapers to TV and radio stations, traditional ethnic media outlets have been fighting to survive under the irrevocable challenges brought on by the rise of social media.
Like other traditional Chinese media, World Journal has been struggling with declining readership and advertising revenues, coupled with increasing labour costs.
Founded by the United Daily News Group in Taiwan on Feb. 12, 1976, World Journal mainly targets readers from the island whose political perspectives are not aligned with Beijing.
Announcement not a surprise to some
The closure of the newspaper’s Vancouver and Toronto offices resulted in more than 20 full-time jobs in editorial, translation, graphic design and printing being slashed on New Year’s Day.
The World Journal will keep publishing in the United States; its North American headquarters in New York, along with its west coast bureaus in Los Angeles and San Francisco will remain in tact.
He says he knew the end was coming, he just didn’t know when.
“It’s obvious that traditional media is a dying business, giving up the market to new media and free pickup weekly newspapers,” he laments.
According to Ge people are joining the battlefield to publish free weekly newspapers without paying enough attention to quality because it’s a legitimate and easy investment for them.
Examining why the newspaper folded
Joseph Lau, the founding president of Toronto’s Chinese Media Professionals Association, appealed on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app with over one billion users, to buy the World Journal’s last edition on Dec. 31 to show support.
“Media colleagues should examine why the business is not doing well,” he says. “Traditional media has a weakness, from my perspective, which is a ‘one-way’ communication. You won’t be able to trace back your readers’ data, not like new media that grabs users’ information for its marketing purpose.”
He adds that World Journal publishing electronically online for some time was also part of its downfall.
“This is suicidal and it kills the hardcopy edition, but it’s the trend nobody in the business can avoid,” Lau says.
“I believe news always needs content regardless what the carrier is, either on paper or on a smart phone. Paper media’s readership will be less and less, losing to other carriers. However, we are not a fully digital age yet. In the coming 10 years, paper media still has some space to survive.”
He adds, with a laugh, that his own online TV news channel, www.torontotv.net, has been operating since 2003 and is still “surviving”.
Finding work for former ethnic media
After losing their jobs in ethnic media, reporters can find it difficult to find work. They often find themselves using transferable skills to land work in other fields.
A popular career alternative is working as a politician’s constituency assistant.
Two reporters, who preferred to remain unnamed, who previously worked at OMNI TV found jobs at the riding offices of Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Bob Saroya and Liberal MP Shaun Chen after Rogers cut most of its ethnic programming last year, while a former reporter for the World Journal started working for Liberal MP Arnold Chan months before the newspaper announced its closure.
Miriam Ku, a former World Journal reporter who left journalism several years ago in pursuit of a career in politics has since worked as an assistant for a municipal councillor and is now an outreach adviser for Ontario’s Conservative party leader, Patrick Brown.
Wilson Chan, who is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s communication adviser, previously worked as Editor-in-Chief of a Chinese daily newspaper called Today Daily News that was rebranded to Today Commercial News after he left.
“Media professionals often make great hires for both public and private sectors, whether it could be working for a politician, an NGO (non-governmental organization) or a public relation firm,” says Ku, adding that media professionals’ vast knowledge on current affairs, strong community networks and effective audience-focused writing talents are useful when seeking jobs.
Some reporters work as licenced interpreters in the community, hospitals or courtrooms. Others become part-time realtors serving the particularly property-hungry Chinese community, and often, their part-time income easily supersedes their humble reporter’s salary.
As for Ge, he had already planned something years before the closure announcement was made.
He is a seasonal Chinese language teacher working at the elementary school level for the Toronto District School Board. Although his working hours are not enough right now, he is confident and wants to pursue this path, getting more training to become a full-time teacher in a more stable and sustainable job environment.
by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver
An advocate for Vancouver’s Chinatown has started a petition against rezoning a central block in the district because she says it would cost the site its heritage designation and distinct character.
Nicole So, a graduate of the University of British Columbia (UBC), says the rezoning of the 105 Keefer site from a historic area to a development district doesn’t create space for cross-cultural, intergenerational experiences.
The 23-year-old advocate says the revised 105 Keefer plan is what “everyone” doesn’t want.
The revised rezoning application is for a 13-storey building by the Beedie Development Group that includes 127 residential units and 25 seniors social housing units on the second floor. It also has commercial space on the ground floor.
The petition asks for more senior housing, as well as more community and cultural spaces. So aims to have at least 1,000 signatures e-mailed to the City of Vancouver by Dec. 1.
The 14-page city document stated most participants want a “real” community and not something created solely for the benefit of tourists and visitors.
“There was frequent mention of the importance of inclusiveness of Chinatown – for Chinese of various linguistic and cultural backgrounds as well as non-Chinese speakers, for young and old,” states the report.
The report showed community members wanted a sense of festivity in Chinatown and to make it a “cool” place to visit, especially for youth.
So mentions the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby as an ideal example of culturally sensitive space. The centre focuses on preserving and promoting Japanese Canadian culture.
Not interested in another ‘yuppie’ area
Houtan Rafii, vice-president of residential development at Beedie Living (the home-building division of Beedie Development Group), said in an e-mailed statement that the company would work with the city on expanding and enhancing the nearby Memorial Plaza, a space with a monument for Chinese Canadian soldiers who represented Canada in past wars.
The statement said many Chinatown stakeholders received the amendments Beedie Living made favourably.
“One amendment in particular that is resonating positively with people is our voluntary inclusion of 25 seniors’ homes, which will be a $7 million asset to Chinatown and represent 20 per cent of the entire building,” Rafii said.
The City of Vancouver said in an e-mail to New Canadian Media that an increase in the building’s height from 90 feet to a maximum of 120 feet to support public benefits including heritage, cultural, affordable and social housing projects is under consideration.
The city encourages concerned individuals to provide feedback by early January.
A fading Chinatown
Toronto realtor Vivian Kim visited Vancouver in July for four days and wrote to someone in a Facebook group, “You must eat the garlic wings at Phnom Penh in Gastown!”
Phnom Penh, a well-known Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant, is actually located in Chinatown.
“In my memory, Gastown and Chinatown all melded into the same kind of look,” recalls 33-year-old Kim during a phone interview.
“It didn’t jump out to me as a big Chinatown,” she adds.
Kim says in comparison Toronto has a handful of Chinatowns with distinct neighbourhoods. She describes the one downtown as having an abundance of Chinese signage in red and gold, outdoor food markets and local mom and pop businesses.
Susanna Ng, co-owner of New Town Bakery & Restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown, says people often complain about Chinese businesses closing down and moving out due to changing economy and residents.
From her perspective though, business is good. She says her clientele tends to be more Caucasians and young people. “[I] don’t see many old people now. They’re in nursing homes or passed away.”
As Chinese business owners are getting older, they are retiring, Ng adds. “Their kids, the second generation, don’t want to take over the place. They sell it instead, so no more local businesses.”
Ng even struggles to find replacements for her restaurant staff, having had two cooks who retired recently. “In the Chinese newspapers, every time I open [them], the ads for ‘cooks wanted’ grow bigger and bigger. This is what I have to fight with.”
While the past fades away, a new Chinatown in Vancouver is being rebuilt and young Chinese students are eager to be part of the vision.
International student Jane Jing Yi Wu is studying visual arts at UBC and she is working on a blueprint for the Keefer block.
The 22-year-old Chinese national pulls ideas from her home, the China she knows. Wu wants to incorporate space for community art, family-oriented nightlife and food markets.
When Wu first came to Vancouver three years ago, she was neutral about Chinatown. After learning about Chinatown’s history in an Asian migration course, Wu started to care more.
Walking through the area, she thought of how the Chinese people paid the head tax, fought for their rights and survived in a new country years ago.
She said that even though she’s an “outsider”, she wants the city to know that she cares.
“I’m not Canadian, but I feel it’s time for us to do something for [future Chinese migrants].”
Editor's Note: This article has been updated from the original published version which incorrectly reported Beedie Living was working with the city to expand and enhance the 105 Keefer site instead of the nearby Memorial Plaza.
by Justin Kong in Toronto
The results of the recent federal election shows that we need a better understanding of how immigrant groups are mobilized and integrated into formal spheres of Canadian politics. This two-part series focuses on the Chinese community in metropolitan areas of Canada. Part II examines the new Chinese working class, how conditions are ripe for the development of a Chinese left and what this all means for the Canadian left.
With the devastating electoral defeat of the New Democratic Party last month in the 2015 Federal Elections, it’s clear that the Canadian left must adjust their strategy. The new strategy needs to support the development of a progressive, grassroots immigrant power to counter the presence of more conservative and moderate elements within these communities.
In the Chinese diaspora, while there are a number of strong progressive leaders at various levels of government and in the community at large, the presence of a mobilized, grassroots Chinese immigrant left has yet to be felt in recent years.
This lies partly in the fact that one group has long been unengaged: the Chinese immigrant working class.
New wave of Chinese immigrants, new attitudes towards labour
Contrary to the common trope of the rich Chinese investor immigrant, one merely has to look around the many Chinese ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto and Vancouver to see that there are actually tremendous populations of workers labouring in the ethnic economy. These workers are often engaged in the food and services industry in precarious conditions and without the full protection of employment laws and standards.
This population has long been here and has remained relatively unengaged by the mainstream left and organized labour. A small group find themselves in the progressive political spaces of community labour organizations such as the Workers Action Centre in Toronto.
What has changed in recent years, however, is the composition of this Chinese working class and the increasing maturity of the Chinese diaspora in Canada. These two conditions have important ramifications for the possibility of a progressive Chinese element and the Canadian left at large.
In the past two decades the flow of Chinese immigrants, which had previously been largely dominated by those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, has shifted to a flow that is increasingly dominated by those from mainland China.
Given that immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan have likely been here for a longer period of time it is more likely that they have attained more upward mobility with less ‘working class’ members. More importantly these groups have radically different pre-migration attitudes towards the left and labour politics than the new wave from China.
In Hong Kong, family histories of communist persecution, the infamous 1967 riots which linked trade unionism with social instability and communist insurgency, combine to stifle the possibility of broad labour politics amongst the Hong Kong populace. It should be no surprise then that Canadian labour politics will find it difficult to engage this group.
On the other hand, the new Chinese immigrant working class is largely composed of skilled professionals from mainland China who grew up in very different conditions. Growing up and living in Mainland China means this group has at the very least a basic understanding of concepts of class, capitalism and exploitation — important preconditions to any progressive and labour politics.
With the economic rise of China and the proliferation of consumer culture, leftist politics may have had little salience amongst this population when they were still living in China.
After immigrating the situation becomes different. Labouring in the deskilling, dehumanizing and precarious Canadian economy reignites in the Chinese worker the earlier internalizations of working class consciousness and left politics.
Due to these factors, this new Chinese working class, more than any previous Chinese wave, has the potential to constitute a progressive, left element within the Chinese diaspora in Canada.
Bridging the ethnic and the mainstream
As waves upon waves of Chinese immigrants have settled in Canada, the Chinese diaspora as a whole has become increasingly mature. This maturity manifests in an increasing number of potential progressive political leaders who are able to connect the mainstream with the ethnic.
These two developments together represent the fertile conditions for the development of a left grassroots counter presence in the Chinese community. In the absence of sustained engagement, this new Chinese working class may remain inactive in formal politics and quite possibly bolster the ranks of the political right and moderates.
Chinese churches, for example, appear to be making in-roads with this new Chinese working class. Grounded in the ethnic community through their ‘service’, Chinese churches in Toronto have initiated sermons and fellowship groups catered specifically to Chinese restaurant workers. For the left, such a development is illustrative of the extensive vacuum that exists.
If we look throughout Canada’s history we will see that incorporating immigrant workers has been central to the power of organized labour and the Canadian left. However, that this incorporation has often excluded immigrant workers who are not white has always been an overarching, strategic misstep.
In order for the Canadian left to establish a foothold in immigrant communities for electoral struggles or otherwise, the establishment of grassroots strength within these communities is essential. To do this the immigrant working classes and political leadership of immigrant communities must be mobilized and connected with the mainstream left.
By supporting and building the emerging immigrant left is to reverse the decades of decline of the Canadian left. The conditions for an immigrant left is ripe in the Chinese community and it may likely be the case in other immigrant communities as well. All that remains for us to do is to come together and figure out how we can make it a reality — and that, of course, is the hard part.
Justin Kong studies sociology and is involved with community and labour organizing in Toronto.
by Robin Brown in Toronto
The post-mortem of the federal election is ongoing and until it is complete we will not know the full dynamics behind the results. But one view that is emerging is that the Liberals outperformed the Conservatives in winning the hotly contested “ethnic vote”. Or at least winning back enough of it.
Looking at results from ridings with high proportions of immigrant and visible minority populations, especially in suburban Toronto and Vancouver, this seems to be the case. So what did they do to achieve this?
The ethnic media bandwagon
The first thing is that they woke up to one of the tactics that the Conservatives have successfully employed in recent years – engaging the ethnic media.
Stephen Harper, who has been accused of not being accessible to the mainstream media, has always been generous with the ethnic media.
This relationship was symbiotic. It helped the Conservatives focus on a key segment of the population. In turn, the ethnic media were grateful for easier access.
While the Conservatives maintained this strategy during this past election, they were not alone. The Liberals had been taking notes, and Justin Trudeau was made equally available, if not more so. This was crucial in connecting the Liberals with ethnic communities.
The messages that backfired
Individual campaigns may have employed specific multicultural communication strategies at the riding level, but the parties did not do so to any major extent at a national level.
The only example that was widely covered in the mainstream media was the Conservatives attempts to leverage social hot buttons and associate Trudeau with marijuana and prostitution.
Along with statements from Jason Kenney, the Conservatives delivered those messages via Punjabi and Chinese language flyers and newspaper advertisements.
This attempt was widely seen as backfiring and indicative of a misreading of Chinese and South Asian voters and their concerns. Many of those voters were well aware of the fact their communities had been singled out for these messages.
As one of my Chinese friends said, “It’s like they think we’re stupid.”
Myths about the ‘ethnic vote’
Ironically the misreading could be a result of past successes. Conservative success with the “ethnic vote” in 2011 is well documented and may have created comforting myths.
For example, The Big Shift by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson painted a picture of a Conservative dynasty supported by immigrants who were focused on economic, security and law and order issues and not concerned with issues such as “community supports, the environment and international engagement.”
These myths lulled the party into believing that the “ethnic vote” was immune to the messages of the Liberals and NDP.
However, the results of this election showed that this was clearly not the case. The messages that the Liberals successfully pushed out to the Canadian public were reaching and resonating with “ethnic voters”.
Overall it seems the “ethnic vote” was influenced by the same factors as the general Canadian vote.
One finding that may emerge from the post-mortem is that when the Canadian vote swings right so does the “ethnic vote”. When the vote swings left so does the “ethnic vote”. Maybe we will learn that the “ethnic vote” is now not quite as distinct from the “mainstream vote” as was assumed in the past.
Robin Brown is the co-author of Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada.
New Canadian Media welcomes other perspectives on the topic of advertising targeted at immigrant communities during the 2015 federal election. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
The desire to have more than one child has been a motivating factor for many Chinese emigrants for over three decades. Change may be on its way though, as earlier this week, China lifted its one-child policy, allowing married couples to have two children.
The one-child policy, a population control measure viewed as a rather totalitarian symbol by the West, was introduced in 1979. For more than three decades, the unique China-style family consisted of a “4-2-1” model: four grandparents, a couple of two adults (both the only child from his or her family) and a single third-generation grandchild.
Aside from the fact that the policy has faced stanch criticism for being an abuse of human rights and for creating sex-based birth rate favouritism for boys – as China is a traditionally patriarchal society – the one-child policy has also created a huge problem for senior care.
In a society that lacks a pension plan or affordable public health system, sometimes it is just too much for two adult children to take care of four elderly parents.
Impacts of one-child policy
Jinhong Xu is one of many Chinese Canadians who immigrated here to avoid the one-child policy. As a result, Xu has two children who are 16 years apart; this stark age difference between children isn’t strange to see among many Chinese immigrant families.
“I was born in 1967 in a small county in Shan Xi province,” recalls Xu. “I was not the only child in my family, but I was only allowed to have one child after I got married in 1992. We both worked in a state-owned company. If [we violated the] one-child policy, we would both lose our jobs and [be forced] to pay a very heavy fine.”
Xu is like many Chinese who faced many challenges living under China’s unique traditions and polices.
Her first daughter was born in 1993 – a very joyful event to her, but not so much for her family as the child was not a boy.
After struggling for years thinking of having another child, Xu finally immigrated to Canada in 2002 as a skilled worker and applied for family reunification to bring her husband and daughter here one year later.
At 42, Xu had a second child born in Toronto’s North York General Hospital in 2009. To her delight, it was a healthy boy that the whole family had been longing for.
“I remember I had to go through [a] amniotic fluid test as I was an older mother,” she continues. “That was a really hard decision we have to make. It was my daughter who helped me go through the process. She really wanted to have a younger sibling.”
Staying beside her mom’s bed during labour, Xu’s daughter was more thrilled than anybody else and started to learn how to help her mom take care of the baby.
“Hadn’t my country had a one-child policy, I would be happily staying in China, making it easier (for me) to look after my aging parents,” says Xu, her voice trembling and eyes filled with tears. “But [there isn’t] much I can do. I was not a devoted child to my parents.”
Changes for refugee claimants
The one-child policy has also been a reason for many Chinese people to claim refugee status in Canada. Whether their claims are genuine or bogus, future asylum seekers may start to feel anxious now that the policy is no longer.
Refugees from China had the most claims accepted from January to June 2015, followed by Pakistan, Hungary Iraq and Syria.
Refugee claims go to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC). According to IRBC, the forced sterilization or abortion a person may face upon returning to China is grounds for granting refugee status. As is claims that the one-child policy goes against religious beliefs, such as in the case of Roman Catholics.
Hart Kaminker, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer says the change in policy doesn’t necessarily mean an end to refugee claims of this nature though.
“The policy now is allowing people to have two children,” he explains. “You might get into a [refugee] case when people may have two children that may want to have a third child. That person may still have a valid [refugee] claim.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit