Part 1: Newcomer Youth & The Cultural Transition

North American countries that have been built on immigration, such as Canada, have managed to remain havens for newcomers despite recent economic troubles. Research published by Statistics Canada revealed that a total of 248,748 people immigrated to Canada in 2011. Canada has managed to weather the recent financial crisis slightly better than our American counterparts, but economic immigration has accounted for over 50% of the immigrant population for the last decade. Whether newcomers immigrate as economic immigrants, family class immigrants, refugees or undisclosed immigrants, the challenges that result can range from financial hardships to separation anxiety. Regardless of the source, a majority of newcomers will face at least one challenge during their transition.

Who are today’s immigrants?
Within the last decade, immigrants from Asia have been coming to Canada in the highest numbers, followed by African and Middle Eastern immigrants. Europeans have also continued making their way to Canada, with the lowest number of newcomers originating from South and Central America and the United States.

The strain that today’s immigrants can experience from a move that, in some cases, is halfway across the globe, can play a role in the duration of their transition, as well as the success or failure of their transition.

The Challenges
Although newcomers tend to share similar experiences, these experiences sometimes differ when we look at the demographics of the newcomer population. Challenges relating to identity are more commonly found in newcomer youth, but newcomer adults are also faced with questions of their own identity at times.

During puberty and adolescence, a majority of Canadian youth undergo questions of who they are, getting a better grasp each year through experimentation, expression, and exposure. As youth transition into adulthood, the majority of young adults are able to gain a stronger sense of self by referring to the societal norms, values, and culture they have been brought up on.

A young adult living in a new country with new societal norms, values, and culture is highly likely to experience issues of identity that, when surfaced, bring forth questions of self-acceptance in the face of societal rejection. For adults, these questions of identity do not always result in self-esteem issues; instead, a resistance to change and resentment that can develop into the resentment of an entire group is a more probable outcome.

While not all newcomers find their culture unaccepted by Canadian peoples, some immigrants do. In some cases, this accepting of select cultures over others can be attributed to a large population of a specific group in Canada, as well as the media. Take, for instance, the Italian and Chinese cultures. Although the number of Italian immigrants is now on the decline, their long history in Canada has enabled them to establish their culture alongside the Canadian culture. This acceptance of the Italian culture makes it easier for Italian immigrants in 2012 to retain the language and culture they bring with them, while assimilating into society. The same goes for the Chinese culture. They have managed to create a community within the community that is appreciated, and not just tolerated by the existing Canadian population.

When it comes to the media, the cultures that receive the most backlash for their presence in society are cultures coming from the African and Middle Eastern regions. Africa’s representation to the North American public is almost always surrounding war, poverty or violence. When this becomes the only source of African culture the North American public receives, it is no wonder that the sight of African immigrants is seen as a threat to the order and peace that is Canadian society.

Life in North America has been especially challenging for people of Middle Eastern descent and followers of the Islamic faith since 9/11. These newcomers often find themselves subject to suspicion, discrimination, and hate due to media portrayal of the group. If these stereotypes and ideas persist, the transition period for newcomers coming from these regions, especially youth, will be longer than that of other groups.

The media can play a part in the delayed transition of some groups, but it can also assist with the successful transition of others. Just as there is focus on the negative features and attributes of some groups, some cultures manage to have the media focus on the positive. The culture from these groups is usually regarded as exotic in reference to their geography and people. Examples of these cultures are South and Central American cultures and West Indian cultures. When we think of the West Indies, we think of sun, beautiful beaches, and great food. The Latin American culture is no different; salsa, empanadas, and beautiful men and women come to the mind. We think of these things partly because this is what the cultures offer, but to say life in the West Indies and South and Central America is all sun and fun is not an accurate statement or image to present to the public.

The Bottom Line
War, poverty, and violence is a reality to Africa just as extremists are to the Islamic faith, but to only put forth a fraction of the picture is an injustice to the group, as well as to the public. By providing positive images of some groups, it assists newcomers from these groups with a smoother transition, shielding them from the realities other groups face.

I’d like the readers to reflect on whether Canada’s history of culture preference in reference to the points system that was once used is still at play in our society today.

Leave your comments in the section below.

“When I moved to Canada, it was different. I was six-years-old, going to a school where I was the only visible minority and did not speak the language.  I did not like it. I was used to being with my family all the time, having them do things for me, where now I had to do everything by myself. I missed the food from home! The food was the hardest thing for me to adjust to. Now that I am older, I appreciate Canada for its diversity, and realize this diversity played a major role in my adjustment.” - Sandra, 26, immigrated to Canada from France

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One Response to Part 1: Newcomer Youth & The Cultural Transition

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