Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Contesting the Meanings of Migration: German Women's Immigration to Canada in the 1950s

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Contesting the Meanings of Migration: German Women's Immigration to Canada in the 1950s

Article excerpt

Abstract

Twenty-five thousand German women immigrated to Canada as domestic servants between 1947 and 1962. Pushed by West German society that was increasingly hostile to women's employment and emancipation, the female migrants, in their search for freedom, independence, and adventure, used Canadian immigration schemes that were based on patriarchal and paternalistic understandings of gender and class. The male Canadian bureaucrats who recruited the German women viewed them as cheap and docile labour for the growing middle class and as future citizens and mothers who fit the racial and religious criteria of immigration policy. The article illuminates the clashes between the female migrants and the mostly male bureaucrats over divergent meanings of migration within larger discourses of gender, class, and ethnicity. The article documents the women's agency in the face of state contral and how the women benefited from privileges received as white, Christian, Northwest Europeans. It argues that domestic servant immigration failed as a labour market policy, but, in the short term, supported Canada's racial demographic policy to keep Canada white and Christian. It further argues that the migrants' perspectives and actions must be taken into consideration in order to understand government policy and its implementation.

Resume

25 000 Allemandes ont immigre cu Canada comme employees de maison de 1947 a 1962. Poussees par une societe ouest-allemande de plus en plus hostile a l'emploi et a l'emancipation des femmes, les immigrantes se sont servies dans leur recherche de liberte, d'independance et d'aventure du systeme d'immigration canadien base sur une interpretation patriarcale et paternaliste du sexe et de la classe sociale. Les bureaucrates canadiens masculins qui ont recrute les Allemandes voyaient en elles du personnel docile et bon marche pour la classe moyenne en expansion et de futures citoyennes et meres qui correspondaient aux criteres raciaux et religieux de leur politique d'immigration. Cet article met en lumiere les heurts entre les immigrantes et les bureaucrates, pour la plupart des hommes, sur les differences de signification de la migration au sein du discours portant plus largement sur le sexe, la classe et l'ethnicite. Naus y documentons l'agence des femmes face au controle etatique et comment celles-ci ont beneficie de privileges recus en tant qu'Europeennes du Nord-Ouest, blanches et chretiennes. Naus y demontrons que l'immigration d'employees de maison a echoue en tant que politique de marche du travail, mais qu'elle a appuye dans le court terme les principes demographiques raciaux du Canada pour y maintenir son caractere blanc et chretien. Naus argumentons de plus que l'on doit tenir compte des perspectives et des actions des immigrants afin de comprendre la ligne de conduite du gouvernement et sa mise eu oeuvre.

INTRODUCTION

Twenty-five thousand German women migrated to Canada as domestic servants between 1947 and 1962. They came from a war-ravaged continent and a country that viewed them as expendable in the coming reconstruction efforts. In the wake of the war, many had lost their homes and family members; having grown up under Nazi ideology, many had also lost the only set of values they had known. Pushed by a society that provided few career opportunities for women, as well as by personal losses and emotional detachments from family and society, the women were pulled by expectations of freedom, independence, and adventure. They came with dreams of travel, learning languages, experiencing different cultures, and building successful careers and businesses.

This is not, however, how the male Canadian bureaucrats who had recruited them saw it. They viewed the women as cheap and docile labour for the growing middle class and as future citizens and mothers who fit the racial and religious criteria of immigration policy. As a result, the female domestic servants and the male civil servants clashed over their divergent understanding of migration. …

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