Canadian-Asian Transnationalism

By Kelly, Philip | The Canadian Geographer, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview
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Canadian-Asian Transnationalism

Kelly, Philip, The Canadian Geographer

In recent years, Canada's relationship with its southern neighbour has been an overriding pre-occupation of politics, public policy and academic debate (Clarkson 2002). There are good reasons for this. The United States received more than 80 percent of all Canadian exports in the 1990s, and supplied 67 percent of all imports. In the same decade, more than two-thirds of foreign direct investment stock in Canada was owned by U.S. interests, and over half of Canada's foreign direct investment was located there. Not unrelated to these economic linkages, Canadian foreign policy has become largely reactive to--if not always completely in accord with--the U.S. geopolitical agenda. At the same time, cultural flows across the border are extensive (and largely one-way).

If, however, a different set of measurements is taken, Canada's most significant global relation ships begin to look a little different. The 2001 census of Canada recorded 1.8 million residents who had arrived in the country over the previous decade. Of these, only 3 percent had come from the United States, while 58 percent had arrived from Asia--primarily China, India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Taiwan (Statistics Canada 2003), The 2001 census even shows a visible 'minority'--and primarily Chinese and South Asian--population becoming a majority in a few suburban neighbourhoods. In Richmond, British Columbia, the visible minority population amounted to 59 percent of the total in 2001. In Markham, Ontario, the equivalent figure was 56 percent (Statistics Canada 2003).

The consequences of such migration flows have been extensively studied in recent years, and geographers have made significant contributions to these efforts. These contributions relate to issues of contested urban landscapes (Ley 1995; Preston and Lo 2000), labour-market integration (Preston and Giles 1995; Hiebert 1999; Pratt 1999; McKay 2002), entrepreneurship and ethnic economies (Walton-Roberts and Hiebert 1997; Wang 1999; Hiebert 2002), residential patterns, housing trajectories and property markets (Ley et al. 2001; Ley and Tutchener 2001; Olds 2001; Bauder and Sharpe 2002), refugee settlement (Hyndman and Walton-Roberts 2000), the role of immigrant communities in local politics and civil society and redefining citizenship (Mitchell 1997a, 1998; Isin and Siemiatycki 1998), and the racialisation and discrimination of immigrant communities (England and Stiell 1997; Walton-Roberts 1998).

Over the last decade, however, it has also become increasingly recognised that immigrants do not simply settle. Rather, they maintain important linkages with their places of origin. The implications of these linkages were first recognised in the mid-1990s and have since stimulated intense interest in a phenomenon dubbed 'transnationalism'. Implied in this concept is a realisation that many immigrants live a substantial part of their emotional, social, economic and political lives in their place of origin while working, living and settling in Canada. Thus, theirs are not--or at least not just--immigrant stories of setting up anew for a better life; they are more complex tales of networks of family obligations shaping migration and work decisions, tangles of emotional yearnings frustrated by economic necessities, and ongoing dislocations between 'home', citizenship and identity. In this special thematic section of The Canadian Geographer, we highlight some of the implications of transnationalism between Asia and Canada for citizenship, identity, politics, social integration and our understanding of space in a globalising age. Rather than seeking to summarise the contributions, this introduction contextualises them in the emergent literature on transnationalism.

From Migration to Transnationalism?

Linda Basch, Nine Glick Schiller and Cristina Szanton Blanc (1994, 6) famously defined transnationalism as the 'processes by which immigrants forge and sustain multistranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement, and through which they create transnational social fields that cross national borders'.

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