Posted by: Rukhsana Khan
Sometimes it amazes me that people can look past other people’s differences and see the humanity behind them.
I find it fascinating that as societies, communities, we develop a certain collective consciousness, where, even though we might have some conflicts, we’re a cohesive whole.
Along come some outsiders, ‘others’, and at first they’re viewed with mistrust and suspicion. And yet, there always are some people who are willing to buck convention and be nice to the newcomers.
Speaking for Canada, there was a strong reason that Canada opened its doors to immigration in the early 1900’s. A lot of native Canadians don’t know this, but there’s a strong reason why we’re such a multicultural nation.
Canada is a vast land mass, with a huge, very powerful neighbour to the south, Canada was afraid of being overwhelmed. They needed more people! And so they opened the doors to immigration to settle the west. But they didn’t want just anyone. They wanted people who could blend in, assimilate, basically they wanted white people.
Right after the second world war, even though they’d fought with Germans, German nationals were quickly considered non-threatening and allowed into the country. Even before Jewish refugees from Europe were allowed in, the Germans were allowed in.
At one point the prime minister Mackenzie King even announced that they wanted people who would assimilate. They couldn’t allow people from non-white countries in because they ‘couldn’t take the climate’.
But the immigration wave was slowing down. People don’t emigrate from their country unless there are strong reasons. There are three basic reasons: economics, security and opportunity for their children. Now that Europe was stabilized, there was less immigration from the white countries and so Canada had to open the door to other less desirables.
It wasn’t until 1963 that Canada opened the door to non-white immigrants.
There is a reason for this. The only ones who were allowed into the country were skilled labourers, people who’d work hard. Assimilation was assumed. And in return these labourers would contribute taxes to the national coffers.
Then along came Lester B. Pearson with his ideas of human rights. And following him, in the sixties, came a charismatic leader named Pierre Elliot Trudeau, from Quebec.
I remember Trudeau. He was the first prime minister who said that we, as a country, would be multicultural.
People didn’t have to assimilate. We’d recognize all cultures and they’d all be part of Canada. This was in part a gesture to pacify Quebec, a province that clung to their French roots and long refused to assimilate.
I remember listening to speeches by Trudeau on our old black and white T.V. My father found him fascinating.
As immigrants, we could stand a bit taller, not so humble. And in time, we could appreciate the fact that we were Canadian, just like almost every other Canadian whose family had come to this land somewhere in the distant past.
I think a lot of people don’t realize how much immigrants contribute to the prosperity in the West. There are very good reasons why Western countries continue to allow the influx of people from other countries.
It’s a way of maintaining the status quo.
Before, immigrants provided cheap labour for nation building.
Now, immigrants are often highly-skilled people looking for opportunity. (The exception would be refugees from war-torn countries) When immigrants arrive they have to set up homes, they buy stuff, and they often bring in wealth from their homelands. This stimulates the local economy.
And the taxes they pay, help pay for services.
These immigrants actually represent a ‘brain drain’ from their home countries, because the brightest and most educated are often the first to leave for greener Western pastures.
And right now, with the advent of the birth control pill, the local populations of Western countries are not having enough children. Without immigration, the aging population and the social security entitlements that go with them, would have no tax base to support them, so immigration is necessary to keep the tax machine oiled smoothly.
Too often people in the West see this as a one-way relationship. That immigrants should be darn well grateful to be here when it is really a mutually beneficient relationship.
One of the few times that the social situation gets rough is when there is a recession and then local people start grumbling that the immigrants are taking away all the jobs.
What people don’t realize is that immigrants will often work harder and for less money than any of the locals.
There are many a taxi driver that has a Phd., in fact multiple Phd’s. I met one in Vancouver who told me his life story, how he’d hopped around from country to country and finally settled in Vancouver. He liked the climate there, but still wished he could use his education.
I’m not sure why I blogged about this. I guess I just wanted to talk about things that are not often understood over here.