October 26, 2012 · 0 Comments
This week I had the opportunity to meet with Canadians who came here as refugees from Uganda 40 years ago, I was in a room full of urbane, sophisticated and anglicized Indo-Canadians who came here with little or nothing but ended up becoming highly successful in whatever they set out to do in Canada. Today most of them have retired and have raised even more successful and well-educated children who are thriving in this country. And after an afternoon talking to these Canadians these are my thoughts and observations.
This group of South Asians were often the children of immigrants who went to work in Uganda which was at one time a British colony. Although they considered Uganda home, their interactions with local Ugandans were only in the workplace never if ever socially. Few maintained social bonds with them and so when Idi Amin went about ridding the country of Asians, few Ugandans felt sorry to see them go. The lessons about integration is therefore very strong among these refugees who refused to make the same mistake twice.
The South Asian tendency to maintain their insularity in the countries they have chosen as home has often ended up leaving us socially isolated, the fact that we have thrived economically wherever we’ve gone has often aroused envy. Events in Fiji come to mind. One former Ugandan refugee told me that the lessons he learned in Uganda helped make him successful and more importantly happy in Canada.
“I have met many successful South Asian professionals and businessmen who are not very socially at ease in social settings that aren’t South Asian. They socialize exclusively within the community, fill their spare time at community events and their non-existent interactions with other Canadians is limited to superficial exchanges in the workplace. One person at that reunion had this to say, “We did not bond with the locals in Uganda and so when we came here we were determined not to make the same mistake. Integration was essential to our feeling of belonging and security in our new Canadian home. Many of our children have married outside of our faith and culture because of our tolerance. Having gone through so much, we came to Canada open-minded and willing to change.”
The result is that these people and their children no longer consider themselves ethnic or hyphenated-Canadians. No wonder this immigrant group stands out in contrast to many other immigrants and refugees who struggle to adjust and endure the feeling of isolation and alienation. Another person from the group observed that today’s immigrants are full of complaints against Canada and Canadians. If anything Canada has bent backward in trying to accommodate the religious and cultural differences of many ethnic groups.
Back then both refugees and immigrants who chose Canada to be home tended to be more secular in their outlook which made it easier to adjust and to accept the prevailing way of life. There were few things that went contrary to their beliefs or expectations but they took it in their stride. They encouraged their children to integrate and become as Canadian as possible because it was seen as a possible insurance in the future in case there was a movement to deport ‘foreigners’.
The immigrants coming to Canada these days are often more conservative than in previous years and are more inclined to preserve their own cultures rather than trying to understand the cultures around them. With the result everything is imported from the old country-culture, entertainment, clothes and even marriage partners.
The effort and energy so many immigrants put toward preserving their past turns them neurotic and unhappy. For one former Ugandan refugee, today’s newcomers remind him of the Asians in Uganda in terms of their mentality and insularity.