Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

"To Become Part of Us": Ethnicity, Race, Literacy and the Canadian Immigration Act of 1919

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

"To Become Part of Us": Ethnicity, Race, Literacy and the Canadian Immigration Act of 1919

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT/RESUME

Through an examination of government records, parliamentary debates, and newspaper articles, this article probes the tensions between competing visions of Canada's future that emerged in public policy debates about immigration and the future of Canadian society in 1919. Immigration and the accompanying discourse became a forum for people to express their mounting fears and culturally-based stereotypes alongside various articulations of national identities through the Canadianization of immigrants. As such, the Immigration Act of 1919 became one in a series of attempts to structure nation building through selective settlement policies. The circumstances in which a literacy test became a significant criterion in selecting and restricting immigrants entering Canada form another part of the study. More broadly, this research seeks first, to identify how various constituencies approached nation building through immigration and education, and second, to examine questions of national identity and the role of racial diversity in framing modern Canada. Analyzing the process by which national policy worked to create citizens will assist our understanding of how categories of culture, politics, and pedagogy impact the development of Canadian society.

En examinant des documents gouvernementaux, des discussions parlementaires, et des journaux, cet article sonde les tensions entre les differentes visions du futur du Canada qui ont emerge au cours des discussions du politique public au sujet de l'immigration et du futur de la societe canadienne en 1919. L'immigration et le discours qui l'ont accompagne sont devenus un forum en lequel les gens ont exprime leurs craintes croissantes et leurs stereotypes culturels a cote de diverses articulations des identites nationales par l'intermediaire du << canadienisation >> des immigres/immigrees. En rant que tels, la loi d'immigration de 1919 est devenue une dans une serie d'efforts de structurer la construction de la nation par des politiques de colonisation selective. Les circonstances dans lesquelles un examen d'alphabetisation est devenu un critere significatif dans le choix et la restriction des immigrees entrant au Canada font une autre partie de 1'etude. Plus generalement, cette recherche cherche d'abord a identifier comment les divers circonscriptions ont approchees la construction de la nation par l'immigration et l'education, et deuxiemement, a examiner des questions d'identite nationale et du role de la diversite raciale en encadrant le Canada moderne. L'analyse du processus par lequel la politique nationale avait travaille a creer des citoyens/citoyennes aidera notre comprehension de la facon dont les categories de la culture, la politique, et la pedagogie ont effectue le developpement de la societe canadienne.

INTRODUCTION

This article explores the circumstances in which literacy became a significant criterion in selecting and restricting immigrants entering Canada, and further, it elaborates on how assimilation became an important factor in repositioning ethnic/ racial determinants for citizenship. (1) More broadly, this research seeks first, to identify how various constituencies approached nation building through immigration and education, and second, to examine questions of national identity and the role of racial diversity in framing modern Canada. Analyzing the process by which national policy worked to create citizens will assist our understanding of how categories of culture, politics, race, and pedagogy impact national identities. As we shall see, 1919 was a pivotal year in the development of immigration policy; the government was burdened with a substantial war debt spread across a small population of eight million inhabitants. Immigration, as the government stated, had the potential to generate increased taxation revenue; the over-riding concern centred on the selection of immigrants.

While "selective" immigration was seen as an opportunity to fatten government coffers, for others, recent labor unrest provided a political frame of reference to restrict those from particular nations and/or races from crossing Canadian borders. …

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