Experiences of Cultural Hybridity Among Chinese Immigrants and Canadian-Born Chinese in Montréal
Nous accueillions Jeanne Shea (associate professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA) et Jennifer Lai (Harris Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology, Health and Society and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA), pour une intervention en anglais.
Institutional policies have a profound role in shaping feelings of belonging for residents in a city, as well as in constructing people’s perceptions of their identity. In the early 1970s, Canada launched an official policy of multiculturalism, promoting the ideal of the nation as a “cultural mosaic,” in which differing cultures live side by side, creating a beautiful pattern of diversity, in contrast to the US’s assimilationist melting pot. At the same time, there arose a competing agenda to insist upon the primacy of French language. First in 1974 and then in 1977, the Official Language Act and then Bill 101 made French the official language of the Province of Québec, including its largest and most diverse city of Montréal. The coexistence of these policies, one honoring the equal coexistence of different cultures, and the other insisting on French as the language of government, law, and every day public life, constitute a paradox in need of further research.
In this study, we draw upon ethnographic data to explore how this paradox manifested itself in the experiences of Chinese residents living in Montréal. During the 2000s, the city of Montréal was working to build its reputation as a “multicultural mosaic” that welcomed and celebrated all cultures in order to attract new immigrants to shore up its decreasing population. We draw from semi-structured interviews conducted from 2000 to 2003 with a sample of 35 first-generation Chinese immigrants and Canadian-born Chinese. Their stories of their lives in Montréal reveal considerable tension between the multicultural mosaic ideal and the French language policy. Both immigrants and Canadian-born Chinese described how Montréal simultaneously welcomed them as Chinese people who could live in Montréal and practice their culture, while also exerting pressure on them to assimilate to local French culture. This contradiction engendered ambivalence about their identities, at once valued for being Chinese and exhorted to act French. The participants described how being Chinese made them a tokenized “other” within the broader Franco-Anglo politics of the region. They described being lumped together racially and ethnically as second-class citizens who were expected to learn how to act French, while also being reminded that they were not, and perhaps could never truly be, French. In many ways, this sense of being marginalized was strongest among the Canadian-born Chinese, perhaps because they expected more from their polity as native-born citizens.
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