Evolution Of South Asian Canadian Designation

By Promod Puri

Insensitivity and ignorance have been part of Canada’s racist history.

Immigrants, especially from the “visible minority” communities, not only faced racial discrimination in most aspects of their lives in Canada, but they could also discern reflections of bigotry and segregation in their epithetic labelling.

In early part of the twentieth century immigrants from the Indian subcontinent were all classified as “Hindoos”. Komagatamaru passengers dominated by Sikhs (340), Muslims (24) and Hindus (12) were all docketed as “Hindoos” by the authorities and the media of the time. They were all British subjects, but the use of the mis-spelt word as “Hindoos” reveals both ignorance and ethnocentric arrogance.

The “Hindoo” entitlement was carried on for long time not only by the government and the media but by the Canadian public as well. And for a brief duration in early ’70s during the extreme racist period, especially in Europe, that here in Canada Asian subcontinent migrants were stamped as “Pakis” by the born-racists Canadians of the redneck likes.

The tagging of immigrants as “Hindoos” and “Pakis” from the subcontinent was not merely for identification purpose, but in any event of hatred the monikers often carried abusive connotations.

However, with more numbers filling the population demography of Canada over the years, and with improved knowledge and understanding within the changing Canadian society that “Hindoos-Pakis” got some better grading in their designation.

The title “East Indian” was assigned and which became prevalent in the overall multicultural Canadian population. This identification also distinguished migrants from India from Native Indians. The “East Indian” entitlement lasted till most recent times, but occasionally it is still being used.

As the nomenclature process continued the next appellation was Indo-Canadian. This development happened despite the fact that migrants were also coming to Canada from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc.

But the metamorphosis was significant as the community got the hyphen in between “Indo” and Canadian. As a matter of fact Canadians from most other multicultural communities were hyphenated too. The hyphen marked and recognized the distinctive cultural diversity of the Canadian society.

However, there were ultra nationalist Canadians including some from the ethnic communities, who were against the hyphenated designation of Canadians. They were the ones who opposed Canada’s multicultural entity. Rather they sought a melting pot of all cultures to fancy a composite Canadian culture.

Till now as an emerging ethnic community, all the identification labels, including the Indo-Canadian one, were assigned either by government authorities, media or the public in general

But the scenario got changed. In the ’70s The Link newspaper along with several other groups representing immigrants from the sub-continent took up the entitlement on themselves, and started using South Asian Canadian expression.

Soon this designation got an easy acceptance especially from all levels of government as they were also looking for the right term for all those immigrants with roots in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and other smaller states of the subcontinent.

The South-Asian-Canadian entitlement precisely and unequivocally represents all those new Canadians sharing related cultural, linguistic and religious values of the region. They include as well immigrants not coming directly from South Asian countries but from all over the world with roots in the Indian subcontinent.

South-Asian-Canadian is a broader and an all-inclusive designation. Under this banner lies the cultural and linguistic diversities of South Asia, besides representing a joint ethnic force which adds its own chapter to fight for racist-free Canada.