New Canadian Media
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:04

Making “Friends” Key to Integration

by A Special Correspondent in Montreal

A new Concordia University study has found that making friends in Canada and being positive about the "new country" can go a long way in helping new immigrants integrate into communities. 

“[The study] shows that the early days after immigration are very important for newcomers. The dispositions and preferences expressed by people when they first arrive will set them off on different trajectories of social engagement in the new culture,” said a Concordia news release.

The study suggests it is important to invest in resources to support immigrants at the very beginning of their integration journey, especially those who may have misgivings about the environment they are entering into.
 
The study was conducted by recent Concordia graduate, Marina Doucerain. The researchers surveyed 158 international students who had just arrived in Montreal, whose native tongues were neither French nor English and who had not had much time to change and adapt to their new cultural environment.
 
New Canadian Media conducted this interview with Doucerain by email. 

1. Does Canada's policy of multiculturalism play a role in these predictors of integration?

We did not specifically test that idea, but we believe it does. In terms of social interactions and friendships, it takes two to tango. The fact that newcomers were able to form friendships in the mainstream society and interact regularly with Canadians likely reflects a welcoming Canadian climate that encourages contact between members of different cultural groups.

2. Does it matter if the "friends" are drawn from the same ethnic community?

For an immigrant, making friends with someone with the same cultural origin or with people in the mainstream society is quite different. For that reason, this study focused on predicting interactions and friendships in the mainstream society, so outside of people's own cultural group.

In addition, we selected only participants who had neither English nor French as their native language. We reasoned that making friends with well-established Canadians is very different for someone from China or Venezuela than for someone from the United States or from France.

 3. What percentage of those studied were successfully "integrated" over the course of the study?

This is really hard to say, as there are no clear cut-offs for what "successful integration" means. Does it mean having three, or five, or 10 Canadian friends? Does it mean regularly talking to 5 or 10 Canadians? We just don't know, and that's why more research is needed.

What "successful integration" really means is still a pretty open questions. We have elements of answers, but no clear categories.

4. Were there any factors that are specific to Quebec weighed as part of the study?

The study took place in Montreal, which is a very bilingual city. This allowed us to test our hypotheses in both Francophone and Anglophone contexts (the study was the product of a collaboration between researchers at Concordia university and Université du Québec à Montréal). We observed the same patterns in both contexts.

5. What policy implications do these findings have?

In this study, we focused on the very early days of migration, literally within a few weeks of newcomers' arrival. We believe that these early days are crucial and that it's would be important to invest energy and resources to make sure that newcomers have a lot of opportunities to have positive contact with people in the new society. This could take different forms.

For example, a mentoring or buddy program where immigrants are paired up with a well-established Canadian, just to talk, have some interactions, could be really helpful. Having this initial contact could give an entry point to the immigrant into their new society.

6. Lastly, do the researchers plan to test out their study on a national scale?

This is indeed an exciting future direction for our research!

More information on this study can be found here - The importance of making friends fast — when you’re an immigrant

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 11:50

Journalism: What is Lost in Translation

by Our National Correspondent in Ottawa

Lucile Davier, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, has spent many years looking at journalism that relies on translating from a foreign language. In a sense, her work examines the implications of reporters and editors working in multilingual settings. She has authored two studies, both of which looked at journalism in Switzerland, including stories leading up to the 2009 minaret ban in the central European nation. 

New Canadian Media interviewed Davier by e-mail to better understand her findings and any lessons Canada can learn given its own multilingual-multicultural context. 

Questions relating to The paradoxical invisibility of translation in the highly multilingual context of news agencies (2014)

1. Your study focused on two news agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Agence télégraphique suisse (ATS) in Switzerland. Why did you choose these two news agencies?

I wanted to investigate multilingual news agencies based in Switzerland and their coverage of a Swiss political event. The Swiss bureaus of Associated Press (since 2009) and Reuters only produce news in English. This leaves us with two multilingual players: the global Agence France-Presse (AFP), which has a regional bureau in Geneva and produces information in French and English, and the national Agence télégraphique suisse (ats), which covers Switzerland in German, French and Italian, the three official languages of the country.

2. What would you say were your three main findings from this study?

To start with, I think it is important to clarify that these wire agencies are B2B services: they sell their stories to other media outlets, large companies and governmental offices. In other words, their stories are circulated very widely in the media.

First, I confirmed that translation is everywhere in news agencies: editorial meetings are multilingual, reporters deal with sources in a second language every day, most quotations are translated, etc.

Second, I showed that translation is hidden: it is never mentioned as such neither in the stories nor in the newsroom, and it is considered by the staff as simple and straightforward.

This combination of high multilingualism and invisibility of translation may distort the information. When they are not sure they have understood a source correctly, journalists (especially young ones) are afraid of asking colleagues because translation is supposed to be so easy. Moreover, their stories are not subjected to bilingual revision, so inaccurate translations can go past unnoticed. Eventually, journalists avoid sources in a second language as much as possible in order not to have to deal with translation.

3. What do you think are the implications from your findings? What do journalists who work in multilingual contexts need to know about translations in their reporting/editing? Is there something like "lost[to readers] in translation"?

There are important implications for the training of journalists in Switzerland, and possibly in other multilingual countries (I am currently conducting a similar study in Canada). I believe that the language proficiency of journalists should be enhanced during their education. Their translation skills should be developed as well: I am a translator myself, so I can tell that mastering a second language is not a sufficient condition to be able to translate.

I would like to help audiences read news from multilingual media or in a multilingual country with a critical eye. There is a loss in every translation, even good translations, because information gets lost, added and changed when it crosses linguistic and cultural barriers. If you read online news, try to be critical: for example, did the President of China speak in English? Or was his speech translated? By whom? By the Chinese government? By a news agency?

Questions relating to 'Cultural translation’ in news agencies? A plea to broaden the definition of translation (2015)

1. This study examined the role of culture in news translation, in the specific context of a debate in Switzerland (2007-10) over banning the building of Islamic minarets. What do you think were the 3 main findings?

Reporting about a foreign event for a local audience means crossing two borders: a language border and a cultural border. This study specifically looked at cultural borders. Given the time and space constraints newswire reporters face, these changes can be spotted in three textual phenomena.

The most common place for cultural information is background paragraphs. Background paragraphs are mostly situated at the end of a story and give general information about a region or a happening. My study showed that these paragraphs influence the way the readers understand the story. For instance, a paragraph saying that Muslims in Switzerland are “mainly from the Balkans and Turkey” may convey the idea for the readers that Muslims are foreigners.

Journalists also need to categorize sources for readers who are not familiar with them, for example to explain if a political party is left-wing or right-wing. In the case of foreign news in particular, these categorizations cannot include very detailed information and guide the reader towards a biased interpretation.

While reporting about a foreign event, journalists come to grips with culture-specific terms. They can either borrow a foreign reality and explain it (e.g., “the Federal Council – or Swiss government”), or substitute it with a word referring to a known reality (e.g., “the Cabinet”). Replacing a foreign notion altogether with a familiar concept may be easier to understand for the readers, but it also unfairly makes them believe that the notion is similar to what they know. For instance, using the word “referendum” in French refers to a rare political event in Canada and France. In Switzerland, however, a “votation” is a form of referendum but is organized at least four times a year, which is typical of a semi-direct democracy.

2. Do you think the debate over the minarets would have been different had reporters accounted for cultural factors in their reporting/translation of interviews?

This was not covered in the article under discussion, but is the subject of a broader research which will be reported in a book coming out this April. It will discuss how the representations journalists have of translation influence the choice of their sources. To cut a long story short, journalists have negative conceptions of translation: they find it dull and tedious, so they try to avoid it whenever they can. As a result, they unconsciously favour sources able to speak their native language. For instance, French-speaking reporters quoted a disproportionate number of French-speaking Muslim representatives, who traditionally hold more radical views of Islam than their German-speaking counterparts. Had they translated more, they would have given a voice to more moderate visions of Islam in the country. Who knows, it may have made Swiss voters more empathetic towards the Muslim population.

3. What do you think are the implications of this study for journalists working in multicultural contexts like Canada?

Cultural explanations may look more important than “linguistic” translation, but I believe both phenomena are just two sides of the same medal. My study showed that news agency journalists tend to copy and paste the same explanations about an event from one news item to the next one, which can reinforce cultural prejudices. However, if reporters integrate new background information from time to time (let’s be realistic…) by translating it from other stories (from other language communities or regions), they may introduce new points of view and widen the mindsets of their audiences.

Readers could also learn to be more critical about the concise background information they are given in a news report. When you come across cultural explanations, you can try to figure out what information was included or left out given the time and space limitations the journalists need to work with. Could this explanation be a caricature of a more complex reality? Where could you find more detailed background information?

Lucile Davier is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and a lecturer at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). In 2013, she earned a joint doctoral degree in translation studies and communication studies from the University of Geneva and the University Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). During the academic year 2012-2013, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Her research interests include news translation, convergent journalism and ethnography of translation/journalism. She has also freelanced as a professional translator (language combination: FR-DE-EN-ES) since 2006. Davier can be reached at LDavier@uottawa.ca

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 15:51

War Over “Authentic” Vietnamese Cuisine

by Andrew Lam in San Francisco

People take pride in the food they eat, and ethnic communities especially form and retain their identities around their traditional cuisines. What’s Italian without pasta? Or Thai without their Tom Yum Goong?

For the Vietnamese, it is, of course, pho soup, that delectable and aromatic noodle dish that has had Vietnamese fighting each other over how best to make it — northerners and southerners have their own interpretation — and pho now finds itself in a controversy over a video made by Bon Appétit featuring a white chef telling people how to enjoy the dish. 

At one end, there are those who bristle at a white man telling them how to eat their own food, claiming that Bon Appétit is practicing cultural appropriation. At the other end, there are those who speak of freedom of expression — freedom to eat and cook whatever they want: it’s a free a country, and it’s all protected by the First Amendment. [The Bon Appétit video has since been pulled].

My feeling on this is a little complicated. To even get to the issue of cultural appropriation, it is inevitable that one should ask first and foremost, “What is authentic?”

If you go for back far enough, everything is borrowed. Pasta makes a national dish, but it is a combination of noodle and tomato. Marco Polo, as legend has it, brought back the noodle from China, and the tomato that makes the sauce came back with the conquistadors who conquered South America.

Vietnamese cooking has been anything but authentic if you go back far enough. Vietnam had her hands in many pots, from India to France, from Thailand to China. The Banh Mi, which now dominates the sandwich industry in the United States, is a borrowed fare from the French baguette. Yet in Vietnam, hardly anyone thinks about France when they sit down and eat their favorite dish in the morning.

Indeed, appropriation and adaptations are the survival instincts of the Vietnamese who have to deal with a long and arduous history of being dominated and colonized by one powerful country after the next. Vietnamese language itself is an almagamation of Chinese, French, Khmer and an array of colliding local tribal dialects. The same can be said of its spirituality: Atop a traditional Vietnamese altar, a visitor will find various Buddhas, faded images of grandpa and grandma, and statues of Taoist saints. This combination of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism known, as tam giao, is the result of efforts to integrate religious ideas that arrived in the country over the millennia. Ancestor worship is mixed with yearnings for Buddhist nirvana, while the temporal world is measured through the Taoist flow of life force known as the qi.

Then there is the story of Vietnam’s indigenous religion, Cao Dai, established in the mid-1920s, which goes so far as to integrate and reconcile the world’s major religions. In its cosmos it perceives Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam all as human efforts to worship and communicate with the one Supreme Being. It numbers Moses, Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Victor Hugo, Sun Yat-Sen, Jesus Christ, and the Vietnamese poet Trạng Trình among its many prophets and saints. Graham Greene, in his Vietnam novel "The Quiet American," called Cao Dai the “prophecy of planchette,” as its spiritualists receive messages of wisdom from the various saints in séances.

Little wonder that we would see a mixture in Vietnamese cuisine as well. In bò kho, or beef stew, to cite but one example, there’s beef, carrot, and tomato brought by the French, curry powder from India, cinnamon from Ceylon, star anise from China, and chilies, lemongrass, and fish sauce from Vietnam itself. If you feel like it, pour in a little red wine from Bordeaux and it will still work beautifully. Vietnamese cooking thrives on integrating new ingredients to achieve new balances. What is invention, after all, if not one part theft and two parts reinterpretation?

Pho, too, arguably the most authentic Vietnamese dish, didn’t come into being without the help of other civilizations. What’s almost certain is that it came from North Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, about a century ago. What is less certain is how. Seminars on the dish have scholars from all over the world arguing whether the word came from the French word feu (fire) -- as in the dish pot-au-feu -- or whether it descended from the word Fen -- Chinese for rice noodle. Star anise, native to southwest China, is used in combination with Vietnamese fish sauce to give it its distinct flavor, but French onion is also used to sweeten the broth. Cardamom comes from India but noodle is definitely Chinese. Yet in Vietnam, beef was rarely eaten until the French came in the late 1800s.

The nature of all creativity is to borrow and remake -- that is to say, transgression and appropriation. Some of today’s newly invented dishes are a marriage of various traditions, an add-on, an homage. The Chicago deep-dish pizza was once thin and simple from Naples. And if you haven’t tasted a Korean barbecue short-rib taco, popularly known as the Kogi, you must. Chased with chili salsa, kimchi and crushed sesame seeds, the Kogi is a daring invention that started with roaming trucks in Southern California but people lined the street waiting for their arrival. What is avant-garde today may very well become traditional fare tomorrow.

Having said all this, however, as a Vietnamese American, I confess to sharing that feeling of being slighted in seeing my own traditional dishes being “explained” by an “outsider.” Why? Because in the modern world, those who sell themselves off as experts while ignoring those who have been practicing their living culinary tradition for generations are committing the sin of omission. It is like having an intellectual panel on America’s diversity but the panelists are all white males. Or casting Matt Damon as the lead hero in films like The Great Wall, or God forbid, a white actress to play Mulan in the next Disney film, inserting whiteness at the center of a story when historically there was none. That insistence on being the center of someone else’s story is at once myopic and narcissistic. The lack of awareness or perhaps mere laziness of not reaching out to the other is jarring, if not damning, and that self-importance backfires in the age of social media and global consciousness.

I wonder: Would it be a lot of work for Bon Appétit to ask an array of Vietnamese American chefs known for cooking amazing pho to chime in on what makes a Vietnamese dish taste good and how to prepare it? Wouldn’t it be more wonderful if we see different interpretations of the dish but still give a nod to the living culinary culture of a people as practiced everyday?

In our world, free and full of creativity, you should have the right to make any dishes you like, and reinvent and resell it.

But at the same time, you shouldn’t be able to get away with it when you pretend to have expertise of others' cultures while ignoring the people who practice them. You should at the very least pay the proper homage, and be humble as one of the many practitioners in the tasting game -- and not claim yourself as its master.

Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.“ The above essay was originally published in Off the Menu: Asian America, a co-production between the Center for Asian American Media and KQED, featuring a one-hour PBS primetime special by award-winning filmmaker Grace Lee (American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs). 

Under arrangement with New America Media

Published in Arts & Culture
Thursday, 22 September 2016 16:19

Conflating Cultural Values with Secular Ideals

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.

The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.

The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.

If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.

Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.

The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”

The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.

The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.

Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.

Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.

A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.

Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.

Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.

This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.

Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.

But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.

Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.

But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.

Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post. 

Published in Policy

by Shan Qiao in Toronto   

Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real-time interpretation apps, even launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are getting fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.

Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has begun operations in Vancouver and Toronto. It is the very first Chinese-founded and -invested bank in Canada, a federally chartered Schedule I Bank under the Bank Act and regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

The man behind it, the founder and also the Vice Chair of the WOBC Board, Shenglin Xian, says from his Vancouver office that there are only 28 such foreign banks in Canada. “It is a historic moment for the Chinese community.”

Shenglin Xian, who is a well-known Chinese community financial advisor, has his own company Shenglin Financial Group Inc. located in North York, Toronto. He got into financial consultancy after he immigrated to Canada in 1990.

Same language, better understanding

“Currently, we will focus on serving the Chinese Canadians from the Great Vancouver Area and the Great Toronto Area. We will hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking employees. Our service slogan is ‘same language, better understanding (translation)’,” he continues, explaining what he envisions as a respect for Chinese values and culture.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in early 90's like Shenglin, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks for their Chinese language website.

He completely agrees with the fact that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems: Canada’s and the immigrant source country's.

“China’s (banking system) is even more different. The policy and products are very much in the different zones as well. Service literally translated into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the meaning behind. For example, credit rating in Canada is very critical for banks to determine whether or not applicants can apply for line of credit and how much they can get. One SIN number check will bring up a very detailed credit history of the applicant. However, it doesn’t really exist in China’s banking system, letting along for Chinese newcomers to understand the importance of credit rating,” Ming explains.

Maggie Yuan works at a public relations firm which provides multi-language translation services for corporate Canada's ethnic marketing needs in the Chinese and South Asian markets. 

“For economic reasons, mainstream comapnies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts, I have been dealing with, especially in bank, insurance, public service, entertainment industry, the needs to have Chinese language translation have always been increasing. Companies strategically promote their investment in diversity to gain positive image in immigrant community. It’s quite political, but it’s also about business,” she says.

Overcoming language, culture barriers

The major Canadian banks are also stepping up, developing faster and more convenient tools to woo immigrant clients who face a language barrier. Just last month, Royal Bank of Canada, which already has a Chinese version of its website besides the official English and French language, introduced a new app – the first of its kind in North America – that provides clients with real-time video access to qualified interpreters.

Christine Shisler, RBC's Senior Director of Cultural Markets, explains why such a language app makes business sense.

“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our client – especially newcomers – understand how banking works in Canada.”

Shisler stresses out that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all of the important firsts – from first bank account to first home purchase. That means a lot of tailored service in language and cultural senses.

Going further, the bank’s Beijing staff, for example, will help students and family initiate their financial transition even before they arrive in Canada, a more aggressive business approach similar to what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing in the reverse direction. 

Published in Economy

CARLETON University President Roseann O’Reilly Runte has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the High Commissioner of India to Canada, Vishnu Prakash, to renew a visiting India Chair in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences focused on India-related studies at Carleton’s Canada-India Centre for Excellence (CICE). “We attach great importance to our relationship […]

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Published in India

It wasn’t until he finished university that Rishi Agarwal found the courage to tell his parents he was gay.

When he was in high school, he knew of a gay Sikh student who committed suicide after coming out to his parents. And though he was aware of his feelings from a young age, he came to realise that he couldn’t change when he was university.

“It was a tough time for me,” said Agarwal, 35, an accountant by training, according to an article on scroll.in 

“My parents were social butterflies, and in that time frame we were attending about 15 to 20 weddings in a year. I was very happy for my family friends. But it also struck home inside, the feeling that I am never going to have this – marry a person I love, and share that with my family and friends. It was hard to accept that was the reality.”

Asian Pacific Post

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Published in Commentary

by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, British Columbia

Identity determines how we value ourselves and how others perceive us. Its significance has increased with globalization, migration and technological advancements. Many people today consider themselves to have multiple identities, while others are happy with a single identifier.

In The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, a book edited by Nurjehan Aziz, 12 authors grapple with the idea of Islamic identity in Canada.

Panel discussions on the book have been held throughout Canada, including in Vancouver.

The book documents the everyday lives of several Canadian Muslims. Some authors write about their own experiences, others about the Muslim community in Canada. Some essays are written in an academic style, while others are personal narratives.

Islam in post-Harper Canada

Almost every chapter criticizes the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “targeting” or “scapegoating” Muslims for political gain. 

Haroon Siddiqui’s chapter, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official — Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter,” deals with the experiences of Muslims under the Harper government.

He presents a list of what he calls “Islamophobic” actions, speeches, policies or legislation undertaken by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, immigration ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney, and other Conservative members of Parliament and senators.

Ihsaan Gardee and Amira Elghawaby call on Canadian Muslims to reclaim their identities and reframe harmful narratives that were on the verge of becoming mainstream under the Conservative government.

This requires active civic engagement from Canadian Muslims, something that has increased thanks in part to groups such as Canadian-Muslim Vote and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Authors debate Muslim identity

“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text.”

In some instances, one author in the book responds to the concerns or questions raised by another. Safia Fazlul says she “lives on the fringe of being ‘somewhat liberal Canadian’ and ‘somewhat conservative Muslim South Asian.’”

Her inability and unwillingness to live strictly in one category led her to be discriminated against and excluded by “both liberal and secular Canadians and traditional Muslim Canadians.” People do not accept her even though she is comfortable with her multiple identities.

Ameen Merchant, on the other hand, raises a valid point about subjectivity and somewhat ignores the opinions of others about his relationship with Islam.

“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text,” he writes. "Then again, my subjectivity is also not anyone else’s. It is multifarious absorbent, and always subject to change. And it is my own.”

Mohamed Abualy Alibhai’s suggestion that Muslims in North America “abandon the belief in the verbal revelation of the Qur'an,” mirrors arguments raised by activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, mainly that the literal understanding of the Qur'an must be “reformed or discarded.”

Alibhai and Hirsi Ali are in agreement on their understanding of controversial topics such as jihad, sharia and the importance of the afterlife in Islam.

…we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.

Furthermore, Alibhai advocates for a conscience-based Islamic denomination, as if it does not exist. However, a look at Karim H. Karim’s chapter illustrates how Aga Khan, the Imam or spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, has been doing what Alibhai argues is needed.

“The Islamic leader presents the concepts of ethics, democracy, development, meritocracy, pluralism and quality of life as some of the ‘brides that unite’ ways of understanding that are religious and secular,” writes Karim about Aga Khan.

The Ismaili leader’s ideas of the Qur'an underlie his discourse, but he rarely makes overt religious references in his speeches.

At the same time, Alibhai is dismissive of Muslim reformist thinkers who reinterpret the Islamic texts to accommodate the realities of modern life. Monia Mazigh’s chapter, for example, illustrates how Islamic discourses can be invoked to disprove the notion of men’s perceived superiority over women.

Interpreting modern Islam

There are different ways to convince different people of the same issue. You can argue that robbery is socially unacceptable, morally reprehensible, illegal, or against your religion. Each one of those arguments is valid depending on the audience. The argument based on religion is more appealing to a religious person.

In the same vein, we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.

Some of the authors identify as “inconsistent Muslim” or “cultural Muslim,” however, we do not see a representation from an “observant Muslim” – those who may imprecisely be called conservative or traditional Muslims.

These are the proud Canadian Muslims who follow all Islamic laws and traditions and believe that they can also be civically engaged Canadians.

Furthermore, three of the authors are of Arab origin and the rest are South Asian. The Muslim community in Canada is much more diverse and the overwhelming majority of them are not represented in this book.

Overall, Aziz’s book is a success as it represents a segment of an underrepresented group of Canadian citizens: Muslims who are spoken, about but rarely given the chance to speak for themselves.

Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a Masters of Arts in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Florence Hwang in Regina

Cultural differences between young new Canadians and their parents can compound the struggles youth normally experience within their families during childhood and adolescence.

A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents (Qurtaba Publishing Houseoutlines how young first-generation immigrants can handle conflict with their immigrant parents. Hodan Ibrahim, an artist and entrepreneur, wrote this five-chapter booklet to guide young immigrants towards pursuing their dreams, with a particular emphasis on conflicts within Muslim families, based on her own experiences and upbringing. 

Often, children of immigrants are expected to obey their parents without questioning their authority. Ibrahim writes that immigrant children may be left unhappy in the struggle to continually live up to their parents’ expectations.

“I was able to fight through and escape the overbearing cultural pressures put on young people to essentially live up to the expectations of our community and parents when we have very different expectations for how we want to live our lives,” she writes. 

Culture impacts aspirations 

In her booklet, Ibrahim emphasizes why it is important for children to discover and work towards fulfilling their own dreams - not living out the dreams of their parents. Her approach is more in-line with Western culture, in that it is more individualistic, rather than Eastern culture, which is more holistic.

“Like many of you, I grew up in an environment where I was persuaded to not find my talent, let alone allowed to follow my dreams.”
 

She notes that individuality or sense of independence can scare parents. It makes them very uncomfortable because they don’t understand or don’t want to understand why their child wants to be different. 

She says immigrant parents may react by saying, "You don't listen,” but that this really means, “You don't listen to my way of doing things.”

“Like many of you, I grew up in an environment where I was persuaded to not find my talent, let alone allowed to follow my dreams,” she writes. “As a Muslim woman, no one wants to hear you doing this. Actually, no one cares, as long [as] you find a nice husband, work 9-5, have a baby. But is that all I was made for?” she asks. 

Ibrahim says she also focused on faith and spirituality to find her passion and realize her goals.

Children need independence 

To help learn about her personal interests and passions, she went to libraries and listened to speakers and personal development gurus. 

“I had no real understanding of what my life passions were but I knew that the only way to find it was to not be afraid to try new things,” writes Ibrahim, who says her parents expected her to become a doctor. 

She says a child’s purpose in life supersedes the wishes of their parents’ and anyone else’s opinions. She encourages immigrant children to explore, try new things and travel to find out what their passions are and potentially discover their calling in life. 

Ibrahim says she also focused on faith and spirituality to find her passion and realize her goals. 

“I only had God ... who I called on when I had nothing else to call on, who nurtured me when I fell deep into my pain and kindly guided me to where I was supposed to go, not where I thought I wanted to go,” she writes. 

“I learned that you really can’t survive on your own and that a deeper and much higher force is there for you, to guide you and help you,” she adds.

First- and second-generation immigrants must discover who they are, what they want to contribute to the world, and the families they want to have – all while balancing their faith with their careers, writes Ibrahim. Parents don’t often understand the difficulty of balancing it all, she notes. 

She points out that the children of immigrants return from school or work to deal with society's problems while facing another internal battlefield at home – the result of language barriers and other cultural divisions. 

“You are just set up to lose. So what do you do? You must learn to separate your thoughts and ideas from your family, community and culture,” Ibrahim writes. 

Immigrant parents do want their children to become financially independent and successful in their careers.

Not fair to generalize 

As an immigrant and child of immigrants myself, not all of Ibrahim’s points resonate with me.

My parents did not expect me to become a doctor, accountant, or lawyer. They encouraged me to become anything I wanted to be, which was a journalist and later a librarian. They did question my choice as a journalist initially, but were eventually supportive. They did prefer my second choice, though, as it is a more stable profession.

While Ibrahim focuses on Muslim families, it is still a generalization to argue they are mostly set in their ways and do not change. Immigrant parents do want their children to become financially independent and successful in their careers.

A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents offers practical advice and at the same time touches on the roots of intergenerational conflict. She looks at the differing philosophies of parents and their children and paints the parents as having an insular view of the world while the younger generation’s is non-hierarchal. 

“I’m here to tell you: you are not alone,” she writes. “I get it and wanted to open up the discussion about the challenges and solutions to life's problems that many young, career-oriented individuals from ethnic backgrounds have to face.”

Florence Hwang used to work as a print journalist before becoming a media librarian. These days, she is also a freelance writer, whose work has been featured in several publications, including New Canadian Media. Outside of work, Florence spends her time making short films about her family history.


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

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