Friday, April 18, 2008

What to do with those immigrants...

I had just convinced myself that there's nothing wrong with always being asked "And where are you coming from?". I thought I am getting wiser, realizing that people mean to be polite and to start a conversation. I said to myself there's nothing to be upset about, people are not trying to undermine you right to be wherever you are. The problem really is mine, I thought; I'm the one who gets upset because I am the one who suspects such questions point to the fact that I will always be seen as a 'stranger' no matter what.

And just as I was about to become a believer, I came across a new poll on attitudes towards immigrants in Canada (Globe and Mail, April 17, 2008). According to the survey - and again, I have my problems with surveys in general, so I'm not buying everything they say 100% - most Canadians feel that Canada needs immigrants and that Canada welcomes immigrants. Yet, 61% of Canadians (and 72% in Quebec - well, why do we always have to point the finger at Quebec...) feel Canada is doing too much to accommodate visible minorities. Now, I think this is an interesting point: it doesn't refer to immigrants as a whole, but to visible minorities. Which makes you ask what visible minorities had people in mind (not white, duh!) and what is the prevailing collective vision of Canadian society.

I'm a fan of everyday life examples. So here are two: recently arrived to Canada, an acquaintance remarked about a person of Asian descent that s/he is not Canadian, because s/he is Asian. And only a few days ago, a friend pointed out that she met this very nice Indian girl, from India, who in fact had been born and raised in Canada. "Then why is she Indian?", I asked. Well, she obviously was Indian - and by 'obviously' I mean she didn't have the right color of skin and the right name that make somebody a Canadian, according to the collective vision.

And people say there's no consensus on what makes the national identity in Canada! May I point out that the proponents in both examples above were immigrants themselves? Both white, truth be told. But one has to wonder just where and how they got their vision of Canada, and how this vision is consistent with what almost everyone in the world would be able to recognize: the discourse of nationalism, defining what is the relation between space and individual, between individual and the community. This is why, I think, I'm so skeptical of the 'mosaic' theories or the post-modern national identity theories. I am not sure there's anything post-modern at work in the construction of national identity in Canada, just different circumstances: yes, there are many, many immigrants in a time of political correctness, so the discourse of the national identity has to adapt to this. But make no mistakes, there is a national identity, no matter how flexible - or rather, contested, - it might be. And the assumptions it holds are the same: your identity is defined by your (hyphenated) national identity, you belong to a country and a nation, you stand for certain values by virtue of being identified as a national. And you see people as belonging or not to certain nations.

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