Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Does the amount of integration have to do with class or education or something else?

Posted by chinesecanuck on April 14, 2008

Would you say that immigrants from more educated backgrounds are more likely to adapt to what is often considered “mainsream” Canadian society while those who are less educated won’t do so?  Or is it a money thing?  Or a combination of both?  I went to private school for high school.  Pretty much every kid in my class was upper-middle-class, and out of all the non-WASP kids, NONE were all that “old cultured”.  The Jewish students certainly weren’t.  The school had a historical connection to a church.  Orthodox Jews would never send their children to a school like that.  The Chinese kids (which made the majority of non-white students), especially those from Hong Kong, would be, based on interests (though excluding pop culture), very “white” and maybe even “high brow” or “snotty”.  Most of these kids have at least one parent with a university degree.

But maybe, it’s a cultural thing, and not class or education.  Compare the stereotypical Chinese Canadian living in Markham, Ontario (a Toronto suburb with a BIG Chinese population) with a South Asian Canadian family in Brampton (a Toronto suburb with a BIG South Asian population).  As they are suburbanites, they likely have the requesite 2,500+ sqare foot house with a double garage, shop at Costco and probably university degrees.  But wait….there are differences.  Once in a while, you’ll see the wife and female children of the South Asian family in ethnic clothes.  As for the Chinese family?  Western clothes, even for Chinese New Year (unless you’re a kid under 5).  Of course, this isn’t to say that the South Asian family isn’t as culturally integrated as the Chinese family.  In general, South Asian Canadians are more likely to run for office.  There are more MPs, provincial reps and city councillors who are of South Asian descent than of any East Asian ethnicity.  This is likely because India gained independence in the 1950s while Hong Kong still doesn’t have universal suffrage.  The Japanese Canadian population isn’t all that big compared to Chinese, and it seems that Taiwanese people prefer the US over Canada.  Another interesting point is that I personally can’t think of any Chinese Canadian politician who is CBC or CRC (Canadian Raised Chinese…must arrive in Canada before junior high).  Adrienne Clarkson, who was Governor-General until 2005 and Norman Kwong, Alberta’s current Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta do not count, of course. 

Another case:  I attended a program with two girls who were from similar cultural backgrounds, ethnically speaking.  One grew up in a middle class neighbourhood and the other grew up in an area that people in Toronto would classify as “rough.”  The girl from the rough neighbourhood was shocked to hear that the suburban girl’s brother played hockey.  To the rough neighbourhood girl, people from her culture weren’t supposed to do so.  She kind of thought that the suburban girl’s brother was whitewashed, which to her, wasn’t a good thing.  Now, I don’t know too much about rough neighbourhood girl’s background, whether her parents have degrees and just couldn’t find jobs in what they were trained for or if they’re just very old country, while the suburban girl was not.  To me, however, the rough neighbourhood girl was nutso.

So readers, time for your input.  What do you think?  Is it education?  Class?  A combination or none of the above?


7 Responses to “Does the amount of integration have to do with class or education or something else?”

  1. tUCC said

    Nice Blog. Glad to see there are other Chinese Canadian “thinkers” out there!

    I feel that integration has a lot to do with economic circumstance. The poorer you are, the more you want your kids to make it in their (your) new (adopted) country. Thus it is the succeeding generation (eg. second generation) who integrates consciously.

    The so-called “professional” class, usually better off economically, have the opportunity to skip out of the country with their kids… thus really don’t have roots in their new adopted home.


  2. tUCC said

    sorry i had the wrong email / contact on the earlier comment. (I’m on a friend’s computer, and it automatically filled in his stats)

  3. chinesecanuck said


    I’m not sure if I’d agree with you. I’ve found that POORER people are more likely to be attached to the old country’s values while wealthier people, who were probably more exposed to things are more likely to embrace mainstream Canadian values (probably because they already understand it). When I mean “mainstream Canadian values” I don’t mean pop culture. I don’t mean listening to Cantopop vs Top 40 or Bollywood vs Hollywood. I mean things like dating, kinds of extra curricular activities kids are (or aren’t) allowed to participate in, etc…I also think the professional classes are just as likely to want their children to go to university and get successful jobs as poorer immigrants. I think any kid at my high school who decided not to go to university (at all) would probably be grounded until they’re 30!

  4. This is a good question, but I think you’re talking about assimilation (Westernization) rather than integration. Your Jewish classmates did not assimilate to the mainstream religion (Christianity), but they are still integrated.

    I doesn’t make that much sense to compare Chinese with South Asian. Chinese people in Chinese countries dress in Western clothes to begin with, while South Asians in South Asian dress relatively less “Western”.

  5. chinesecanuck said

    Restructure, the Jewish kids may not have assimilated into Christianity, but they certainly went to services and stood when they had to stand, sat when they had to sit, etc…unlike Catholic schools, didn’t (and still doesn’t) exempt anyone from going to services. The point I’m making is that the parents of these kids didn’t care, unlike parents who didn’t send their children to schools like that who’d balk going.

  6. Scapegoat said

    I don’t think that economics or education has anything to do with it. Integration is just a personal choice. I have seen immigrants rich and poor, educated or less educated choose both paths. It might have more to do with life experiences and individual personalities. If a person fits into the mold that their ethnic community wants him/her to be then that person tends to stay with in that community. However if a person is not accepted by his/her ethnic community for being different, then that person tends to find friends from other walks of life.

  7. tUCC said

    Maybe it has everything to do with who the parents/ role models are. …thus affording the choices made to the next generation.

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