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Indo-Canadians: No need to be hyphenated

The Indian diaspora in Canada has done very well, says Dr Satwinder Bains

By Ajit Jain
TheIndianDiaspora.com
May 17, 2014
Dr Satwinder Bains, Director, Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of Fraser Valley (British Columbia)
Dr Satwinder Bains, Director, Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of Fraser Valley (British Columbia)

Toronto: The Indian community in Canada is, to a large extent, affluent and progressive, but there is still some resistance to social change, says Dr Satwinder Bains, Director, Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of Fraser Valley (British Columbia).

Dr Bains, a long-time advocate of cross-cultural education, has been a diversity educator, community developer and activist in the areas of women’s rights, youth empowerment and immigrant settlement integration. She is an avid participant in community affairs both at the civic and provincial level, and has served on numerous committees locally and nationally.

Dr Bains has written extensively on the Indian diaspora and that’s what she teaches her under-graduate and graduate students. She has particularly engaged with issues that prevent the Indian community from actively becoming part of Canadian society. Excerpts from an interview to The Indian Diaspora:

What does your research say about the Indian Diaspora?

The Indian Diaspora is diverse and spread all over Canada. So, I cannot put one monolithic idea on the Diaspora. But my general view is... it is doing well. There are, of course, pockets of resistance to change, which is true of any community. We are not the only one to have that. It is a progressive community and has always succeeded in upward mobility in terms of financial and economic gains.

(The area) where I see some stress and not much progression is in social change within our cultural group. That’s normal. It is part of evolution, of becoming part of the Canadian society. But for a country that has different rules, different laws, different culture, values and beliefs, we have to re-adjust to those values to maintain what the checks are, and these things take time. We are in that process now.

Our big groups came in the 60s, early 70s and 80s. Those groups, after 30-40 years of living in Canada, are settling and integrating into Canadian society. They were initially in the settlement phase of finding work, making money, looking after the children, doing all things that are normal to new immigrants. This large bulge of immigrants is now in this unique position where they have wealth, they have wherewithal, they have knowledge, they are becoming educated, their children are becoming educated.

What are the issues that you link to “social change”?

Gender issues, inter-generational conflicts, even issues of heritage, issues of values and belief structures. Some of our ideas on marriage are too entrenched and that’s where problems arise. I am not suggesting we should throw everything out. But there’s a new paradigm of living in another country, another society and so we, members of the Indian Diaspora in Canada, should raise our heads and acknowledge that some of our ideas are old and we should re-adjust them to a new thinking.

There is a gender gap. Men and women have to adjust to each other. I feel women adjust better in the private sphere -- whether it is home or a social setting. Men are in the public sphere: their work, their career, and they excel. That’s shifting. Men and women are now looking anew at relationships. The old lines are becoming blurred. Women are now in careers. They do not do what women traditionally used to do -- looking after children. We will see that shift happening more and more.

Women are also now opting for non-traditional careers like engineering, science, research -- which means long hours at work. Women are going into journalism and diplomatic services where they are traveling all the time. So, women are looking at every opportunity now, so different from earlier times. (Yet), we as Indo-Canadians have a long way to go on gender issues.

We still go to India to find spouses for our children…

Yes, there’s a large group of people who feel that way and do that way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in that kind of value system. If you migrated from India, say, within the last 10 years, and you have children of marriageable age, you may not find something in common with someone in Canada. You commonly find those values in India.

But many such arranged marriages are failing.

Marriages are failing regardless. Let us not forget that 50 percent of love marriages are falling apart.

Living here, we denigrate arranged marriages.

I take exception to that. It is not the type of marriage -- love or arranged. People come together and there are joint expectations about marriage. You reach a stage where you can’t live together any more. So it is not so much about the type of marriage as it is about the people who got together to marry.

How has the Diaspora done economically and in the professions here?

We have done really well economically, not just in professions, but also in industries such as home construction. There’s a boom in British Columbia, and probably in Ontario as well, where our people have entered the construction industry and they are saying: “I can make money by doing this.” So, it is not just the educated class; our people have really excelled. They have are working hard to move upward. We have looked and are looking for new opportunities. We are not shy. Our community is very aggressive, open, and extroverted. We have embraced Canada and what Canada offers. We are also giving back.

Giving back? In what way?

Scholarships, grants, philanthropy -- not just for people back home, but for those living here as well. As you know, our people always send money home to their loved ones for their security. Now people are (also) spending money here. They are giving money to charitable causes. Our people are building wings in hospitals. The Surrey Memorial Hospital in British Columbia now has an emergency wing named after Guru Nanak. Several million dollars of fundraising was done by the Surrey Hospital Foundation. The community is aware that, as they live in Surrey and use Surrey hospital, it makes perfect sense to go to the community and say, “let us raise funds for the hospital that we use the most”.

Any other concerns about the diaspora that you may have?

The generational gap is always there. The children spend eight to 10 hours in the school, away from our home setting. It’s a cross-cultural world, and we haven’t quite adapted or adjusted to that. Children have different lives at home, at work and in the school. There’s a lot of conflict there. We are not a culture that goes out and seeks help.

Parents still try to order children. People are changing, but there are pockets of resistance. Children are asked to follow the rules of the house as they are laid out. There’s conflict there.

All young people want to spread their wings, become individuals in their own right and not be reflections of their parents. There’s nothing wrong with that. So, when children push the envelope... you can imagine when there’s push back from the social fabric that says we can’t allow this to happen. That’s when the relationship breaks down.

How does one deal with this?

I have always advocated: let the family talk it out and arrive at an understanding so that most people come to the middle. People stay extreme and that’s where the difficulties happen. We have to learn how to communicate. We are not active listeners. We don’t communicate with our children.

Take my own case. I feel I am quite liberal and educated, but I sometimes find it difficult to talk to my children because our lines of communications are so different. But you can’t give up because the process is difficult. The sad part, I repeat, is we are not very active listeners.

The role of talking and communicating with children has in India always been delegated to grandparents, to the extended family. Parents are working. They don’t have the time. Here too the parents are working. They have two jobs and hardly have the time to communicate. Where the problem occurs for us in Canada is that the older persons don’t speak the language of the children. The grandparents are home but they don’t speak the language and so there’s no communication. They are not able to have any dialogue with the kids. It is different in India where there’s the common language.

Your message to the community?

Become more open-minded to the issues that we face. Let us air them. If we don’t, they will keep on festering. The home country is becoming less and less important. People are born here. There’s this second generation. A large number of Indo-Canadians who were born here and have never traveled to India, their perception of India is different; their perception of India is changing and will change so much more in the next few years.

In a sense it is a good thing. Canada is our country now. You can’t be worried about another place. There is confusion among young kids when they hear they are Indo-Canadians -- or what’s called hyphenated Canadians. They say they are Canadians. Some say, “I really don’t know which side I have to choose”. You don’t have to. You don’t have to be hyphenated.