Race & Ethnicity: Immigrant families/immigration issues
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
By Lance Constantine
Christopher Columbus arriving [1492-1502] in the Americas [arguably already inhabited by Black & Indigenous peoples] is like white execs arriving in the Bronx and calling Hip Hop by another name or in the name of [a separate entity like] Universal Music or Warner Bros; reaping from a culture they [white people] do not identify with and systemically extracting from a people that inhabited a space, long before their arrival. This racial and systematic process has taken on many different forms throughout history and speaks of [the various acts of] European oppression specifically towards the Black & Indigenous experience. Consequently, immigrants [now] arrive into a system [already] in favor white European culture, no different from the inner city artists, signed to a label that does not own the rights to their [own] recorded music. Historically, Canada was a land space designed in favor of white Europeans through national initiatives like the ‘English Stock’ which has gone on to spark new immigration policies, under the Pierre Trudeau government, advocating for diverse cultural representation to foster inclusiveness in Canada. Through the lens of race and ethnicity, immigrants are still navigating a system inherently designed for European culture. As shared with me by an international student, “[l]anguage is not as much [of a challenge] but facing the unknown alone outside of campus life is.” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). On the other hand, conventional & theoretical wisdom argues the English language is the perpetuity of British rule, and although this is not so direct, it is often taken for granted that the English language is very well often perceived as ‘king’ to Speakers of Other Languages and is commonly dismissed, being a cultural shock bestowed upon foreigners, arriving into a English dominated country. Simply put, having effective intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional support in place will mitigate the immigrant experience in Canada.
In this paper, I will show how this culture shock is experienced by immigrant families more so in Canada. Both socially & culturally, accent bias, “an unwarranted and unjustifiable prejudice toward individuals and communities…” (R-Squared, 2022., para.1) due to the sound of speech, is a reality for immigrants. According to Gassam Asare (2022), “accent discrimination is still a pervasive issue in the workplace” (para. 1). In 2017, while serving as the 2016-2017 Vice President of Student Affairs at IGNITE (North Campus) in Humber College, I conducted a focus group to better understand the international student experience. The meeting was held on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm located at the Ignite Office (Board Room) 205 Humber College Blvd Toronto, Ontario, Canada M9W 5L7. The revelation of this meeting discussion affirmed general, popular knowledge of Canada. Commonly, international students shared this notion that “Canada is a land of opportunity and a well-organized society” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) and is often perceived as “a country of order [and that] everyone is important” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). Although Canada is perceived as “one of the best countries to live in the world” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) by most international students, the tainted history of the preservation of the English Stock is a scarlet mark, hidden but still [somewhat] felt in Canada; clearly showing this land, closed armed and not so welcoming to diverse communities as we know it, nor warm towards Black & Indigenous peoples. This troubled history speaks of First Nations children who were forcibly placed into residential schools and “prevented from speaking their languages and practicing their religions, and were compelled to adopt the dominant, white European culture” (Brym, 2019, p. 151). Brym (2019) confirms “historical writing about Canada depicted the First Nations as evil personified” (p. 152). Early Canadian literature in the 1900’s attempted to gaslight the general public by rebranding the Indigenous peoples as the aggressors, when really, Indigenous peoples were victims met with violent atrocities and physiological warfare posed upon by white people. Consequently, formal apologies from both the Harper and (Justin) Trudeau government were made to set a “new tone in relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians” (Brym, 2019, p.152); however, the echoes of British rule, white European dominance, is arguably still [somewhat] felt through the culture shock experience of immigrants. Prior to the formal apology of the Canadian government, former Prime Minister (Pierre) Trudeau advocated to change this calice & cold approach as Van Dyk (2022) best explained by introducing (the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy, 1971) “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework as an official government policy. Multiculturalism was intended to preserve the cultural freedom of individuals and provide recognition of the cultural contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society” (para. 22). Despite the good-will policy gestures, it is argued that the intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional experience [still] produces a culture shock [felt] by immigrants. In this research paper, particularly & largely through the lens of my focused group while serving in student government, I will discuss the relevance of understanding how the intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional dynamics socially affect immigrants and how professional practices can be adopted on all levels of government, non-for profit and for-profit sectors but primarily within postsecondary education and to the field of early childhood studies.
It is often said that immigrant families migrating into Canada share common goals which can include one or more of the following: (1) to seek to have a better life in Canada; (2) improve the English language; (3) overcome the challenge of learning information in English & (4) have outing opportunities to better communicate with diverse cultural groups. Although these common shared goals are promising, the price tag to obtain this Canadian dream is often dismissed by the culture shock experience. In the discussion of immigrants, one key issue is the unparalleled experience of loneliness in contrast to Canadian born citizens. Commonly, immigrants who come to Canada to have a better life and to open up doors for others [family members and friends] back home, will experience a drastic change in social dynamics. Gouin & MacNeil (2019) acknowledges that “[o]ne population of individuals who experience rapid changes in social functioning is new international students (p. 39). During my focused group meeting, a student confirmed this reality by saying “[from] a personal perceptive, traveling alone [and] having no family [here], [I rely] completely on myself” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017), a common shared experience for immigrants arriving into Canada. Also, upon arrival, having little to no diversity in a home country is another issue. International students pointed out to me that “working with different cultural backgrounds is a unique experience” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). Plainly put, a high low cultural representation in language can increase the likelihood of loneliness. de Jong Gierveld et al (2015) says that “[o]ne might argue that Canadian born and immigrants of British or French origin have lowest levels of loneliness because their language and culture are congruent with the contexts in which they live'' essentially points to the issue of language barriers. Reaffirmed by a focused group participant in my focused group, “[from an] academic perspective, having to learn information in English'' (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) is a culture shock English speakers [can] often dismiss. In the spirit of advocacy, agencies have been identified in this research paper that support the success of integration within Canadian society. In short, these agencies provide intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional support for immigrants new to Canada.
When embarking upon travels and somewhat exploring the unknown, like indoor rock climbing, it helps to know that there are supports in place, beforehand. Like, before I climb up towards my goal, what are the agencies in place that support (1) life in Canada and (2) life after a postsecondary education, if need be, is really an important question from the vantage-point of immigrants new to Canada. It is a common experience, immigrants leaving behind family members and friends usually do not have any point of reference other than life in Canada is totally opposite to life back home. “Canada is a developed country which means my home country is the exact opposite” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) is a sentiment shared, confirming this experience. Another sentiment is, “what I miss the most about my home country is my family, friends, food & weather” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) and that, “we need to know where to go and what to do on and off campus life” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). So, what are the agencies or organizations at the forefront for life here in Canada as an immigrant? And what strategies do these agencies or organizations provide to remedy the culture shock experience? On a federal level, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2022), “[this service] provides protection to refugees, and offers programming to help newcomers settle in Canada'' and specifically for immigrants who experience loneliness, away from family supports on intrapersonal level, according to Bright Immigration (2021) [t]he Canadian government started a program called “Lonely Canadian Program” or the “Other Relative Program,” allowing Canadian Citizens or a permanent resident to sponsor an adult son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece to immigrate to Canada.” In my research on loneliness for immigrants, I noticed more support for senior immigrants [which is very important] but very little support for young adult immigrants in Canada, which means there is an opportunity to create more programs or services for this demographic. On a provincial level, the Accessible Community Counseling and Employment Services (ACCES) charity serves locations in Ontario (Toronto, Scarborough, Mississauga, Brampton, North York, Markham & Newmarket), providing Newcomers with tips to successfully integrate within Canadian society. Some of those tips include job preparation, networking and interviewing tips (i.e. daily life, finding a job, job-specific language training). As suggested, (ACCES, 2022) networking in Canada is a highly effective way to start a job search. Networking tips also include small talk topics and networking strategies. For immigrants who have little to no diversity in their home country and want to interact with others from diverse cultural groups on a interpersonal level, according to the City of Toronto (1988-2022), [and which is] [f]irst proclaimed in 2015, Toronto Newcomer Day is an annual event held in May that welcomes newcomers to Toronto, [that] helps [Newcomers] understand and access a wide range of services, and celebrates their contributions to the city. As confirmed by an international student in my focus group, “multiculturalism helps [us] see the world in a new way" (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). On a municipal level, according to the International Language Academy of Canada (2022), [this language school] welcomes students from more than 75 countries, making it one of the world’s most diverse schools to learn English, [with locations in Toronto & Vancouver]. ILAC accreditation and membership is with Languages Canada, Province of British Columbia: Education Quality Assurance, B.C. Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB), Bildungsurlaub & The Association of Language Travel Organisations, ALTO. ILAC also provides student housing. For immigrants experiencing language barriers learning information in English on a institutions level, according to the Language Instruction for Newcomers in Canada (LINC) program (2022), this program [sponsored by Immigrants, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)] [a]ssist [immigrants] in learning Canadian culture [in addition to improving] language skills [ultimately acquiring] conversation skills [such as] listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills through proper grammar and pronunciation.
For more than 100 years, the Canadian government has adopted policies in favor of immigrants and has developed a global reputation for welcoming diverse ethnicities as an open-door policy. Despite the history of the ‘English Stock,’ compared to other countries, Canada has put in the work to welcome the global community to its borders. According to the ICEF Monitor (2017) “Canada aims to nearly double the number of international students it attracts with a goal of 450,000 international students and researchers by 2022” (para. 1). With a specific concentration on Toronto, “[t]radition has it that the name comes from an old Indian word meaning a meeting-place” (Gilder, 1955), the city has become a playground ball pit with its multicolored balls representing the diversity in the city. You would think having diverse ethnic groups is a good thing and it is but the “meeting place” has cultural barriers that require didactical solutions that go beyond the concept of colorblindness. Derman-Sparks et al. (1978-80) suggests that “[t]he "color-blind" position is analogous to the ostrich's head-in-the sand strategy” within a social context. Some of the culture shock experiences, as stated, exist on an intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional level. To look at this more closely, we ought to first look at the immigrant experience on an intrapersonal level. In postsecondary education, as suggested by an international student in my focused group, “having outing opportunities'' (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017), “a directory of services outside of campus” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) and or “[networking] sessions with faculty members [and] students'' (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) can help address loneliness. Secondly, on an interpersonal level, as suggested by an international student in my focused group, “[having] events that helped with [the] ability to communicate with diverse cultural groups (a) having regular conversations (b) then learning how to accommodate to cultural preferences as the interaction goes along” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) in addition to “having a familiar faces and languages” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017) represented in social context can help address the culturaldiversity experience. In the field of Early Childhood Studies, the concept of honoring children's home culture is an anti-bias curriculum approach that extends children’s at-home care to programs. As shared in class, “[e]arly childhood programs bear an important responsibility to recognize and honor children’s home cultures” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 4) and ECE professionals can do this by working with the families of the children. “Families are able to help professionals create environments and approaches that are culturally consistent with the children’s experiences at home” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 8) and how this looks in a practical way is simply “[inviting] family members who speak the child’s home language to visit the classroom” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 22). According to the Alberta Teachers’ Association (2010), “[learning] cultural protocols from elders or community leaders” by way of classroom invitation can be accomplished by “inviting elders and community leaders to attend functions, observe or lead celebrations, or teach some lessons, [which can model] respectful behavior” and create a strong bond with family members. Another concept to adopt is cultural continuity. This anti-bias curriculum approach is “[w]hen the program’s ways of eating, taking, disciplining, nurturing, and playing are similar to his/her family’s ways, [and as a result] the child experiences cultural continuity” and when “to the degree that practices differ between the home and the program, children experience cultural discontinuity” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 5). A practical strategy that supports cultural continuity in programs can be “[encouraging] families to continue to develop their child’s home language, by reading to their child in that language; [creating] a lending library of children’s books and [inviting] families and friends to help create some books in languages that are not currently [in program]” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 23). Lastly, we ought to look at the immigrant experience on an institutional level. In postsecondary education, “[creating] credited transferable skills workshops [is great] to put on resumes. Why? [According to an international student, there is an emphasis that] Canadian companies care about and give importance to non-mandatory academic skills” (Humber College student, personal communication, January 31st, 2017). To further support immigrants, educators can implement technological learning opportunities like Google translate, an application that can help users learn information [in any language] including English. An et al (2020) advocates that “[i]ndeed, technology not only constitutes an important learning space by providing learners with flexible learning venues across time  but also impacts on their language learning motivation and learning outcomes [4, 5]” experienced in English speaking institutions. In the field of Early Childhood Studies, the concept of a third space is an anti-bias curriculum approach that can bridge the education gap between home and school life. As shared in class, “[t]he concept of third space means that when two groups do things two different ways, neither group gives up its ideas; instead, both groups see a new way. They develop a compromise that incorporates what is [both home & school learning]” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 15). ECE professionals can also “learn key words and phrases in each child’s home language [‘]greetings, requests for help, words of encouragement[’]” (as cited by Sargeant, 2022, p. 22) to implement into programs. In sum, providing intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional support for immigrants helps to mitigate the culture shock experience in Canada.
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