Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Transnational Geographies: Indian Immigration to Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Transnational Geographies: Indian Immigration to Canada

Article excerpt


Immigration has played a central role in Canadian nation-building, not only in providing labour, but also in forging international political, economic and cultural connections. The rising global influence of various Asian economies since the 1960s has resulted in immigration patterns that have profoundly influenced Canada's largest urban centres and reoriented aspects of the nation's political, economic and cultural focus towards Asia (Hiebert 1994, 1999). Several geographers have considered the influence of wealthy immigrants from parts of Asia (see, e.g., Mitchell 1993; Ley 1995, 2000; Olds 1998; Rose 2001). In this paper, I interpret the geography of immigration from India, a less-examined part of Asia.

India-Canada linkages have historical significance borne of complex colonial networks linking Britain, Canada and India. This tripartite relationship vacillated between discourses of 'intact' empire and diplomatic pressures that resulted in the fraying of this image of unity. One element behind this fragmentation was Canada's restrictive immigration regime regarding Indian immigrants, supposed subjects of the empire, which fuelled active resistance against colonial subjugation in India (Brown 1982; Mongia 1999). This paper contributes to our consideration of Asia-Canada linkages by exploring the historical and geographical nature of Indian immigration, a large component of Canadian immigration that has not attracted the same attention as movements from Hong Kong and Taiwan. I argue that India-Canada immigration patterns are overwhelmingly shaped by social linkages that are transnational in nature, since communities, families and individuals maintain and reinforce connectivity between sending and receiving regions through a variety of processes.

I begin my argument with a selected review of the literature on Canadian immigration and identify the importance of understanding immigration as a transnational process. I then present a methodology section, followed by a quantitative profile of immigration from India, with reference to its specific geographies. I finish by presenting some individual migration stories that are illustrative of the transnational processes that shape immigration decisions and settlement patterns and that exemplify how immigration flows are structured over long time periods, forging multiple connections across space.

Research on Canadian Immigration and the Emergence of a Transnational Framework

The nature of Canadian settlement and economic and social development has been significantly shaped by the waves of immigrants settling in Canada. The historical importance of immigration to Canadian nation-building has been well documented by scholars such as Valerie Knowles (1997), Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock (2000) and Gerald Tulchinsky (1994), and the deeply racialised nature of immigration policy and processes have been addressed by Vic Satzewich (1992) and Peter Ward (1978), to name a few. A major lacuna in our current understanding of how immigration has shaped Canadian society has recently been addressed by Cole Harris's (1997, 2001) work on the effects of European migration on Canada's First Nations. More recently, there has been a great amount of attention directed at the shift of immigration from European to 'nontraditional' sources, especially Asia (Laquian, Laquian and McGee 1998; Halli and Dreidger 1999). We have also witnessed dissatisfaction with neoclassical migration theory and its limited ability to convey how migration is shaped by social factors, specifically gender (see Willis and Yeoh 2000 for a review). The role of social connections--as represented by family reunification, spousal immigration and other noneconomic criteria--is evidence that human mobility cannot be comprehended through the language of economic rationale alone, but must be interpreted as involving socially grounded processes imbued with thick cultural meaning. …

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