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Department of Geography and Environmental Studies


In May 2011 over 60 scholars gathered in Canada for a conference on; ‘Assessing the complexities of South Asian Migration’. This special issue of South Asian Diaspora on South Asian diasporas in Canada emerges from this event, and contains papers by scholars from multiple disciplines drawing upon various research methods and theoretical frameworks. As a collection the papers demonstrate the mature and evolving nature of research on Canada’s various South Asian immigrant communities (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives). This geographical diversity comprises what is termed ‘South Asia’, according to this journal’s aims and scopes at least, but there are several other territories commonly captured by the term ‘South Asia’. The diversity, and problematic construction, of the categorization ‘South Asian’ in Canada is explicitly examined in the first two papers by Sandeep Agrawal and Sutama Ghosh. Subsequent papers explore particular subsets of this diasporic community that are framed by national (mostly Indian) and other identity markers. Either implicitly or explicitly each paper considers identity not as fixed, but intersectional, and shaped through a recursive exchange between family, home, community, economy and state.

Before introducing the papers in this collection, let us first begin with an official version of the South Asian community in Canada using various Statistics Canada reports. Such formal efforts to define a South Asian community often rely on a confusing array of ethnic, linguistic as well as national markers. In 2006 Canadians of South Asian background represented the largest visible minority group nationally at 1.3 million people, or about 4% of Canada’s total national population. At the metropolitan scale South Asians represented 11% of Toronto’s and 8% of Vancouver’s population in 2006 (Lindsay 2007). In 2001 South Asian Canadians were fairly equally divided between Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religious adherence, but linguistically English and Punjabi, followed by Tamil, were the most common mother tongue or language spoken at home (Tran etal 2005, 23). While 88% of South Asian Canadians stated they had a strong sense of belonging to Canada (higher than any other visible minority group) (Tran et al 2005), over a third indicated they had experienced discrimination (Lindsay 2007, 16). Within the South Asian community India (47%), Sri Lanka (13%) and Pakistan (11%) are the top countries of birth, this compares to 61%, 2% and 7% for the same national groups before 1971 (Tran et al 2005). The dominance of Indian nationals in the South Asian diaspora in Canada is clearly evident, and this overrepresentation is also reflected in the papers in this special issue. While South Asian diasporas in Canada are still overly Indian in composition, there has been diversification over the last 50 years, driven in part by changes in Canada’s immigration policy and external geopolitical events.


This article was originally published in South Asian Diaspora 5(1):1-5. © 2013 by Margaret Walton-Roberts. Reproduced with permission.

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