Integrate at own pace

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

November 30, 2007 Ed Cartoon

In 2005-2006, Statistics Canada reported that immigrants accounted for two thirds of Canada’s population growth, which demonstrates the important role new Canadians will play in driving Canada’s growth.

At the same time, burgeoning immigration has led to sharp debates about the role of immigrants in Canada.

In Quebec, a public commission has been tasked by the provincial government with exploring the reasonable limits of accommodation of ethnic and religious minorities.

Critics have charged the commission’s hearings simply unearth racism and xenophobia rather than encourage constructive dialogue on immigration.

Elections Canada’s decision to allow Muslim women to vote without showing their face also raised the issue of accommodation.

The cultural makeup of Canada will continue to diversify as new immigrants continue to arrive. As Canada becomes more diverse, more questions arise about identity, immigration and integration.

For some it becomes a question of which identity takes primacy for immigrants and for Canadians. Can we balance our heritage and our citizenship or are these mutually exclusive?

Identity could be seen as a cut and dry issue: either you are Canadian or you are something else.

Many people however, prefer to see themselves as ‘hyphenated Canadians,’ that is to say they are politically Canadian and culturally otherwise.

Some might contend this proves there is no tangible Canadian identity. Others would ask why it is not satisfactory to identify one self as Canadian alone.

However, Canadian identity might be more accurately seen as a collection of intangible values.

Perhaps the lack of a recognizable Canadian culture is more attributable to the fact it is not seen as a culture since it is the mainstream culture " one we unconsciously participate in.

How far, then, should immigrants integrate into Canadian culture?

It is important immigrants attempt to integrate into Canadian society and adapt some of Canada’s values and structures to be a part of this country.

But integration can have the unintended effect of contributing to a loss of identity for immigrants: as first-generation immigrants integrate their children into Canadian culture, they lose a sense of their heritage " with the risk of losing it completely in the next generation.

Ultimately it is up to immigrants to decide how to balance their dual identity while embracing life in a new country.

In this sense, integration is a push-pull process between Canada and immigrants; Canada has the right to encourage immigrants to participate in society but it should embrace cultural diversity since it benefits all of us.

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