Newcomers in Canada: integration and change
It is a truism to state the obvious that Canada is a country of immigrants. We who have just celebrated 144 years of Confederation are aware that the country has grown primarily upon successive waves of immigration. However, we should also be aware that with each admission the challenges for the newcomers and their sponsors, friends, family and society in general also increase.
This is not to say that immigration is problematic but rather that immigration has some distinct challenges for all concerned. For example, there is the well-qualified engineer who discovers that he cannot easily re-enter his profession without training and work in lesser positions. Or, there are the newcomer parents who discover that they cannot use physical force to discipline their children. What was acceptable child rearing in one place becomes child abuse in Manitoba. Where do we start and where do we end in discussions of this subject?
First, we must understand that Canada is officially multicultural and open in terms of admitting persons with different cultural values and ways of behaving. One thing that distinguishes Canadians from our neighbours to the south is that we are proudly hyphenated Aboriginal-Canadians, Filipino-Canadians, Indo-Canadians, Polish-Canadians, English-Canadians or French-Canadian rather than just Americans. These are the people who live south of the 49th parallel in the melting pot that is the United States of America.
As a country we do not expect all newcomers to think, speak, believe, or act in the same ways. In other words, newly landed Filipinos have their own distinct languages, cultures and ways of behaving that are sometimes quite different from what we understand as Canadian. Immigration is one thing and the integration of newcomers is the final step. The challenges for both newcomers and existing Canadian society and institutions is: first, understanding that there are differences; secondly, understanding that the differences sometimes come into conflict with prevailing Canadian practices or attitudes and; finally, developing strategies to overcome these differences.
Manitoba is both a good example of a place that has been both supportive of immigration through our provincial nominee program but also aware of the extra assistance these newcomers require in order to become integrated and productive members of Manitoba society. In our educational system, for example, we have heritage language schools for French, German, Polish and in future, Tagalog. Manitoba Labour and Immigration provides newcomer support in terms of Program Recognition, Academic Credentials Assessment Service (ACAS), the Entry Program for newcomers and the wide array of employment agencies such as Success Skills, Employment Projects of Winnipeg, the Immigration Centre and Manitoba Start. The purpose of these programs, and others like the Newcomer Services Unit of Manitoba Child and Family, is to ease the transition of newcomers to life in Manitoba.
And of course there are community based and religious based organizations that all provide different supports for newcomers and their circles of friends and family. This broad spectrum of support services and agencies is a substitute for a supportive family network found in traditional societies such as those in Asia. There is much to be done to develop appropriate strategies and provide appropriate and effective supports to help overcome the challenges faced by integrating thousands of recent arrivals. The first challenge is for all to understand that the challenge is for us all.
It is one thing to focus on the supports we have in place for newcomers but what about the immigrants themselves? The newcomers arrive in a new world where the support found in the former network of extended family members has been in some ways broken, in other ways changed. The OFWs who went overseas to earn and send money back to families in the Philippines find that things have changed in many ways. The obvious is that the family is not at home, in the care of Lola, but here in Manitoba with the breadwinners. All are trying to fit in, to discover ways to cope and progress with their career paths, and especially the settlement and integration of their families. Family and friends in Manitoba often do not have the luxury of time or inclination to provide alternative supports.
The tension between expectations of newcomers and their support network is often very real and something that must be acknowledged. I know of one family where the major point of conflict was that the new arrivals felt a need to take a shower daily and the local family supporters were aghast because of the high cost of water. No one wanted to offend anyone else so the solution was to tape up the shower so no one could take showers. Sometimes avoidance may be an effective coping strategy but, in the case of the taped off shower solution, would not last long.
We need more effective, informed cross cultural counsellors to aide community members in developing real strategies to face the challenges of the new life in Canada. In the past I belonged to the Coalition Against Family Violence and applaud the efforts of community members who pioneered sessions dealing specifically with violence against family members in the local Filipino community. The effectiveness of these sessions was that they were at least conducted by persons versed in the language and culture of the Philippines. It is not realistic to expect that only Pinoy can counsel Pinoy or Polacki can only counsel Polacki. There is a need for more educational programs, such as Philippine Studies in university, to increase the awareness of attitudes and values that are uniquely Filipino. We must also become more aware of potential problem areas where the attitudes and values of the Philippines are not in sync with Canadian practices or mores. The general community and service providers and counsellors like myself benefit from learning more about cross cultural interaction.
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org