COLUMN: Risks and rewards of immigration

This article is part of community-wide centennial celebrations honouring the building of the National Historic Site Gur Sikh Temple (est. 1911). By 1962 the Canadian government had removed all racial and national restrictions from its immigration regulations. This led to an increase in South Asian immigration, and from 1962-71 immigration levels were 12 times what they had been in the previous decade.

This article is part of community-wide centennial celebrations honouring the building of the National Historic Site Gur Sikh Temple (est. 1911).

By 1962 the Canadian government had removed all racial and national restrictions from its immigration regulations. This led to an increase in South Asian immigration, and from 1962-71 immigration levels were 12 times what they had been in the previous decade.

From 1971-82 about 200,000 South Asians came to Canada, making them one of the largest immigrant flows of the period. Sikhs were no longer the predominant immigrant people, as other ethnic groups like Pakistanis, South Indians, Bangladeshis, South Asians from Africa, Fiji and the Caribbean soon started to become established in Canada.

Between 1960-80 a quarter of million people of South Asian descent experienced the risks and rewards of making Canada their new home.

In the mid 1960s Indian immigrants were geographically dispersed in Canada, which made their entrance less visible. Most of the new immigrants were educated professionals and spoke English and they were able to get around any preconceptions that people might have had of South Asians being culturally foreign. Canada opened new opportunities for them and they were able to get good jobs and send their children to good schools.

During this period, because the economy was expanding, South Asian settlement went smoothly. Discrimination and racism had decreased apart from a few cultural aspects of South Asians that still seemed unusual to their Canadian counterparts (e.g. food, clothing etc.)

However, in the years 1968-72 these perceptions became more prevalent, especially in B.C.  Prejudices arose about Sikh workers taking jobs in the mills away from Canadians. These views were not altogether spurious, because before the entry of the Sikhs, some mills often had difficulty keeping employees. They would quit anytime, whereas the Sikhs stayed. Thus resentment against the Sikhs grew.

Employment still remained a problem for many South Asians because they found it difficult to convince employers about their education and experience.

Some did find jobs and sponsored their families and settled well. However, as immigration increased, so did the prejudices against the South Asians. Incidents of verbal abuse and vandalism increased in B.C. during the 70’s. Many incidents were reported where some South Asians had even been beaten to death. By 1976 harassment of South Asians had become a socially acceptable peer group activity in Toronto and Vancouver.

Most Canadians now neither overtly discriminate against South Asians nor wish to. Once culturally, legally and socially isolated, South Asians are now an important and integral part of the Canadian society. They have made a successful attempt to integrate themselves into the fabric of Canadian life. It was the struggle of the first pioneers in B.C. that made it possible for their children to enjoy the fruits of hard labour today.

Information provided by Navneet Sidhu, Center for Indo Canadian Studies at UFV.

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