Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Cambodian Refugees in Ontario: Religious Identities, Social Cohesion and Transnational Linkages

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Cambodian Refugees in Ontario: Religious Identities, Social Cohesion and Transnational Linkages

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT/RESUME

Ethnic, political and religious identifies among Cambodian refugees in Ontario are in large part constructed through connections with transnational communities and homeland linkages. Although local expressions of identity reflect responses to resettlement and adaptation to Canadian social norms and mores (especially the politics of multiculturalism), they remain firmly embedded in traditional hierarchies, ideologies, lines of power (leadership), political authority, and legitimacy. Despite horrific circumstances and experiences, the tenacious spirit of Cambodian refugees in Ontario enables them to cope with their extensive pre-migration suffering and continuing resettlement difficulties. Religious identifies, practices, and institutions; traditional monastic/lay relations: and performances of music and dance play vital roles in social cohesion and community viability. The legacy of holocaust survival and the subsequent process of re-creating and redefining these identifies and roles have challenged traditional religious identifies and cultural activities, creating numerous divisions within the community. Yet apart from kinship support and visits, religious and cultural contacts in Canada remain the primary means through which transnational linkages are maintained with Cambodia, influencing generational dynamics and a variety of community development and rehabititation projects.

Les identites religieuses, politiques, et ethniques parmi les refugie(e)s Cambodgiens et Cambodgiennes en Ontario sont construites en grande partie par les connections avec les communautes transnationales et par les liens avec la mere patrie. Les manifestations d'identites locales refletent des reactions a l'installation dans un nouveau pays et a l'adaptation aux normes et moeurs canadiennes (en particulier la politique du multiculturalisme); neanmoins, ces manifestations demeurent enrobees par hierarchies et ideologies traditionnelles, et aussi par les liens qui existent avec les politicien(ne)s, et les hommes et femmes d'affaires. Malgre des circonstances et experiences horrifiques, l'esprit tenace de ces refugie(e)s leur permet de tenir tete a leurs souffrances au Cambodge et aux difficultes de reinstallation qu'ils connaissent au Canada. Identites religieuses, pratiques et institutions, relations traditionnelles entre moines et laiques, la musique et la danse --tous aident enormement a renforcer la cohesion sociale et la viabilite communautaire. Mais l'heritage du passe et les difficulties du present mettent aussi en question les identites religieuses traditionnelles et les activites culturelles, creant de nombreuses divisions a l'interieur de la communaute. Cependant, exception faite du support de la parente, les contacts religieux et culturels au Canada offrent les moyens principaux pour maintenir des liens transnationals avec le Cambodge: ceux-ci influencent la dynamique entre les generations, en plus d'un grand nombre de developpements communautaires et projets de rehabilitation.

INTRODUCTION

For over two thousand years, Theravada Buddhist beliefs and teachings have influenced Cambodian social norms and systems of social stratification. Over ninety percent of Cambodians are ethnic Khmer Buddhists. In rural villages, the Buddhist wat (temple) was the primary institution outside of the family, and played a key role in disseminating information from outside the village. Theravada Buddhism inspired Cambodian national and cultural identities and gave broad guidance regarding standards of conformity for men, women, and children. Traditional Khmer society consisted of three main status groups: urban royalty and government officials who lived in small towns and urban areas; rural based peasants; and Buddhist monks (Bitt 1991). By the mid-twentieth century, however, two separate Buddhist systems, affiliated with rural and urban locales, were identified (Harris 1998). The urban, referred to as Thommayuth, was first introduced in 1864 from Thailand and represented an aristocratic approach to Buddhism. …

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