Lecture delivered by Haroon Siddiqui for the Annual Asian Heritage Month Lecture, presented in association with Innis College and the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, and the Hong Kong University Alumni Association of Ontario, 18 May 2004
Before I speak about South Asians, I want to tell you a story about South Asians and astronaut Neil Armstrong.
No sooner had Armstrong landed on the moon and taken one small step for man and a giant step for mankind than he saw a Sikh standing on the lunar surface.
“When the hell did you get here?” he asked.
“Oh, I came right after Partition,” said the Sikh.
For those of you not familiar with the reference, Partition refers to the 1947 division of British India into India and Pakistan—a partition that triggered mass migrations of people north to south and vice versa. Millions of people had to move and make a new life in new places.
As Armstrong listened to and looked at the Sikh, he realized that the bearded and turbaned man had no space suit, no oxygen supply, nothing.
“How can you live like that on the moon?” he asked.
“Ah,” said the Sikh, “we Indians, we can live anywhere!”
That’s how 20 to 22 million Indians now live all over the world. There’s no country you can go to where you would not find Indians.
That’s one of the best examples of living globally and thinking globally.
Who are South Asians?
Let’s first clarify the definition of South Asians. For the purposes of the census, Statistics Canada defines South Asians—rather awkwardly but usefully—as persons, other than aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.
This is a more specific designation than some of the old ones, which, besides being imprecise, tended to be racist.
About 100 years ago, South Asians were called Hindoos, even though most of them were Sikhs. In the 1930s, immigrants from India were called simply “Asians.” In the 1970s, they were derisively called “Pakis,” though most were not from Pakistan.
Next, they were called “East Indians,” to distinguish them from the West Indians and native Canadian “Indians,” even though there’s no country called East India.
The Indian Diaspora
The story of the Indian Diaspora begins in India after 1834, the year of the abolition of slavery. The end of slavery caused labour shortages in various British domains. Imperial Britain went looking for labour in its far-flung empire which, at that time, had a staggering 372 million people around the globe, three-fourths of them in India, the biggest jewel in the British crown.
So, it came to be that hundreds of thousands of Indians were shipped as indentured labourers to the tea, coffee, rubber and sugar plantations of Ceylon, Malaya, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, British Guiana (now Guyana), Jamaica and British Honduras (Belize). Others were sent to work on the first African railroad, from the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria. Sikhs went as policemen to Singapore and Hong Kong. Sikhs and Nepali Gurkhas were recruited as soldiers.
The Dutch and French colonials had their own recruitment drives, for Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and Martinique and Guadeloupe.
These “coolies of the empire” were followed overseas by the merchant classes of Gujarat, on the Arabian Sea north of Bombay, to provide spices and services to fellow Indians abroad.
It was an illustrious son of Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi, who served as a lawyer among South African Indians before returning home to emancipate India from the British and leave a legacy of non-violence that would inspire such disparate figures as Canada’s own Ovide Mercredi, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The story of South Asians in Canada begins in earnest 1901, inevitably, with a British connection.
That was the year of the coronation of Edward VII for which Indians and Canadians alike sent contingents of soldiers to London. India was represented by 83 officers of the Hong Kong Regiment who docked in Vancouver to a “rousing welcome,” according to the Daily Province, which headlined the story: “Turbaned men excite interest awe-inspiring men from India held the crowds.”
Mostly Sikhs, they boarded the train for Montréal and sailed for London. They made their return journey to Hong Kong through Canada as well.
These visitors were followed two years later by 45 others who became the first South Asian immigrants to Canada. They were the unintended beneficiaries of the 1904 Canadian law imposing a prohibitive $500 head tax on Chinese immigrants.
By 1908, there were 5,179 Indians, all men, too many to be tolerated as exotica. The Vancouver press portrayed them as a danger to chaste “white women.” J.S. Woodworth—the Methodist founder of the CCF, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party—described them as “decidedly grotesque,” a people “sadly out of place in Canada” who “cannot be assimilated.”
Vancouver’s Trades and Labour Councils passed a motion of “emphatic protest” against the “Hindoo (sic) labourers,” even though not one was unemployed.
The Trades and Labour Council of Canada called for the exclusion of “races that cannot be assimilated,” a resolution it kept approving annually until 1941.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, under relentless pressure from Liberal and Tory Members of Parliament from BC, wrote: “The situation with regard to the Hindoos is serious . . . and, to speak frankly, I see no solution for it except quietly checking the exodus from India.”
In 1907, the British Columbia Legislature disenfranchised all “natives of India not of Anglo-Saxon parents,” and barred them from logging on crown lands as well as entering the legal and medical professions.
A year later came the infamous rule of “continuous journey.”
One had to travel non-stop from India to be allowed on Canadian shore, but no shipping line offered direct passage. Another rule required them to pay $200 on arrival. Another barred those not speaking a European language. Yet another disallowed the re-entry of those who had gone home to visit wives and family. Disheartened, many returned home or smuggled themselves to Yuba County, California.
By 1911, the Indian population was halved, to 2,342, at a time when the West was welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians.
This racist disparity in the treatment of white and non-white immigrants was dramatized in 1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese freighter hired by an enterprising Sikh from Malaya, anchored in Burrard Inlet on May 23. It carried 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, and included two women and three children who had been picked up in Hong Kong, Shanghai and two Japanese ports, Moji and Yokohama.
Unbelievable as it sounds today, they were not allowed to disembark for two months, as legal and political battles raged in Vancouver, including two demonstrations by their compatriots and a counter-rally by the whites led by the mayor.
As food and water dwindled and living conditions deteriorated aboard the ship, one passenger died and many became sick.
Unmoved, the port authorities dispatched 160 armed policemen aboard the sea-going Scallion to force the Komagata Maru out to sea. When that failed, Prime Minister Robert Borden ordered the gunboat H.M.C. Rainbow to escort it out into the Pacific Ocean on 23 July 1914.
After Hong Kong and Singapore refused entry, the passengers reached India where British police killed 26 and jailed many for five years.
The conscription crisis in Canada offered a telling commentary on official racism. While many French Canadians were resisting, many South Asian Canadians were offering their services, and 50 were called for medicals, including a Toronto Sikh, R. Gill. But they were turned down, primarily because of the bar against those other Asians, the Japanese Canadians.
Ironically, Indo-Canadians were made to sit out a war in which British India and Indians played a heroic role and the maharajahs contributed millions of pounds in cash and gold to the allied war effort. The Nizam of Hyderabad, for example, donated 23 million British pounds to the Second World War, making him by far the single largest donor to the allied war efforts.
Partly as a reward for India’s loyalty as well as the impending independence of India, Canada granted South Asians, along with others, the right to vote in 1947. Ottawa opened a visa office in New Delhi, and in 1951 set a quota of 150 Indians, 100 Pakistanis and 50 Ceylonese, relaxing it further in 1957.
In 1962, it removed almost all racial barriers to immigration, and in 1967 further liberalized the law, just as British doors were being slammed shut on Asians. Engineers, doctors, skilled white-collar workers—the urban elite of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—started boarding flights to Toronto and Montréal.
Canadians welcomed them with open arms, stopping women on the street to admire their silk saris or inviting strangers home for a meal and a discussion about exotic India. But when about 175,000 had come by the late 1970s, an old pattern repeated itself. Just as the surge of Sikh immigrants in early 1900s had led to anger in Vancouver, a backlash greeted the latest arrivals, especially in Toronto. “Pakis” were shunned, harassed and humiliated on the streets, in apartment buildings, in schools and at work, and ill-treated by immigration and customs officials as well as Bell Canada operators handling their overseas calls. Headlines from The Star tell the tale of those sad times:
Pakistani deaf after racial attack
Students talk of racism in schools
Racism costs top salesman his livelihood
In 1975, a South Asian, who was a Tanzanian immigrant, was pushed in front of a moving subway train by a group of youths, and was crippled for life.
All this ugliness pushed the well-known Indian-born novelist Bharati Mukherjee into quitting Canada for the United States. In a searing essay for Saturday Night magazine, she outlined her double burden of being brown and a woman in Canada:
“I was frequently taken for a prostitute or a shoplifter, frequently assumed to be a domestic. The society, or important elements of it, routinely made crippling assumptions about me and about my ‘kind.’ People first saw the colour, then the gender. Never the person. I was imprisoned in a racial image and locked into all its stereotypes. I quickly learned that the country is hostile to its citizens who had been born in hot, moist continents like Asia.”
Acclaimed Toronto filmmaker Deepa Mehta identified with Mukherjee’s rage: “I’ve been called a Paki bitch many times; I’ve had tomatoes thrown at me,” she said.
However, others, including myself, never faced any racism.
Neither extreme obviously represents the truth.
There is no denying the discrimination, overt and subtle, faced by South Asians; and the chronic and yet-undressed scandal of their under-employment. I will come back to that in a minute.
South Asians today
Not only have South Asians come to Canada from South Asia but from the vast Indian Diaspora.
Most of the Indians in East Africa have come to Canada, fleeing Idi Amin and other regimes’ racism—about 55,000 of them from Uganda (b. 10,710), Tanzania (19,315) and Kenya (19,815). About 125,000 have come from the Caribbean, mainly from Guyana (b. 83,535) and Trinidad. Another 25,000 have come from Fiji.
Many have done a second immigration—having gone from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to the Persian Gulf and England, and then migrated from there to Canada.
According to the last census, done in 2001, the total of South Asians was 917,000. They are the second largest visible minority after the Chinese, who total 1.02 million. About half are from India (438,000 from single responses).
The figure of 917,000 was from three years ago. Now the total is well past one million. That’s more than the population of five provinces, namely, Saskatchewan (978,000), Nova Scotia (908,000), New Brunswick (729,000), Newfoundland (512,000) and, of course, eight times the size of PEI (135,000).
In the Toronto CMA—that is, Census Metropolitan Area, from Oakville to Ajax and north up to Lake Simcoe—South Asians constitute the number one visible minority at 473,000, compared to the Chinese population of 409,000 and with Blacks in third spot at 310,500. That’s four times more South Asians here than Filipinos, 133,000.
In the Greater Toronto Area, which includes Oshawa and Burlington, StatsCan adds another 18,000 South Asians—for a total of 491,00 South Asians in the GTA. For the three years since, add at least another 60,000, for a total of 550,000 South Asians in the GTA.
But, even at the 2001 figure of 491,000, there are more South Asians here than the total population of Hamilton (484,000) or London (432,000) or Kitchener (414,000); or Halifax (359,000) or Victoria (311,000) or Windsor (307,000); or more than the combined population of Saskatoon and Regina (225,000 and 192,000 respectively).
Or, there are as many South Asians in GTA as there are Newfoundlanders in Newfoundland.
Among the South Asians, Hindus constitute the largest religious segment, at 297,000 across Canada. (Not all Hindus are South Asians but almost all are, except for Hare Krishna and other white converts to Hinduism).
A close second are the Sikhs, at 278,000 across Canada.
The third group are Muslims at 212,805. (This is South Asian Muslims we are talking about, because Muslims have become the largest non-Christian religious group in Canada at 579,000).
In Toronto CMA, the numbers are: Hindus (191,300); Muslims (124,735); and Sikhs (90,500).
There are more Hindus in Toronto CMA than there are Baptists or Presbyterians or Jews.
Five Indian languages feature in the top 25 languages spoken in Canada.
Chinese, as we know, is the third most spoken language after English and French. But Punjabi is in sixth place, with 284,000 speakers across Canada. Tamil speakers total 97,670, Urdu 86,000, Hindi 61,000 and Gujarati 61,000.
In Toronto CMA, Punjabi speakers total 99,625, Tamil speakers 77,000, Urdu 57,000, Gujarati 36,000 and Hindi 22,000.
But, here is the more interesting point:
Nearly 84 percent of South Asians speak English. Out of Canada’s 917,000 South Asians, 780,000 speak English. In Toronto, a similar proportion applies. Using my population projection for this year of 550,000 South Asians in GTA, we would end up with 490,000 English-speaking South Asians in this region. That’s more English-speaking South Asians here than the whole population of Hamilton.
Another figure: English is the home language of 396,000 South Asians. i.e. 43 percent of South Asians speak only English at home.
This explains why the most dominant media in the South Asian community are in English: the five sday a week evening news on OMNI, in English; several TV and radio shows in English. Among the newspapers, the leading ones are in English: Asian Voice and India Abroad. The glossy fashion and bridal magazines that are coming out are in English.
Those who may not know that the Indian languages have, in fact, enriched the English language with such colourful words as bazaar, bamboo, bungalow, chador, chit, cummerbund, khaki, pashmina, pyjama, pepper, punch, maharajah, teak, sandal, shawl and veranda.
A third of South Asians are Canadian-born. They, along with South Asians who grew up in Canada, constitute a significant chunk of new entrants to Ryerson, York and Toronto universities as well as many of community colleges, especially George Brown. (Hence the move by the universities to recruit South Asians to their boards of governors and to launch fundraising drives in that community).
The median age of South Asians is much younger. It is 28 for Muslims, 30 for Sikhs and 32 for Hindus, compared to 37 years for population as a whole.
We have seen some spectacular individual successes:
Sir Christopher Ondaatje, who gave $1 million to the South Asian Gallery at the ROM—an idea born in the Sindh;
Navin Chandaria of Conros Corp., North America’s biggest fire log manufacturer and the biggest competitor to 3M corporation;
The other side of the Chandaria family runs Camcroft on five continents, run by Keshav Chandaria who was awarded the Order of Ontario for his humanitarians services abroad;
The Ajmera brothers, Sam and Shreyas, of Seenergy Foods;
Rai Sahi, head of Acktion Corp. a major Canadian real estate and property management company with extensive retail, office, industrial and residential holdings;
Aditya Jha, born in Nepal, is one of the founders of technology company Isopia Inc., sold to Sun Microsystems Inc.;
Vinod Patel, chief executive officer of the Northampton Group Inc., which has an interest in 13 hotels in southern Ontario and Quebec.
Among the executives, there has been Clarence Chandaran, CEO of Nortel—before the stock fell—and there is Sabi Marwah, CFO of the Bank of Nova Scoria and a director of The Toronto Star.
There is a whole crop of middle and upper management of South Asians working their way up, especially in the banking and investment industries. That’s because South Asians are said to have the highest savings per capita.
But there seems to be a glass ceiling at the higher levels, especially on corporate boards.
In the civil service, there is Cambridge-educated Nurjehan Mawani, a 44-year-old Muslim woman from Kenya, headed the largest tribunal in Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board, and is now one of three Civil Service Commissioners of Canada.
Other economic indicators
South Asians have been an integral part of the suburban boom. The last census shows that whereas Toronto CMA grew by 9.8 percent, the regions around Toronto grew even more:
York region, 23.2 percent
Peel region, 16 percent
Durham region, 10.5 percent
Halton region, 10.4 percent
Cities within those regions are also enjoying a population boom. Whereas in previous generations, immigrants came to the cities and then gravitated to the suburbs in the second or third generation, today’s immigrants are going to suburbs within the first generation. That means, first, that most of them are doing well economically, or at the very least, bringing a sizeable bank account with them into Canada, and secondly, that your service areas are geographically bigger and your clientele is different, as are the municipal governments that you must deal with.
South Asians have fed this boom, population-wise and by the purchase of homes and paying property taxes—a lesson that Hazel McCallion has obviously learned.
The economic health of South Asians is above the average for visible minorities but below that of Chinese community: The average Canadian employment income is $43,000, that of visible minorities is $37,957, that of the Chinese is $40,817 and of South Asians $39,470.
But not everything is rosy.
Earlier generation of immigrants used to earn more than the native-born. Now they don’t.
There are several reasons. First, Canadians themselves are more educated. Second, the economy itself has changed. Third, there is a huge discounting of experience for incoming immigrants, which is what creates the issue of lack of access to trades and profession.
All immigrants are earning less than previous cohorts, and are taking longer to catch up with the average Canadian incomes. They are now taking 16 to 17 years to catch up. The latest survey released by StatsCan shows that immigrants who came between 1995 and 1999 earned 24 percent less in their first year than the cohort that came in 1965–1969.
One third of that 24 percent is explained by the fact that all entrants to the job market in Canada are earning less than the 1965–1969 entrants to the job market. Another third is explained by origin and lack of familiarity with either official language. This partially affected South Asians. The final third is explained by the total discounting of experience. This is what has most affected South Asians.
There is one inescapable conclusion: The resistance to foreign training and qualifications has grown in direct proportion to the fact that most of the immigrants are no longer white.
Professor Geoffrey Reitz of the University of Toronto estimated the loss of productivity due to this discounting of foreign education and experience, and he put the figure at $15 billion. If a third is applied to South Asians, they—and the Canadian economy—have lost $5 billion.
What has the community done about it? Not much, except those affected have formed associations and have been agitating for public policy changes. The Maytree Foundation, headed by Alan and Judy Broadbent, has done more than any South Asian organization.
There is yet another worrying trend.
In 2000, Professor Michael Ornstein of York University measured how 89 ethno-racial groups fared, reported “extreme high levels of poverty” among four groups (Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Afghans and Somalis). In the next tier of poverty were three groups of South Asians: Tamil, Pakistani and Bangladeshis.
Another report, just done for the United Way, “Poverty by Postal Code,” told that of all the poor people living in the very poor neighbourhoods, eight in 10 are visible minorities. There is no breakdown of South Asians available in this report, but since a third of new immigrants are South Asians, you can safely assume that there are great pockets of poverty in the community.
One ought not to draw a wrong conclusion from this: These people are poor not because of their genetics but because they happen to be the latest immigrants, battling newer economic forces and systemic racism.
This is the conclusion of the United Way, the Social Planning Council and Professor Ornstein. This is bad news for Toronto the Good. This is bad news fro South Asians.
In certain areas, the disadvantages are being passed on to the second generation, to the Canadian-educated children. We are ending up with extreme wealth and extreme poverty in the South Asian community.
What is the community doing about it? Not much! The job has been left mostly to social service immigrant agencies, run mostly by women and for women. This is not good. While you cannot change all those conditions overnight, the easiest and quickest thing you can do is to help provide mentorship and a network of references. Those two factors alone would make a great deal of difference.
Literature and sports
In the field of literature: Michael Ondaatje from Sri Lanka, Rohinton Mistry from Mumbai; Moiz Vassanji from East Africa, Neil Bissoondath from Trinidad and Ottawa and Cyril Daybedeen from the Caribbean.
In sports, there were the Canadian squash champions Sharif Khan and Sabir Butt. There is Emmanuel Sandhu.
Social and cultural
There’s a great cultural ferment in the South Asian community at both the classical and popular level. Classical music and dance studious and performances abound. There is also an artistic renaissance. And Bollywood movies and performances, as the one in Toronto on Sunday, are doing well.
At the social level, the Ismaili community has clearly provided the lead. A religiously and socially a cohesive group, working under a progressive religious leader, they have moved by leaps and bounds. The Aga Khan Foundation is now the biggest Canadian foreign aid program outside of CIDA. Also, the community runs the annual Partnership Walk for the last 25 years. This year’s—on Sunday, May 30—will involve 60,000 volunteers and 800 corporate sponsors who between them will raise $3.25 million, which will be matched by CIDA.
The South Asian component of the United Way, led by Bahadur Madhani, is doing a great job of tapping the community both for funds and volunteers.
How are South Asians doing in politics? Here, the Diaspora experience is useful.
Where the South Asians did not participate politically, i.e. in Africa, they suffered the political consequences in expulsions, as led by Idi Amin in 1972. Where the community participated in politics, as in South Africa, the community is strong. In Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago—where Indians formed a majority or near-majority—South Asians have had ups and down but remain in the throes of political battles, led by the late Cheddi Jagan in Guyana and Mahendra Chaudhry in Fiji.
Here in Canada, the political involvement has been patchy. The Sikhs are clearly the most successful. It is one of the unintended consequences of the 1984 attack on the Golden Temple. When some of the Sikh leaders, scandalized by the fury of some of the Sikhs and the Air India tragedy in 1985, decided to channel the energy into peaceful democratic process.
We can see the results today. First South Asian premier Ujjal Dossanjh and at the federal level, Herb Dhaliwal. In Ontario, we have Harinder Takhar. The second group that has been active have been the Sri Lankan Tamils—again, driven by home country politics.
A similar thing is happening in the United States. Muslims are organized on behalf of the Kashmir issue or on behalf of Pakistan. The Indo-American community has been working hard on behalf of India. They were instrumental in Bill Clinton’s visit to India, for example, and in the creation of the 185-member India caucus in Congress. They have also been working with the Israeli lobby, to cooperate on pressing Pakistan to stop infiltration in Kashmir, and also on the sale of four Phalcon early-warning radar aircraft to India.
The role of the 1.8 million-strong Indo-American company is helped along by the fact that it is a rich community—led by 38,000 doctors, by motel owners (who own 40 percent of America’s motels) and others in the hi-tech sector. Back to Canada, Professor Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University is finishing a study on electoral participation of visible minorities.
Despite being 43 percent of the population of Toronto, visible minorities have only 11 percent representation on city council; 13.6 percent of the MPPs, and 4.5 percent of the MPs.
On Toronto City Council, there is only one South Asian: Bas Balkissoon. This despite the fact that last fall’s election was a golden opportunity—there was a 31 percent turnover of personalities on Council. Yet visible minorities did not increase their overall representation: five.
Professor Siemiatycki also analyzed voter turnout. Of the 44 wards, he compared the five with the highest proportion of the foreign-born to the five with the highest proportion of the Canadian-born and the news is bad: Turn out was lowest in the foreign-born wards—three of them in Scarborough and two in North York.
He also analyzed voter turnout in last year’s provincial election. He found not much difference in the turnout among homeowners versus renters, high versus low level of education, and high-income and low-income voters, the traditional indicators on turnouts. Instead, he did find a co-relationship between voting and immigrants, visible minorities and mother tongue. The higher the quotient of one of those three factors, the lower the turnout.
So, the news is bad on two fronts: Economically and politically, the system is beginning to replicate inequities in the labour market and in the corridors of power.
While you cannot totally control the first, you can control the second—the power of votes. And all visible minority communities are failing. South Asians are an integral part of that failure. This extremely ironic because South Asians tend to be political junkies and are big consumers of news.
Why the failure?
I can speculate. One, most segments of the South Asian population are fixated on back home politics. Which is their right. But the more they are concentrating on this, the less they may be concentrating on issues here. Second, I think there’s elitism at work—those who have done well don’t do enough for those who haven’t.
Third, it’s a cultural and immigrant thing. People are too easily satisfied with the politicians. Take a picture and came to dinner. I’d rather you nail them on the agenda, whatever it is. South Asians do not vote for any one issue—whatever affects the rest of the population affects them as well. But they, like any other group, need to develop their own agenda and hold the politicians’ feet to the fire.
A federal election is coming, and we will see what South Asians will do.
The Canadian Islamic Congress, for example, has issued a report rating the MPs. Some others are gravitated to the NDP for its staunch stance on civil rights in the post-9/11 era.
Speaking of the post-9/11 era, racists don’t distinguish between Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. It was a Hindu temple that was firebombed in Hamilton. It is the Sikhs who are also being hauled up at the American border or in pre-clearance at airports. 9/11 was committed by 19 Arabs but the people hauled up in the United States and deported were illegal Pakistanis. The 23 young men arrested in Canada last year on suspicion of terrorism were Pakistanis and an Indian. Every single one of the terrorism-related charges was withdrawn. Yet through this scandal, the battle was fought by young people, not any of the established South Asian organizations.
There is a dangerous trend coming from the United States in the battle against terrorism: which is to lay collective blame on all Muslims, or those who may look like Muslims. So this is not a problem just confined to this or that group but to all citizens.
Public opinion/public policy
In the media and in the public domain, South Asians are still either exoticized or criminalized in news coverage—on arranged marriages, on parent-youth tensions, on violence against women. None of these problems is to be hushed up. Yet what is forgotten that these problems are not the exclusive preserve of the South Asian, or any other minority, community. It’s in the nature of Canada, where every new immigrant group throws up problems.
There is the racist narrative of the so-called “hijacking of nomination” meetings by ethnic voters. Which is a load of rubbish. Ethnics no more hijack the political process than Bay Street does, or any other vested interest. That’s what democracy is all about. There is the hoary hypothesis of South Asians voting for the Liberal Party because it “let them” into the country. Most came under Mulroney years.
South Asians generally relate to solid things: solid bank account, solid gold, solid homes, solid properties. They don’t really relate to the soft power of the mainstream media narrative and the soft power of public opinion, which, in turn, drives public policy.
Still, South Asians make for great immigrants. Coming from a 3,000-year-old civilization, they have a great sense of self-worth. Coming from family-oriented and child-centred culture, they tend to be a very personally secure people. On balance they have done very well. Their overall track record is proof of their tenacity, hard work and the disciplined pursuit of wealth and academic and professional excellence. It is also a testimonial to the opportunities modern Canada affords all its citizens, prejudice and discrimination notwithstanding.
Despite the neo-conservatism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the conservatives failed to turn Canadians against immigration and immigrants. It is one of the unheralded triumphs of the Canadian pluralistic model that Canadians have developed a visceral repugnance to the politics of the far right when it comes to immigration issues.
No national anti-immigrant party can hope to do well in Canada, as happened in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy and Netherlands. Whereas anti-immigrant parties have done particularly well in urban European centres, such as Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, exactly the opposite is true in Canada. No Canadian leader, or political party, can hope to do well by alienating immigrants and minorities.
There is no one Canadian race. There is no one fixed Canadian culture. But there is the Canadian creed—that of the common good. Let’s keep improving it.