Citizenship Learning and Political Participation: The Experience of Latin American Immigrants in Canada

Article excerpt

Abstract. This research note presents a study in progress that explores the continuities, tensions, and ruptures in the lifelong citizenship learning and the political engagement experienced by Latin American immigrants to Canada. The authors are particularly interested in the extent and nature of "civic changes" that occur among members of this community through the process of becoming Canadian. By means of in-depth interviews with Latin American-Canadians in Toronto and Montreal, they aim at examining the barriers and enabling factors for citizenship learning and political participation, as well as the relationships between immigrants' political agency and institutional/social structures.

Resume. Cette note de recherche presente une etude en cours qui explore les continuites, les tensions et les ruptures dans l'apprentissage citoyen et dans l'engagement politique des immigrants d'origine latino-americaine au Canada. Les auteurs s'interessent particulierement a la portee et a la nature des "changements civiques" qui se produisent chez les membres de cette communaute a travers le processus les amenant a devenir Canadiens. Par le biais d'entrevues en profondeur realisees aupres de plusieurs Latino-americains residant a Toronto et a Montreal, ils cherchent a analyser les facteurs qui favorisent et qui entravent l'apprentissage citoyen et la participation, ainsi que les rapports entre l'action politique des immigrants et les structures sociales et institutionnelles.

**********

This research note presents a study in progress that explores the continuities, tensions, and ruptures in the lifelong citizenship learning and the political engagement experienced by Latin American immigrants to Canada. (1) We are particularly interested in the extent and nature of "civic changes" that occur among members of this community through the process of becoming Canadian residents (either as refugees or landed immigrants) and eventually Canadian citizens. By means of in-depth interviews with Latin American-Canadians in Toronto and Montreal, we aim to examine the barriers and enabling factors for citizenship learning and political participation as well as the relationships between immigrants' political agency and institutional/ social structures.

The political integration of immigrants is a particularly significant issue when we take into account the fact that the multicultural character of Canadian society is far from properly reflected in the formal political system. Indeed, only a few elected officials at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels are members of ethnic minorities. Montreal and Toronto, two of the most diverse cities in North America, are not exceptions to this situation. The political engagement of immigrants, however, can take many forms and shapes, and should not be thought to be confined to electoral politics and the official politics of the state (Simard 2003; Siemiatycki and Saloojee 2002; Stasiulis 1997). While some immigrants venture into host society political affairs, others direct most of their energies toward home country politics, and others become involved in "transnational" or in "third country" politics. Likewise, participation in host society civic life can take the form of electoral politics, but it can also be centred in hometown associations. The intensity, quality, form, and language of participation varies significantly according to particular combinations of individual, social, and structural factors. We hope that this research note will contribute to the incipient body of academic research on the political learning and participation of Latin American-Canadians by bringing to light the views of immigrants about themselves.

In the first section of this note, we describe some aspects of the theoretical framework that guides our research and discuss the notion of citizenship and the challenges regarding civic and political participation of newcomers. In the second section we address the issue of civic integration and participation of immigrants in Canada. …