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Immigration and diversity in focus at Congress

Participants to this year's gathering in Vancouver urged to "think beyond borders"

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | APR 07 2008

Roughly 20 percent of Canadians under the age of 15 are children of immigrants. There are many assumptions about these second-generation Canadians, but surprisingly little research on them. “What is going to happen with these kids? How are they going to relate to Canada and what is going to be their future?” asks Jim Frideres, a University of Calgary sociologist.

The Metropolis Project, one of the official partners of this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, is looking at these and many other issues of immigration and diversity that will greatly affect the country’s future. As part of its participation at Congress, being held at the University of British Columbia May 31 to June 8, Metropolis has joined with the Association for Canadian Studies to produce a special issue of the journal Canadian Issues/Thèmes canadiens focused on the experiences of second-generation Canadians.

Organized by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest annual academic gathering in Canada. Organizers expect it will attract up to 9,500 participants from more than 75 learned societies to Vancouver.

The theme of this year’s Congress, “Thinking Beyond Borders: Global Ideas, Global Values,” is broad enough to appeal to most social sciences and humanities researchers but is of particular relevance to those looking at issues of immigration and diversity, says federation president Noreen Golfman. “One of the main questions that researchers in the humanities and social sciences are asking is who are we and what are we becoming, and how do we accommodate that?”

As for second-generation Canadians, Calgary’s Dr. Frideres says they’ve been somewhat overlooked as a group over the past 30 to 40 years. He thinks part of the reason for this was the assumption that second-generation Canadians were just like other Canadian kids and would adapt just fine.

Studies dating back to the 1970s and earlier appear to bear this out, but the context has changed enormously since then, he observes. Canada now takes in many more immigrants than in the past, and their countries of origin have changed as well. “We really can’t take that previous research as an indicator of how we think the second generation [of today] is going to adapt and integrate into society,” he says.

Because of this, Metropolis has numerous studies under way looking at second-generation Canadians. Dr. Frideres’ current research, funded by Metropolis, is looking at young Asian-Canadians’ experiences with discrimination and how they respond. About a third of these second-generation Canadians say they have experienced discrimination and, of these, about 20 percent still harbour negative feelings as a result. This latter group often begin to act out – what Dr. Frideres calls “negative resilience” – and “pose, at least for me, some problems down the road. They could become an unproductive component of the community.”

Started in 1995, the Metropolis Project recently received a new round of funding of $7.5 million over five years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and several federal departments and agencies. SSHRC will have a major presence at Congress, particularly since it is using the occasion to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The host university, UBC, is also celebrating an anniversary – its centennial – this year.

Congress also has scheduled the usual array of special events and keynote speakers, among them the University of Toronto’s Richard Florida, McGill University ethicist Margaret Somerville and McGill chancellor and former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Richard Pound.

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