This book aims to explore the various forms of adapta¬tion that migrants from the sub-continent have evolved to deal with ‘the varying degrees of prejudices, constraints and dominance’ of their host society. The issues raised in the preface include the choices relating to value change, cul-tural persistence and cultural change and the impact of these processes on second and third generation immigrants.
The picture that emerges of Indian settlers in Canada from the readings in this book is of a community in transition. Immigrants into Canada from the sub-continent have been of two types: those sponsored by relatives already settled there and the skilled professionals who entered in large numbers under the Canadian govern¬ment policy of the sixties. According to Ram P. Srivas¬tava, in his ‘Evolution of adaptive strategies’, external social conditions by and large determine the nature and areas of interaction between Indian immigrants and the Canadians. Thus, presently, at a time when unemployment is rising in Canada, the climate of feel¬ing is directed against the South Asian community. Frances Henry has estimated in her study, ‘Some problems of South Asian adaptation in Toronto’, that 68 per cent of the immigrant group studied had experienced instances of discrimination.
This discrimi¬nation was felt by all occupa¬tional and status positions and was largely practised in the field of employment and hous¬ing. A survey on Canadian attitudes revealed a confused hostility especially toward the immigrants of the profes¬sional class. Immigrants were supposedly ‘arrogant, middle-class, culturally different’, but at the same time were also ‘poor and backward’. Henry concludes that immigrants tend to feel that the level of material progress they have achieved in Canada outweighs the increasing instances of racial hostility.
This was corroborated by a study on Indians from the British Caribbean and Guyana by Subhas Ramcharan which found that, despite higher rates of job satisfaction among immigrants of South Asian origin; fully 50 per cent of the sample surveyed still identified with their country of origin and vouchsafed no desire to make any psychological com¬mitment to Canada.
Three readings—’Sarees and the maple leaf by Ratna Ghosh, Mohammad Siddique’s ‘Comparative analysis of immigrant Indian and Pakis¬tani Families in Saskatoon, Canada’, and ‘Child rearing in transition in Indian immigrant families in Canada’ by George Kurian and Ratna Ghosh—deal with roughly the same area: that of attitudinal and value changes in the family and the different levels at which different members of a family adapt. Ghosh’s study of Indian women exposed to the Canadian environment is disappointing in that her con¬clusions are not substantiated. Ms. Ghosh does not explain why certain behaviourial patterns are retained and others are adopted, nor does she explain how the women perceive the changes them¬selves.
Similarly, Siddique’s com¬parison of Indian and Pakis¬tani families settled in Saska¬toon with families in India is not really valid since he bases his Indian data on M.S. Gore’s study of urban families. Since we are not told the class or occupational status of the families studied in Saska¬toon, we have no way of assessing if the comparisons are justified. Further, some variables he uses to evaluate the transition made by the Saskatoon families seem rather meaningless. For example, he seeks to measure the levels of adaptation through such vari¬ables as Canadian cultural and art objects in the home and familiarity with Canadian dances.
Norman Bughignani’s study of ‘Determinants of Fijian Indian social organization in Canada’ is extremely com¬petent and illuminating. Bughignani suggests that Fijian Indian assimilation into mainstream Canadian prac¬tice, unusual among South Asians, can be traced to their origins in a strongly plural society where ‘communal exclusiveness was inevitably lessened. Fijian Indians, mainly concentrated in the blue collar and clerical occup¬ations, successfully adapted to the Canadian situation, with all the adult members of a family going out to work and thus achieving a high degree of economic affluence. Stress induced by rapid innovation is manifested in relationships between husband and wife and between parents and children, since the traditional hierarchies can no longer be maintained. This, plus the fact that Fijian Indian parents do not delimit their children’s Canadian networks, distin¬guishes them from other immi¬grant South Asian communi¬ties in Canada. In fact, Bughignani suggests, it is only the continuing immigration from Fiji that maintains a collective Fijian Indian sense of identity.
In the section on Indian immi¬grant communities outside Canada, an excellent analysis of cultural adaptation is Chandra Jayawardena’s study of ‘Farm, household and family in Fijian Indian rural society’. Jayawardena suggests that in Fiji it is the household itself that performs the func¬tions of socialization usually attributed to the family. The purpose of the household is to provide for its members and ties between members of a household are closer than all others, even if outside ties are closer in kinship terms. Jayawardena demonstrates how this form of household evolved to serve the specific needs of the cane-cutter families and how a different form of the household was evolved in the Caribbean to serve the conditions there.
Another noteworthy reading in this section is Muhammad Anwar’s study of the Pakistani community in Britain and its continuing links with Pakistan. Anwar describes how kin and regional ties, bolstered by the ‘myth of returning’, serve as a network of welfare and sup¬port in a hostile environ¬ment.
Bruce La Brack’s study of the ‘Reconstitution of Sikh society in rural California’ is fasci¬nating and one of the best readings in this whole selec¬tion. La Brack describes early Sikh migrants who went as agricultural labourers to Cali-fornia in the early twentieth century, intermarried with Mexican Catholic girls and were gradually being assimi¬lated into Spanish/Mexican cultural practices. Sikh reli¬gious pratices continued to be observed but in a consider¬ably modified form. Most Sikhs were clean-shaven and within the gurudwara they built at Stockton, shoes were allowed and men and women sat together on folding chairs. Things changed drastically when, under a comparatively more liberal immigration policy in the sixties, an influx of Sikh immigrants reached California. The new immi¬grants were more orthodox and rapidly established gurudwaras which observed all traditional practices. Endogamy was the norm, with spouses often coming from India. Traditions were strictly maintained in the community by strong sanctions of family izzat. In this case continuing immigration has led to orthodoxy and the community thus becomes, as La Brack points out, ‘self per¬petuating, self generating and culturally cohesive’.
Ranjana Sen Gupta is a freelance journalist.