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 labelings.
In the 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, including The Vancouver Sun. They were all British subjects, but the use of the misspelled word as “Hindoos” reveals both ignorance and ethnocentric arrogance.
The “Hindoo” entitlement carried on for a long time not only by the government and the media but by the Canadian public as well. And for a brief duration in the 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 purposes, 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 that 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 of the recent times, but occasionally it is still being used.
As the nomenclature process continued, the next appellation was Indo-Canadian. This development happened although migrants were also coming to Canada from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc.
But the metamorphosis was significant as the community got the hyphen between “Indo” and Canadian. Canadians from most other multicultural communities were hyphenated too. The hyphen marked and recognized the distinctive cultural diversity of 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. Instead, they sought a melting pot of all cultures to fancy a composite Canadian culture.
Till now, all the identification labels were assigned either by government authorities, media or the public in general
But the scenario got changed. In the ’70s, The Link newspaper(myself being its editor and publisher), 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.
Under this banner lies the cultural and linguistic diversities of South Asia, besides representing a joint ethnic force that adds its chapter to fight for racist-free Canada.