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Why do Asians cling together?

The first wave of immigrants to Britain and Canada was largely semi-skilled workers, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2005 21:48 IST

A recent study by Mike Poulsen of Macquarie University in Sydney, on the increasing ghettoisation of Asian communities in Britain, should not surprise sociologists, political scientists and we Asians.

This trend has been in evidence in Britain since the 1960s when some British politicians, notably Enoch Powell, inflamed anti-immigrant feelings by calling for sending them back to their countries of origin. As a result, Asian immigrant communities in Britain tended to stick together as they were subjected to violence.

What about Asians in North America, particularly Canada?

In this sparsely populated but far-flung country too, they have formed their own enclaves.

No doubt, there were no anti-immigration feelings in Canada in the 1960s and 70s. In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau had flung the doors open for them.

Still why did the immigrants form their own ghettos?

Unlike the first wave of Indian immigrants (the same applies to Pakistanis) to the US (in the 1950s and 60s) who were doctors and other professionals, the first wave of immigrants to Britain and Canada was largely made up of semi-skilled people with rural backgrounds. On reaching Canada and Britain, they tended to live in their own communities. This happened in Southall and East End in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Leicester in Britain and British Columbia and Ontario in Canada.

These well-knit ghettos were a source of solace and certainty to these economic immigrants. Yes, they were in these countries to better their lot. Most of them wanted to go back once they had accumulated enough money.

But once their financial position improved, they decided to stay on. Many brought over their whole families and clans to Canada and Britain. They became self-sufficient communities as they built their own colonies. They opened their own shopping complexes. Many became service providers to their own communities.

As these communities grew bigger, their members took up other professions (law and medicine) to serve their own communities.

So the broad social picture in the above mentioned Canadian and British cities by the 1980s was like this: self-sufficient immigrant communities within the mainstream community.

About a quarter of a century later today, you have coloured minorities become majorities in many cities -- such as Richmond and Vancouver in British Columbia, and Toronto in Ontario (both in Canada). The scenario is no different in East End, Southall, Leicester, Bradford in Britain.

First Published: Sep 02, 2005 21:48 IST