Social identities reflect the acculturation of
social identities of immigrants are an important dimension of their
successful adaptation. Social identities, say University of Victoria
researchers, Christoph Schimmele and Zheng Wu, indicate immigrants’
sense of attachment to or alienation from the mainstream culture.
Since the 1970s, Canada population has become
increasingly diverse because of immigration from non-European countries.
Within the next 2-3 decades, Canada is expected to become a “plurality
nation” as the proportional size of the White population declines. This
rapid demographic change raises questions about the future of intergroup
relations and social cohesion.
According to Schimmele and Wu, the social
identities of immigrants need to be understood in terms of their level
of acculturation into Canadian society. They observe that “social
identities are a reflection of the incorporation of immigrants into the
mainstream and their personal commitment to the host community.”
In a recent research, Schimmele and Wu
investigated how the host community influences the social identities of
non-European immigrants. The authors observe that this social context is
“an essential, but often overlooked, factor of adaptation.” Most recent
immigrants are non-White and face a color barrier to assimilation or
integration. Their paper suggests that the ethnic identities of recent
immigrants are a barometer for interracial relations. When welcomed,
immigrants tend to assimilate or integrate with few problems. But
immigrants feel marginalized and tend to adopt non-Canadian identities
when prejudice and discrimination is rife.
Schimmele and Wu observe that a sense of being
“Canadian” develops over generations. Most first generation immigrants
retain national-origin identities, such as “Chinese’ or “Korean”. Their
children tend to adopt hyphenated identities, such as Chinese-Canadian.
The authors conclude that this represents intergenerational progress
toward identificational assimilation with other Canadians. However,
ethnic identity remains important for both first and second generation
immigrants, which demonstrates that the acculturation process for recent
waves of immigrants is incomplete.
One of the main concerns is whether discrimination
shapes the social identities of immigrants. A reason that some second
generation immigrants are hesitant to “drop the hyphen” is because of
feelings of being “less Canadian” than Whites. The authors also point
out that blocked socioeconomic mobility and social exclusion can
discourage immigrants from developing a sense of attachment to the host
nation. In some cases, this can even lead to politicized identities that
put racial minorities into potential conflict with Whites.
Despite this, Schimmele and Wu are quick to point
out that strong “ethnic identities are not incompatible” with attachment
to Canada. Most second generation immigrants are opting for bicultural
identities. One of the key messages from their report is that “Canada’s
multicultural environment encourages the simultaneous retention of
cultural distinctiveness and a sense of belonging to the host nation.
A summary of the study can be found at the Population Change
and Lifecourse Cluster Policy Brief:
The New Immigration and Ethnic Identity.
For more information, please contact Dr.
Schimmele, Postdoctoral Fellow,
Department of Sociology, University of Victoria.