1. Trinidadians in Canada
2. South Asians now biggest visible minority (in Canada)
3 Canada has 200,000 Guyanese
4. Indo Caribbeans: A forgotten diaspora By Eve Pearce
5. Indo Caribbean Women Aim High by Eve Pearce
TRINIDADIANS IN CANADA
Trinidadians in Canada
trace their origins to a country known as Trinidad
and Tobago, composed of two islands off the
coast of Venezuela.
The vast majority of immigrants are from Trinidad, which
has a population of 1.1 million people living in an area of 4,660 square
kilometres. Tobago has only 50,000 people on an island
of 300 square kilometres. Trinidad and Tobago
is among the most industrialized of British Caribbean countries and it boasts a
rapidly developing economy with one of the region’s highest standards of
The discovery in 1498 of Trinidad
during the third voyage of Christopher Columbus began nearly three centuries of
Spanish colonial rule and a clash of two world views – the subsistence economy
of the native Amerindian population versus the European desire for surplus
production. In the course of this conflict, the indigenous Arawak and Carib
peoples (an estimated 40,000 at the time of Columbus’s
arrival) were gradually decimated by European diseases and harsh treatment so
that by about the year 1800 they were virtually extinct.
With the decline and eventual disappearance of the
indigenous population, the Spanish brought African slaves to Trinidad
during the eighteenth century to work on the plantations. By 1797, when Spain
surrendered Trinidad and Tobago
to Britain, of
the islands’ 17,600 inhabitants, as many as 10,000 were slaves. Under British
rule, sugar plantations expanded in size and number, and, after the abolition
of slavery in the 1830s, the plantations’ slave labour force was replaced by
indentured servants. Between 1842 and 1917, over 170,000 Chinese, Portuguese,
and most especially Asian Indian immigrants, in return for free passage to Trinidad,
were expected to work for a fixed wage during a period of five years before
being able to return home. They were joined during the last decades of the
nineteenth century by nearly 70,000 former American slaves, who were lured by
the rich soil of the Caribbean islands. As a result, Trinidad
was transformed into a multi-ethnic and multiracial society whose population
today is about 40 percent Asian Indian (See also INDO-CARIBBEANS),
39 percent African, and 21 percent European, Asian, and mixed race. The
country’s religious make-up also reflects its diversity, with 29 percent Roman
Catholic, 24 percent Hindu, 23 percent Protestant (about half of whom are
Anglican), and 6 percent Muslim.
Trinidad’s social and
cultural pluralism has also made possible the formation of separate social,
cultural, and economic organizations based on race or ethnicity, and this has
at times led to racial tension. When the period of indenture expired, most
Asian Indians did not have the means to return home and so remained in the
Trinidadian countryside. There they came to dominate commercial activity in
villages and small towns. For their part, the blacks who left the plantations
and worked as free farmers saw education as the best vehicle to improve their
social and economic status. Subsequently, many educated blacks in particular
entered the local civil service. By the second half of the twentieth century,
Asian Indians began moving to the cities, and, as they entered the professions
and civic life, competition with blacks for leadership positions increased.
Traditionally, the minority white and mixed-race
groups dominated Trinidadian political and economic life. As a result, in the
Trinidadian psyche, blackness came to be associated with inferior status and
subordination, whiteness with power and privilege. In an effort to accommodate
themselves to this social equation, Asian Indians emphasize their association
with the age-old civilization of their homeland, which in prehistoric times was
the wellspring of Indo-European peoples, while the black elite readily adopts
European, in particular British, values and traits.
Such attitudes continue to survive in Trinidadian
society despite the end of colonial rule. The first step towards political
change came in 1947, when the British government set out to create a union of Caribbean
lands known as the Federation of the West Indies.
Finally formed in 1958, the federation collapsed three years later. This
prompted Trinidad and Tobago
to declare its independence in 1962. During its first two decades of
independent existence, the country’s economy flourished because of the success
of the oil industry, although a drop in world oil prices in the 1980s caused a
serious economic depression which continues to plague much of Trinidad’s
Migration, Arrival, and
A small number of Trinidadians migrated to Canada
before World War I, but it was not until the 1920s that they entered Canada
in appreciable numbers. During that decade a few hundred were imported to work
in the mines of Nova Scotia and
the shipyards of Collingwood in Ontario
and Halifax or to serve as porters,
labourers, and chefs in the expanding railway systems. Some Trinidadians came
to Canada to
enlist in the Canadian army in World War II as part of the Allied war effort,
and at the end of the war they were allowed to remain in Canada
as immigrants. Prior to 1967, however, Canadian immigration restrictions
generally excluded nonwhite immigrants or severely limited their numbers. From
1955 to 1965 Canada
admitted only about 100 domestic servants each year from Trinidad.
While Trinidadians wished to immigrate to Canada,
they were allowed to do so only when there was an overwhelming demand for their
services in the labour market. For example, the domestic-servant scheme was
introduced to meet the need for household help in the wealthy residential areas
of Rosedale in Toronto
and Westmount in Montreal.
Similarly, railway porters and miners were admitted to Canada
to fill specific needs in the labour force. A few individuals from Trinidad’s
educated elite found employment at universities in Montreal,
Toronto, and Nova
Scotia. There was also a small number of university
students, especially at the University
of Manitoba. Nevertheless, because
of the lukewarm reception they experienced, most returned home after
graduation. During the entire period from 1905 to 1965 fewer than 3,000
Trinidadians were permitted to enter Canada.
In 1967 Canada’s
new immigration regulations for the first time placed non-whites on an equal
footing with whites and instituted a non-discriminatory immigration policy. As
a result, between 1967 and 1990 over 100,000 Trinidadians migrated to Canada.
It is difficult to estimate the size of the Trinidadian population in Canada
because of inaccurate census reporting and an absence of statistics on both
return migration and illegal migration.
The 1991 census reported approximately 15,000
individuals of Trinidadian origin in Canada
(8,935 single response, 6,340 multiple response). However, a more reasonable
estimate of the number of people of Trinidadian background resident in Canada
at the present time is 150,000. Because immigration statistics do not show the
racial backgrounds of migrants, the racial composition of the
Trinidadian-Canadian population is unclear. On the basis of the racial
characteristics of the population of Trinidad, however,
it can be estimated that 80 percent of the Trinidadian immigrants in Canada
are of African or Asian Indian background, evenly distributed, while the rest
are of white, Chinese, or mixed racial backgrounds.
On arrival in Canada,
65 percent of Trinidadian immigrants have settled in Ontario,
and of these the majority have chosen the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Toronto
as their place of residence. Other cities in Ontario
that have attracted Trinidadians are Ottawa,
Hamilton, and Windsor. Smaller numbers have also settled in the CMAs of
Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg,
Calgary, and Edmonton.
The proportion of skilled and professional people among the immigrants from Trinidad
is high. In the period 1967–90, 8 percent of the immigrants were classified in
the managerial, professional, or technical category, 12 percent as clerical
workers, 14 percent as skilled workers, and less than 10 percent as unskilled
labourers. The selection process of Canada’s
immigration program has favoured immigrants who are highly educated and well
qualified, but unfortunately a number of variables, including racial
discrimination and non-acceptance of out-of-country qualifications, have allowed
the human resources of Trinidadian immigrants to remain largely untapped.
The present settlement pattern of Trinidadians in Canada’s
major urban centres is related to the patterns of residential concentration
established by Trinidadian immigrants in earlier periods. There are distinct
Trinidadian and West-Indian neighbourhoods in the various boroughs of
Metropolitan Toronto. For example, there are heavy concentrations of
Trinidadians in the areas around Bloor and Bathurst,
Pape and Eglinton, Jane and Finch, Lawrence
and Victoria Park, and Keele and Shepherd. For Trinidadian professionals who
have been established in Canada for a longer period, occupational mobility has
also meant geographical mobility and residence in the more upscale suburban
areas of Markham, Oakville, Scarborough, or Richmond Hill. In this regard,
Trinidadians are mirroring the earlier settlement and dispersal patterns of
white immigrant groups, who settled in working-class neighbourhoods in
inner-city Toronto and after a
period of time relocated to suburban neighbourhoods. From the perspective of
assisting in the adaptation of Trinidadian immigrants to mainstream Canadian
society, residential dispersion must be seen as a positive facet of Canadian
For many Trinidadians, the norm on arriving in Canada
is to reside with friends or relatives for a short period, and then to move to
a rented apartment in the next settlement phase. In the 1970s the majority of
immigrants were in the independent category, but in the 1980s a larger number
of the new arrivals were sponsored immigrants, who came to Canada
as a result of the family-reunification program. The transition from home to
host country has probably been smoother and less stressful for sponsored
immigrants who have the assistance, social and financial, of family members.
The presence of a large number of networks of various kinds within the
Trinidadian communities in Toronto,
Montreal, and Vancouver
is another asset for immigrants who have arrived in the 1980s and after.
Economic and Community Life
Like most Caribbean
migrants, Trinidadians have moved to Canada
because of the possibility of improving their own economic prospects and
especially those of their children. Because of discrimination, initially many
fail to find jobs commensurate with their educational achievements. It is
ironic that the qualifications needed to gain entry into Canada
are subsequently not recognized in the job market.
Although most Trinidadians have suffered downward
occupational mobility on their arrival in Canada,
the majority have returned to their original status positions by their second
decade in Canada,
and many have achieved upward occupational mobility. Trinidadians can be found
at every occupational level in the private and public sectors, and they have
achieved success as doctors, lawyers, judges, civil servants, teachers,
university professors, engineers, skilled technicians, and artisans. Today,
second-generation Trinidadians continue to excel in academic and professional,
and also cultural and athletic, careers.
As the vertical mosaic slowly turns into a more
horizontal one, and as business opportunities expand, more Trinidadians are
becoming owners of small businesses. Their entrepreneurial spirit can be seen
in their operation of firms in the skilled trades, beauty salons, grocery
stores, travel agencies, restaurants, insurance brokerages, real-estate
companies, accounting offices, and countless other small business. The
Trinidadian presence in the economic sphere can be seen most prominently in the
business districts of inner-city Toronto
and Montreal, as well as in the
shopping centres and strip malls of North York and Scarborough.
Nevertheless, the unemployment rate among
Trinidadians is higher than that for Canadian-born with similar educational and
occupational backgrounds. This is in large part the result of the racial
discrimination that Trinidadian immigrants face in Canadian society. For
example, a 1983 study undertaken by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations has
shown that Trinidadians are four times more likely to be refused interviews for
jobs for which they are qualified than their white counterparts. Trinidadian
women are doubly discriminated against, with both race and gender contributing
to keep them in low-status positions.
In the 1970s newly arrived Trinidadians, faced with
loneliness and overt attitudes of hostility and marginalized by mainstream
Canadians, had no alternative but to turn to one another for social,
psychological, and emotional support. As their numbers grew, they established
formal and informal organizations and associations to meet the functional needs
of their community. In some instances these organizations are political in
nature, and their aim is to protest racism and social injustice. The majority of
the organizations, however, are voluntary associations organized to provide
opportunities for members of the group to mix and mingle, exchange ideas, and
offer social support to each other.
The most popular associations are social and
recreational clubs, followed by church groups, youth groups, and political and
service associations. Their main role is to further the quality of life and
social contacts of their members. Among the most active of these associations
have been the Trinidad-Canada Association, the Caribana Association, the
Indo-Caribbean Association, and the United Muslim Association, all of which
were established in Toronto in the
1970s. Trinidadians are also members of, and have played a prominent role in,
organizations that represent other Caribbean and black
peoples, such as the National Black Coalition, the United Negro Improvement
Association, the Black Heritage Association, the African Canadian Entrepreneurs
Association, and the Caribbean Canadian Business and Professionals Association.
Although the Caribana Association and the Indo-Caribbean Association are not
exclusively Trinidadian, both organizations are dominated by Trinidadians, the
former by Trinidadians of African heritage, the latter by those of South Asian
One of the problems facing Trinidadians in Canada
is the inability of the community to unite and establish dynamic leadership.
Plagued by schisms, jealousies, and petty infighting, the associations remain
weak and are thus ineffective in communicating with the rest of Canadian
society. Second-generation Trinidadian Canadians are less likely to rely on the
pattern of informal associations and clubs which has been the norm for the
first generation. They are more interested in developing formal associations
similar to those of the host society.
Religious associations and church membership are
highly valued by Trinidadian Canadians of all social and ethnic groups. Among
Trinidadians who are not of Asian Indian origin, membership in a Christian
church is the norm. Since Canadian churches have welcomed Trinidadian
immigrants, they have not needed to establish their own churches. The Roman
Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches have attracted the
largest memberships. Among the Asian Indian population, both Hindus and Muslims
have allied themselves with others of their faiths to establish Hindu mandirs
and Muslim mosques. In general, Canada’s
tolerance for multifaith religious institutions has allowed for a comfortable
adjustment in religious practices for Trinidadians.
Sports and recreational clubs are popular in the
Trinidadian community. In every large city, particularly Toronto,
Montreal, and Vancouver,
cricket and soccer clubs organized by Trinidadians can be found. In most
instances these clubs belong to West Indian cricket or soccer leagues, but in
some cases, as in Ottawa, Windsor,
and Hamilton, they are part of city-wide leagues. After-hours recreational
clubs, where members congregate for dancing and socializing, are common in all
the large cities of Canada.
In addition, restaurants and taverns that cater to the wider Caribbean
community usually have a large Trinidadian clientele.
Family and Kinship Patterns
In discussing Trinidadian family life in Canada,
two major points must be made. First, family life in Trinidad
differs according to social status and ethnic origin, and the kind of family
life established in the homeland has a marked impact on the type of family
relationship that an immigrant family develops in Canada.
Second, the nuclear family is not the norm for the majority of working-class
The typical working-class Trinidadian family is not
based on the father/mother/child nucleus, but consists of a grandmother, her
adult sons and daughters, and her daughters’ children. For lower-class blacks
in Trinidad, European-style monogamy and legal marriage
represented an ideal that, although recognized, was often unrealized. What was
generally the norm was a common-law relationship, usually matrilineally based,
and related to the economic reality of the post-emancipation society. The
Canadian norm of a legally sanctioned marriage and a nuclear-family
relationship is also the norm for upper- and middle-class Trinidadians, whose
income and status dictate that they adopt European family values. For the Asian
Indian group, in the early colonial period, marriages were arranged,
monogamous, and celebrated with a religious ceremony. With the advent of
modernism, the extended family has largely given way to the nuclear family, and
a civil marriage now accompanies the religious ceremony. Legal divorce is now
accepted in the Asian Indian community, and romantic love is more and more the
justification for marriage.
There are many changes from traditional family life
for Trinidadian immigrants in Canada.
The extended family is almost non-existent because it is mainly young adults
who have migrated. Also, migration to Canada
is associated with improved social status, and, even for those in lower
socio-economic positions, legal marriage is more likely to be the norm.
Research suggests that those who have been resident in Canada
longer, who have children residing with them, and who are in their forties are
more likely to be legally married and to live in family relationships that
conform to the Canadian norm. For others, the trend has been to continue to
live in a common-law relationship, although legalization of the marriage after
a period of years is becoming common. Interestingly, according to the latest
census statistics, the Canadian norm of the nuclear family is increasingly
being replaced by alternative marriage patterns, with common-law relationships
becoming more popular in Canadian society: 30 percent of Canadians were living
in non-nuclear family relationships in 1991.
Within the Trinidadian-Canadian black community,
the strength of the consanguineous kinship link is stronger among lower-class
than in middle- and upper-class families, and matrilineal kinship ties remain
strong among recent adult migrants. In Trinidad, for
some lower-class black families the father-child bond is often tenuous. The
migration and resettlement process, however, seems to have engendered an
awareness of the role of the father in the wider Canadian society, and, as a
result, many Trinidadian-Canadian fathers are reinterpreting their role in
relation to their children in the context of local patterns.
No activity delineates the cultural heritage of
Trinidadians in Canada
more clearly than the annual Caribana festivals. Caribana was originally held
only in Toronto (the first being in
1967), but now similar festivals are a major highlight of summer activities in
most of the major cities of Canada.
The lengthy parade of elaborately costumed masqueraders, accompanied by steel
bands, has its origins in the pre-Lenten carnival celebrations of Trinidad.
Carnival festivals take place in all the islands of the Caribbean,
and today the Caribana committees in Toronto,
and Windsor have become Caribbean
in flavour rather than exclusively Trinidadian. The hundreds of thousands of
participants, white and non-white, who take to the streets to celebrate with
dance and the music of the steel drum and the calypso represent one of the best
examples of cultural pluralism at work in Canada.
The persistence of Trinidadian culture in Canada
is also seen in the upsurge in literature and theatre and dance performances.
Trinidadians such as Neil Bissoondath, Ramabai Espinet, Frank Birbalsingh, and
Samuel Selvon, in literature, and Jeff Henry, in dance and theatre, have successfully
imprinted the cultural values of Trinidad on the
Canadian psyche. The Caribbean Theatre Workshop, founded in Toronto
in 1971, has been successful in bringing celebrated Trinidadian and Caribbean
theatre and dance troupes to Canada.
Through federal and provincial grants, it has also assisted young Trinidadians
interested in careers in the theatre arts to write and stage plays and dance
theatre. Calypso and steel-band music, which originated in Trinidad,
has become known all around the world, and it is increasingly popular in the
night clubs of Toronto, Montreal,
Vancouver, and Ottawa.
In the major Canadian cities the airwaves are
filled with the music of Trinidadians. Lately, Indo-Trinidadian music has
become very popular, particularly in Toronto,
and it is heard on weekly programs on ethnic radio stations. In the 1990s
Trinidadian musicians performing calypso and steel-band music are also seen
regularly on television programs in Toronto,
and to a lesser extent in other large cities.
To date, no Trinidadian-Canadian press has been
established. In the 1970s and early 1980s the West Indian newspaper ContrastContrast’s
columnists were from Trinidad, and the problems and
issues of Trinidadians at home and abroad were widely discussed. Today, at
least five newspapers, including Share, Indo-Caribbean World, Caribbean
Camera, Metro World,Pride, serve the
Trinidadian and wider Caribbean community. These weekly
newspapers, all published in Toronto,
were started in the 1980s, and are distributed without charge in large Canadian
cities. They not only provide a forum for commentary on social, cultural, and
political issues affecting Trinidadians and other West Indians in Canada, but
they also report on the state of affairs in the Caribbean home countries. Indo-Caribbean
World, the first newspaper catering to the special problems of Asian
Indian immigrants from Trinidad and Guyana,
is widely distributed across Canada.
(Toronto, 1969–85) had wide distribution among immigrants from all the former British
West Indies, including Trinidadian Canadians. Many of and the magazine-format
It is clear that the amalgam known as Trinidadian
culture, stitched together from the cloth of a dozen racial groups, with its
special artistic, literary, musical, dance, theatrical, and culinary forms, has
flourished in the Canadian mosaic. Cultural leadership has developed within the
Trinidadian-Canadian community, and cultural organizations, as well as
recreational and sports clubs, have an active core of support. The special
achievement of the cultural leaders of the community is their ability not only
to create opportunities for the maintenance of Trinidadian culture within the
community, but also to introduce the culture to the host society.
Intergroup Relations and Group
Although the majority of Trinidadian immigrants in
the 1970s and 1980s at first experienced downward occupational mobility, most
eventually regained their original status, and some attained upward
occupational mobility. Since there is a direct correlation between an
improvement in one’s status and satisfaction with the migratory experience, the
majority of Trinidadian immigrants rate their adaptation to Canada
as successful. The Canadian experience has also been positive for those whose
expectations of the educational system have been fulfilled.
In addition, Trinidadians view their socio-economic
status and standard of living in Canada
positively in comparison to life in the home country. Variables that contribute
to this positive assessment include better health, education, social services,
and pension benefits. Status dislocations and discrimination, while
discouraging, are seen as obstacles that can be overcome. The key variables in
successful adaptation to life in Canada
would appear to be length of residence in Canada
and occupational status. Professional, technical, and skilled workers are more
likely to express satisfaction with their migration experience, to suffer less
from discrimination, and to be pleased with their new lifestyle.
Trinidadian immigrants generally become Canadian
citizens and see their migration as permanent. As members of a unique cultural
group, they have adapted well to multicultural Canada.
Their community is large enough to be institutionally complete in the cultural
sphere, and yet at the same time it is part of the wider Caribbean
community. It is this broader Caribbean community that
acts as an umbrella group for cultural events such as Caribana, as well as in
social and political lobbying in the wider Canadian society.
One of the issues facing the Trinidadian community
in Canada is
the creation and nurturing of a Trinidadian identity, over and above their
African or South Asian ancestral origins. On a superficial level, at work and
in membership in associations such as sports clubs, the two groups interact as
a common entity. In terms of friendship networks and associational ties,
however, ethnic background often takes precedence over national origin. While
community leaders understand that ethnic insularity has a negative impact on
the creation of a Trinidadian-Canadian identity, the task of developing this
group identity remains daunting.
Asian Indians from Trinidad
seem to have developed close associational and religious ties with other Asian
Indians from Guyana
and the Indian subcontinent, while African Trinidadians have close personal and
associational ties with other immigrants from the British Caribbean who are of
African descent. This schismatic structure is the dilemma of all multicultural
societies, and Trinidad itself presents a classic
example of this problem.
A Trinidadian identity is being passed on to
second-generation Trinidadian Canadians who are born in Canada,
but it is a selective identity, reinforcing those parts of the national culture
with which the parents identify. The clear exceptions to this trend are in the
areas of music and cuisine, where a national consensus and acceptance have
overcome the racial divide.
The Trinidadian-Canadian community has made
positive strides in integrating with and adapting to their host society. Given
the multicultural structure of Canadian society, and the similar culturally
pluralistic background that Trinidadians bring with them to Canada,
becoming part of the Canadian mosaic, while challenging, would appear to be an
For histories of Trinidad and Tobago, readers might
consult E. Williams, History of the Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago
(Port of Spain, 1962); S. MacDonald, Trinidad and Tobago: Democracy and
Development in the Caribbean (New York, 1986); and F. Augier, The
Making of the West Indies (London, 1961). Descriptive analysis of the
major racial groups in Trinidad are provided in Kevin A. Yelvington, ed., Trinidad
Ethnicity (Knoxville, Tenn., 1993); M. Klass, East Indians in Trinidad
(New York, 1961); and J. LaGuerre, ed., Calcutta to Caroni (Port of
For an analysis of the history and sociology of
Trinidadians in Canada, some of the best sources are James Walker, The West
Indians in Canada (Ottawa, 1984); W. Anderson, Caribbean Immigrants: A
Socio-Demographic Profile (Toronto, 1990); Subhas Ramcharan, Racism:
Non-Whites in Canada (Toronto, 1982); R. Chodos, The Caribbean
Connection (Toronto, 1977); and Robin Winks The Blacks in Canada
In terms of the social, economic, and cultural
organization of Trinidadians, the earliest study was Subhas Ramcharan, The
Adaptation of West Indians in Canada (Toronto,
1974). Other works include Wilson Head, The Black Presence in the Canadian
Mosaic (Toronto, 1975); Francis
Henry, The Colour of DemocracyThe Caribbean Diaspora in TorontoImmigrant Settlement and
Integration in Canada
(Toronto, 1990), and Anthony
Richmond, Caribbean Immigrants (Ottawa,
1989), provide important analyses of social and economic adaptation issues.
Anthony Richmond and A. Mendoza, “Education and Qualifications of Caribbean
Migrants and their Children,” in R. Palmer, ed., In Search of a Better
Life: Perspectives on Migration from the Caribbean (New York, 1990),
provide an in-depth analysis of the educational issues confronting the
Trinidadian community. The role and status of Indo-Trinidadians in Canada
are discussed in Milton Israel, In the Further Soil. A Social History of
Indo-Canadians in Ontario
(Toronto, 1994); F.
Birbalsingh, Indenture and Exile (Toronto,
1989); and G. Kurian and R. Srivastava, Overseas Indians. A Study in
Adaptation (New Delhi, 1983).
1994); and idem., (Toronto,
1994). Clifford Jansen and Anthony Richmond,
Weekly newspapers provide much information about
the Trinidadian community. Throughout the 1970s and continuing until 1985, the
black and West Indian community newspaper Contrast was the major source of
information for news and events about the Trinidadian community in Toronto and
Canada, as well as providing news about events in the homeland. Since the late
1980s Caribbean Camera, Pride, and Share
have recorded Trinidadian community and cultural events in Toronto.
The newspaper Indo-Caribbean World (Toronto)
began is a major source of social and cultural information for Trinidadians of
South Asian background in Canada.
As well, the journal Indo-Caribbean Review (Toronto)
provides a multidisciplinary analysis of Indo-Trinidadian issues in Canada.
As a source of information on the socio-demographic
profile of the Trinidadian population in Canada,
Statistics Canada’s Immigration Statistics (Ottawa,
1994) is invaluable. It provides an excellent demographic profile of the
migrant on arrival, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the socio-economic
status of the group in Canada.
South Asians now biggest visible minority
By Roop Misir, PhD
Data from the recent census suggest that immigrants are coming to Canada in record numbers. An article in the Globe and Mail indicates that the number of visible minorities has reached five million. This represents 16.2 per cent of Canada’s total population (data released April 02 2008). Now for the first time ever, South Asians form Canada's largest visible minority group, surpassing citizens of Chinese origin. Included among South Asians are Indo-Caribbean peoples.
“Visible minority” is the term to describe persons who are not of the majority race in a given population. In March 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described this term as racist, since it singles out a specific group. Despite this, Canadians have grown accustomed to its use. To us, “visible minorities” refers to “persons (other than Aboriginals) who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color”. Statistics Canada uses it as a demographic category to reflect our country's multiculturalism. Visible minorities are designated as a protected group under the Canadian Employment Equity Act.
In Canada, the term “South Asian” refers to any person whose ethnicity is associated with the southern part of Asia, or one who self-identifies with the South Asian visible minority group. This definition encompasses people from a great diversity of ethnic backgrounds-Afghanistan, Bangladeshi, Bengali, Goan, Gujarati, Hindu, Ismaili, Kashmiri, Nepali, Pakistani, Punjabi, Sikh, Sinhalese, Sri Lankan and Tamil ancestry. South Asians may have been born in Canada, on the Indian sub-continent, as well as in Africa, Great Britain, the Caribbean (Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago), or elsewhere.
The growth in the visible minority population was driven largely by immigration (as opposed to natural birth). Between 2001 and 2006, it soared 26.2 per cent, five times faster than the 5.4 per cent increase for the population as a whole. South Asians are now Canada's largest visible minority.lion people—a 38% increase. The next largest visible minority group comprises Canadians who self-identified as Chinese increased 18.2% to 1.2 million. Indo-Guyanese arrivals showed a 4.2%, and Trinidad & Tobago (2.5%).
Over the past 25 years Canada's visible minority population has grown steadily. In 1981, the estimated 1.1 million represented 4.7 per cent of Canada's total population. Today, this figure stands at five million. If current immigration trends continue, visible minorities will account for about one-fifth of Canada's population by 2017.
Traditionally, the vast majority of visible minority (nearly 96 per cent) resides in metropolitan areas, mainly in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. In recent year however, other cities like Abbotsford BC, and Calgary AB are also attracting large numbers.
Competing for Immigrants
For most countries, it is established that a vibrant economy requires a large population. Like Canada, other developed countries also experience similar declines in their natural population growth, and they wish to maintain their already high standards of living. The fear is that their economic prosperity will be compromised unless they have a large resident population to produce goods and services for domestic use and also for overseas markets. Thus, the campaign is on to attract skilled immigrants.
Immigrants as “Enrichment”
As far as the European Union (EU) is concerned, opinion polls suggest that citizens believe immigrants make a meaningful contribution to the economy and society. Speaking at a conference in Lisbon recently, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini informed his audience that European governments should regard immigration not a threat but as an “enrichment". He pointed out that while the US was getting 55% of all skilled migrants, Europe was able to attract a mere 5%. He noted that skills shortages were already noticeable in a number of sectors, and that this trend was not going to improve any time soon. He then called for an overhaul of the immigration system to attract more skilled immigrants.
Ways Canada Attracts Immigrants
The following can be considered the dream of every qualified prospective immigrant. Are peoples from the Caribbean taking note?
Reduced Application Fee
A Permanent Residence fee of $975 per person was imposed in 1995. This was later reduced to $490. Of course, many people argue that the fee should be eliminated altogether.
Trained Student Ambassadors
Foreign students on visa can study and work concurrently if they choose to do so. Upon graduation, they can apply for immigrant status. However, even if some choose to return to their home countries, their work experience and fond memories will make them ambassadors of Canadian businesses and technology. In this way the rest of the world can get a better picture of the wonderful country of Canada—a vast land rich in culture and valuable resources (lumber, minerals, petroleum). Only recently, Prime Minister Steven Harper described Canada as an “energy superpower”; but equally important is the manufacturing sector (aerospace, automobiles, high technology, shipbuilding). Indeed Canada’s cutting edge technology makes it more than a just an agricultural country (producing wheat, canola, dairy and meat). This latter distinction has earned the Canadian Prairie Provinces the reputation as being the “bread basket of the world”. So foreign students trained at Canadian universities and colleges are in the best position to advertise our country to the outside world, making it more attractive to prospective immigrants.
Secular Education System
The type of broad-based education available in Canada is the envy of the world. And even if new immigrants fail to find their dram jobs upon arrival, at least they can take comfort that their children are going to get the best type of education. Here students are taught tolerance and open-mindedness in non-segregated schools. They learn modern ways of looking at old problems. In the process, they develop mutual respect and embrace technological innovation. And living in multicultural Canada gives them to appreciate the big cultural picture. It makes them better citizens of the world—one where eventually the question of one’s race, belief system and ethnicity is less important than their contribution to society.
In 2005, there were there were some 95,000 temporary workers to cover a wide range of jobs. Many found employment in the agriculture sector, and in the booming housing sector. But since then, economic activity has temporarily slowed.
On the larger question of immigration to Canada, can a Temporary Foreign Worker Program be part of the solution? No doubt, some of them may choose to become immigrants in due course; but many apparently prefer to be migrant workers. Under this arrangement, they can live in their home countries, and choose to work for part of the year in Canada. If this seems like having the best of both worlds, then perhaps it is. However, large numbers of temporary workers tend to highlight the need to publishing information on the specific categories of skilled immigrants needed in Canada. This is to ensure that those who come here have meaningful jobs, and are not part of a greater problem.
And what about “illegal” workers? Are they going to play a greater role in the Canadian economy in the years ahead? Will they acquire legal immigration status at some time in the future?
Implications for Canada
The number of visible minorities in Canada has cracked the five million mark for the first time in history. Over the years, many people from Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago came as immigrants to settle here. Canada is demonstrating to the world that when faced with a declining birth rate, an enlightened immigration policy can meet population targets and skills requirements to facilitate continued economic prosperity. In this respect, Canada may be emulating what South Asian countries have done for millennia. For example India offered home for peoples from all over the world. While a great many came as marauders, plunderers and conquerors, collectively their presence did have positive outcomes. Today, as India and other South Asian countries reclaim their rightful place on the world stage, Canada is also demonstrating that by attracting people from diverse backgrounds to our shores, that the peoples of the world can be one family.
[Dr. Roop Misir is an Indo-Canadian Teacher with the Toronto District School Board. Please send your comments to
Canada has 200,000 Guyanese
(From Toward developing Guyana)
BY PREM MISIR
Guyana Chronicle article aug 25, 2007
An important consequence of globalization is the constant migration of skilled professionals from Guyana into mainly developed nations; it is a phenomenon that affects all developing economies. Today, I want to present the usefulness of the Guyanese Diaspora, Guyanese living abroad, to development in this country.
The Government of Guyana cannot coerce its people to return as remigrants; but through its National Competitiveness Strategy, the Government may be able to tap into the Diaspora resources for this country’s development. And why not?
A report that 86% of Guyana's graduates are emigrants has become an important pastime and exudes considerable excitement for some.
The brain drain phenomenon has been a recurring decimal throughout the 20th century in different parts of the globe. In fact, the 20th century is the century of refugees; the century of migration.
The rate of Guyanese emigration has consistently increased since the early 1950s. Official statistics show that 32,000 persons emigrated between 1960 and 1970; and about 10,000 persons per year emigrated within the 1975-79 period. Between 1969 and 1976, 48,639 Guyanese migrated overseas, with 40.8% to the U.S., 30.7% to Canada, and 11.3% to the United Kingdom.
Today, the Guyanese Diaspora is huge, as depicted in this table.
United Kingdom 85,000
United States 400,000
Caribbean Islands 150,000
Source: The Guyana Consulate, Toronto, Canada, 2007
The emigration rates of skilled workers of Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, and Haiti were in excess of 80% in 2000; the Philippines, India, and China have 1,260,879, 1,012,613, and 906,337, respectively; the largest pool of overseas talent, huge diasporas.
The Global Economic Prospects 2006, a World Bank publication, indicates that about 200 million people live outside of their home countries; their remittances totalling about US$225 billion in 2005; a tremendous booster for poverty alleviation.
Anyway, it’s good that we have Balasubramanyam and Wei of the University of Lancaster, bearers of good tidings, amid the shocking news of 86% of graduates fleeing Guyana and the rest of CARICOM; they propose that the rate of return to a unit of investment by the diaspora may be greater than that of the traditional foreign direct investment (FDI) from non-diasporans. Balasubramanyam and Wei noted that the diaspora is more than a source of funds; the diaspora also is a source of skills and expertise.
Therefore, we now have to locate the Non-Resident Guyanese (NRGs), especially those in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, if we are to economically transform Guyana. India and China thrive on their diasporas. Why can’t Guyana? How can NRGs help?
NRGs can make technology and know-how available to Guyana; in the same way that Indian software firms outsource with diaspora firms in the U.S.; local Guyanese companies could strive to effect business arrangements with Guyanese diaspora firms.
NRGs can make direct investments to Guyana; again, some diaspora packaging investments already have arrived and have been activated; perhaps, Guyana may now see the beginnings of diaspora joint ventures or acquisitions.
NRGs’ involvement in Guyana may be guided not only by the profit motive, but by a genuine desire for establishing and sustaining a base in their country of origin, that could be of mutual benefit to both groups of stakeholders. NRGs through a sustained engagement in their country of origin may in the end reduce permanent migration.
But NRGs have to be mobilized, so that professionally-skilled people that emigrate are not completely lost to the sending country. Some policy is necessary to intensify the creation of brain circulation networks; and eliminate this constant brooding over brain drain. And, indeed, greater tapping of the Guyanese diaspora resources will bolster macroeconomic stability.
Indo Caribbean: A Forgotten Diaspora
By Eve Pearce
History is full of mass migrations, from the
original exodus and diaspora of the Israelites in the bible, to the countless
Africans taken across the Atlantic as slaves. However, one group of people, who
found themselves thousands of miles from their original homeland, is not as
The Indo Caribbeans are a product of the
abolition of slavery. The Caribbean islands were once under the colonial
control of Britain and France. Prized for their plantations, these islands
provided large incomes for the British and French colonial Empires. However,
when slavery was abolished throughout Britain and Europe, the colonial powers needed to find a cheap
solution because the former slaves were unwilling to work for low wages and
their former masters unwilling to employ the newly freed slaves.
While the British and French tried
unsuccessfully to import labor from other areas of the world, it was from the
British Raj of India that they found their solution. Over half a million
Indians, mainly from the poorer states of Utter Pradesh and Bihar, became
indentured workers. These were workers not classified as slaves due to being
paid. However, their wages were very low, and they were forced to except the
terms offered by the British, namely to work for a minimum of five years, after
which they would be allowed to return home. However, it didn’t work out that
These days, with cheap
travel and regular around
the world flights, it is hard to imagine just what it was like to for these
indentured workers to be transported all the way from India to the Caribbean.
Today, where travel is quick and comfortable, when we have travel insurance,
low cost flights and cheap hotel accommodation, traveling to the Caribbean is
considered a luxury. A modern airline traveling from Calcutta to the Caribbean
takes about 36 hours, with at least one stop off. However, from 1838 to 1917,
when these indentured workers were transported to the colonial islands, the
only form of transportation was by ship and it could take anything from three
to five months to get there. Many of the workers traveling abroad this way, had
families left at home and many would never get to see them again. In addition,
passengers often had to endure terrible conditions. While many of us may find
it uncomfortable on a long haul flight when traveling abroad in economy class and may not think much of the airline
food, think just how the indentured workers felt. These people were trapped for
five months on a ship, often in steerage, with very little room to walk around
and had to exist on very poor quality food.
Indo Caribbean culture
When they arrived, the work was extremely
tough and arduous, with their new masters treating them no better than they did
the slave workers before them. Cruelty and abuse was common, and while may of
these indentured workers were promised their passage home after finishing their
service, rarely was this the case. Workers were often forced to sign new
contracts, and few indentured workers ever returned home. Instead, they became
a sub culture in the Caribbean communities in which they found themselves.
Having come from a culture far removed from
the islands they now found themselves in, the Indo Caribbean people bought with
them many of their culture and traditions, which helped influence the evolution
of the islands, making them what they are today. Traditional Indian festivals
such as Diwali are still celebrated on islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, and
you'll find Hindu temples on many of the Caribbean islands.
Today's Indo Caribbean community
Today, over 2.5 million people in the
Caribbean are of Indian origin, and many Indo Caribbean's have since emigrated
around the world. Canada, in particular, has a very large Indo Caribbean
community. Living mainly in Southern Ontario, with smaller communities in
Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver,
over 250,000 Indo Caribbeans now live in Canada. In fact, the country has been
home to Indo Caribbeans for over a century, since Dr Kenneth Mahabir arrived
from Trinidad and M.N. Santoo from Guyana in 1908. Nearly two thirds of
Canada's Indo Caribbean population come from Guyana. Most are permanently
settled residents and include notable figures such as Canadian CBC news anchor
and broadcaster Ian Hanomansing, Hedy Fry, eminent Member of the Canadian
Parliament, and Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Melanie Fiona.
Other notable Indo Caribbeans around the world
include: American actress and R&B singer Tatyana Marisol Ali, famous for
playing Ashley in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; former West Indies cricket
captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who was the first Indo-Caribbean to play 100
Tests for the team; and Sir V. S. Naipaul, British Indo Caribbean author who
won both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker Prize.
Indo-Caribbean Women Aim High
By Eve Pearce
As the world becomes more educated and politically correct, there has
been a massive change in the prominence of women in Indo-Caribbean
culture. From Nicki Minaj, who has become a world renowned pop star, to
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the recently elected Prime Minister of the
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, perceptions of Indo-Caribbean women are
changing for the better.
Onika Tanya Maraj
Onika Tanya Maraj, more famously known by her stage name Nicki Minaj,
was born and initially raised in Saint James in Trinidad, the home of
recent Indo-Caribbean feminism. Although she moved to New York when she
was five years old, it was her roots which drove her to succeed both as a
representative of women and as an individual. Her initial role model
was her mother, also a successful Indo-Caribbean woman, who held several
job titles including accountant, gospel singer and foreign exchange
teller. This inherent drive for knowledge and education, change and
improvement, was undoubtedly important in shaping Onika’s own ambitions,
and it is becoming a clear characteristic of Indo-Caribbean women
intelligent and well-educated girl, Onika is now a successful
songwriter, singer, rapper and television personality, as well as
inventing an artistic portrayal of her character, with alter egos and
varied accents; the diversity of talents seem to stem from an equally
diverse and culturally rich upbringing. Onika shared her mother's drive
to succeed and expand her knowledge, attending Elizabeth Blackwell
Middle School 210 and later graduating from LaGuardia High School, which
specialised in music and the arts. As a teen she loved to read
educational books and play the clarinet, initially dreaming of becoming
an actress. When this career path led to various dead ends, Onika
changed her career plans towards music and was initially signed by Dirty
Money Entertainment after posting some of her songs on her MySpace. She
has since released three albums and four mixtapes, including several
number one singles and a number one album. Due to her ambition and her
success, she is a role model to many young girls worldwide.
The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the current Prime Minister of
the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, making her another ideal example of
a strong, independent Indo-Caribbean woman. She was sworn in on the
26th of May 2010 and was the first female PM in the Republic's history.
She is the party leader of the United National Congress, and was also the first woman to ever act as Attorney General, or acting Prime Minister, as she did in 1995 and 2001.
as she is known throughout the country, grew up in a rural district of
Trinidad and Tobago, and like Onika, her mother was the driving figure
behind her education and higher education, which was completed at
Norwood Technical College in the United Kingdom at a time when the
social and cultural norms of the Republic confined women and girls very
much to the home and marriage. Although Kamla worked as a social worker
in London during her education, she was a scholar at heart, and she
returned to the Republic on its completion and began to teach at the
University of the West Indies. She had strong forward-thinking beliefs
that everyone should be treated equally, including women and ethnic
minorities, and continued her education as an adult, eventually
graduating from the Hugh Wooding Law School and becoming a full time
attorney-at-law. Kamla never lost the drive to learn, and as recently as
2006 she graduated again, this time with a Masters in Business
Administration from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in
According to her official website:
'Persad-Bissessar began her political career in local government as
an Alderwoman. Subsequently, Persad-Bissessar contested and lost her
first parliamentary elections at a time when the parliamentary benches
were dominated by men. But she says, "The acute disappointment I felt
did not deter me." It was her remarkable persistence and forward
thinking that enabled her to achieve greater heights in the political
this persistence and drive was something inherent that seems to stem
from her Indo-Caribbean roots and her culturally diverse upbringing.
Kamla is also an example of a massive role model for young
Indo-Caribbean women living today, as the world continues to change and
become more socially accepting and educated. Indeed, in the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, run by the University of the West Indies, Kamla is actually described as the 'apex of Indo-Caribbean feminism'.
Indo-Caribbean Women's Literature
Prominent writers in the field of Indo-Caribbean women's literature include Shani Mootoo, who was born in Ireland to Trinidadian parents, and Lakshmi Persaud, a lifelong native of Trinidad and Tobago. Just last year, a book of critical essays was published, Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature, by
Joy Mahabir. This is the first critical book on Indo-Caribbean women's
writing and it analyses the literature in great depth from a number of
interesting perspectives, such as feminism, post-colonialism and also
Caribbean cultural theories. This book and other relevant texts, such
as Diasporic Dis (Locations) Indo-Caribbean Women Writers Negotiate the "Kala Pani" are available from Valore Books. This
really raises awareness that Indo-Caribbean women's literature is a
newly-formed, constantly developing and expanding field in the world of
cultural written works. As well as giving a cultural insight into the
lives of Indo-Caribbean women, literature is an important tool for
gaining knowledge in a relevant field. Both Nicki Minaj and Kamla
Persad-Bissessar used reading as a way to increase their knowledge,
intelligence and ultimately their power as women.
conclude, the world is changing and with it the status of Indo-American
women is evolving. From prominent role models such as Onika Miraj and
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to a whole new category of critically acclaimed
writing, Indo-Caribbean women are only now finding their voice on the