Monday, September 6, 2010

The quiet Americans who are Canada’s invisible immigrants

President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Mi...Image via Wikipedia
From Monday's Globe and Mail
Canada takes pride in being a country of immigrants. Scholars devote much time to researching the social and economic outcomes of newcomers, most of whom hail from visible-minority communities. It is fitting, then, that someone has delved into Canada’s fourth-largest immigration source: Americans.
These invisible immigrants – there are one million, more than at any time since the Vietnam War – are a unique group. According to a leading American geographer, they come to Canada not for economic opportunities, but for the country’s set of values.
Of course, every immigrant’s motivations are intensely personal. However, extensive research by Susan Hardwick, a professor at the University of Oregon, shows that the over-arching inspiration for moving north of the border is an idealistic one.
Americans are attracted by their view of Canada’s more liberal culture. That includes support for a universal public health-care system, positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians, gun control laws and multiculturalism.
In British Columbia, for example, Prof. Hardwick found that most recent arrivals from the U.S. reported their primary reason for leaving was the idea that Canada is a safe refuge for liberal thinkers and idealists.
There are also a growing number of what she calls “midlife mavericks,” who are seeking new lives in what they see as the promised land.
The trend, it seems, is enduring. Reciprocal migration means Canadians need not worry about the brain drain south.
Prof. Hardwick attributes the spike in American immigration, in part, to dissatisfaction with the conservative policies of former president George W. Bush’s years in office.
Now that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is in the White House, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper leads a Conservative minority government, will liberal Americans sour on Canada? Early research results show that American immigrants are not inclined to move back, especially in light of Canada’s stronger economy.
As well, given Tea Party activism, anti-immigration policies in states such as Arizona, and popularity of commentators such as Glenn Beck, liberal Americans remain unsettled by U.S. political culture.
American-Canadians are enthusiastic Canadians. Even those who retain dual citizenship embrace their new identity. Two-thirds of American immigrants have a “very strong” sense of belonging to Canada, according to the Canadian Ethnic Diversity Study. For many, Canada is the “America idealized” in the post-9/11 world, says Prof. Hardwick.
American-Canadians also earn higher salaries and are more educated than other immigrant groups in Canada.
Canadians should embrace these newcomers, and be careful not to tar them as overly individualistic, flag-waving or materialistic – stereotypical traits often, wrongly, associated with Americans.
The presence of American immigrants is doing as much to shape Canada as the influence of newcomers from China, South Asia and the Philippines.
Canadians should resist the urge to repeat negative clichés about the U.S., and view Americans as among the most buoyant new Canadians.
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