Nativism has long been a central human behavior, dating back to the very beginning of time. Outsiders in majority cultures suffer in many ways. Their linguistic hurdles in interacting with the majority culture open them up to the victimization that comes with being cheated. Whether taking place in ancient times or during the twenty-first century, it has been very difficult, at times, for new immigrants to succeed in their new land. Sometimes they go to a land that does not have enough opportunities for their new residents, and so things become tense between the original residents and the newcomers. So many people have emigrated, whether from Europe to North America or from one Asian country to another, only to find that the people who were already in the country began to resent the new arrivals, wondering if these new people would take your job at half the wages, feeding their children while yours go hungry. While nativism often strikes far away from the areas where one expects protests, it is also a response that growth will either foment or dilute, depending on the mood of the neighborhood.
Vancouver, British Columbia, has been the focus of immigrants heading into Canada for decades now. The idea of Canada as a dominion with in Great Britain is now an antiquated one; now, Vancouver has developed a reputation for being a welcoming city; since the discriminatory policies that had been in place for decades had already seen a network of skirmishes pop up, Vancouver had emerged as a careful home in the 1960's, establishing itself as a place where immigrants could come into the country safely. Even so, with the recent influx of immigrants from countries all over the map, many are wondering how Canada, in general, and Vancouver, in particular, will respond culturally; on the list of fears, near the top, is the possibility of racial tensions breaking out into open hostilities (Omidvar and Richmond, 2003). One possibility is a reduction in the number of permitted immigrants (Stoffman, 2002). However, these reductions are not long-term solutions, and even in the short term, they are patently unfair. They point to an endemic trend in Canada; namely, that immigrants who come into the country, particularly if they are from a different ethnic background from the majority, represent a threat to the majority culture.
In order to better understand the roiling trouble that, time to time, shows its head in racial relations between immigrants from other countries and native Canadians, it is important to get some historical perspective about the situation. During the late 1960's, Canadian immigrants went from being primarily European to primarily non-European in ethnic background. In Canada, for example, of the immigrants arriving before 1970, just about a tenth were identified as non-Western; by 2001, that figure had grown to almost 37 percent. The racial diversity in urban Canada becomes magnified, because the immigrants tend to cluster together in large cities (Reitz and Banerjee, 2006). According to a study performed by Statistics Canada (2005b), by the year 2017, Vancouver is just one city in the country that will be a “majority-minority” city.
How that this influx of immigrants to Canada affected the process that each must go through? There are two events that have happened in Canada that affect the society there to remain together – first, the diversity has ended up showing inequalities in the Canadian system, and the resulting sense of injustice has unified many in the country, both in and out of the immigrant community. Also, instances of racial diversity have, historically, also brought shared beliefs, social relations and values all out into the open for social discourse. Both of these can be positive developments for a society, as both immigrants and native citizens must confront the changing identity of their cultural surroundings, so that they can take ownership in the new society that they are all working together to build.
Many immigrants arriving in Vancouver experience a considerable amount of racist discrimination. The literature of existing research suggests that the process of assimilation into mainstream society takes longer than it does in many other countries, and the corrosive effects of discrimination have a lot to do with that trend (Boyd, 2000). Some of this discrimination results in a trend of higher rates of poverty and lower incomes per capita for immigrants who do not come from European origins, in comparison to immigrants who do (Ornstein 2000). According to the Ethnic Diversity Survey, in Vancouver, people who are visibly members of a minority earn, on average, $7,686 per year less than the overall average; white people, on the other hand, are often as much as $2000 more than the average – this means, of course, that the real gap between minority immigrants to Vancouver and their white counterparts is almost $10,000 (Reitz and Bannerje, 2006). If you compare this to the national mean, there is a large gap between what immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds can earn – and, in many ways, the difference is based n the color of their skin. Poverty rates for non-white immigrants in Vancouver nearly doubled those for white immigrants in 2001 (Reitz and Bannerjee, 2006).
The primary hurdle that immigrants face in climbing to prosperity has to do with how tough it is to find a job that provides enough money (Li, 2000). It is true that just about every immigrant faces a time of adjustment, where they must become accustomed to the ways o their new country. Other factors include the recession in the early 1990's, and the late 2000's, that has affected everyone's ability to gain (or hold onto) a new job. Research does show that time in the new country does make life easier for just about all immigrants, as all of them get used to their new environs (Grant 1999). This indicates that there is a great deal of hope for the future for Vancouver's immigrants – but that matters are still far from settled.
During the history of mankind, different cultures have responded differently to those that they perceive as foreign, or outside. For example, while many saw the United States as a gateway to freedom and opportunity, no matter what their background, not everyone who has arrived here as an immigrant has received what could be described as “open arms.” Many people who have moved from one country to another have done so with huge hopes for themselves and their families, only to be swindled out of their life savings and bound to a lifestyle of penury, because of contracts they signed with the people who brought them into their new country. Other people who were able to save up their own money and do not have any debts in their new land still have found that it is much more difficult to find employment to achieve the sort of lifestyle they had dreamed of. Some of the primary barriers to their success have to do with their new country’s economy, but many others have to do with attitudes of the people with whom they are settling.
Seeing immigrants come into Tokyo is an experience unlike just about any other in the modern world. First of all, Tokyo is one of the most densely packed cities in the world; people live stacked right on top of other people, even in the most well-to-do parts of the city. There simply isn't the room for people to spread out – the sprawl that defines suburbia in other parts of the world has no place here. Second of all, Tokyo has one of the highest costs of living that can be found on the planet. Even the most basic necessities cost just about a fortune, in comparison to other countries.
One benefit of these two factors is that not many immigrants at all even make it into Japan proper, let alone Tokyo. The paperwork required for someone to come from another country and live in Tokyo is burdensome – and usually requires that the person have some sort of indispensable skill that makes living in Tokyo a requirement, and a service to the country, whether it's a visiting major league baseball player or an IT professional. This means, of course, that immigrant poverty, such a defining factor in other parts of the world, simply does not appear in much of Tokyo, because they are not allowed to be there. Japan's status as an island nation makes this hermetic arrangement not only possible, but practical. As a result, as of 2009, only 1.7 percent of the Japanese population was born in another country, compared to a 12 percent ratio in the United States (Japan Helping Immigrants Find Jobs, 2009).
For the person who is coming to live in Japan from another culture, the shock can be significant. Walking around New York City or London or Berlin for the first time is enough of a whirlwind, what with the huge sense of the city's presence, the rush of a series of different languages, and the shadows of history, but walking through Tokyo means encountering a blast of unending lights and passing through row after row of a homogenous people, something that you don't see in those other metropolises of the world. While it is true that visible minorities have more difficulty finding employment and prosperity in many parts of the world, in Japan, if you are not native to the country, you are a visible minority. No matter what country you are from, if you are from outside Japan, you will be obvious, whether it is by virtue of the different language that you speak, or your different appearance, or your habits. It is a highly intimidating experience.
None of this is to say that the Japanese are necessarily racist, or at least biased to a degree greater than what is found anywhere else on the planet. Also, if you have one of those coveted talents and are welcomed into Japan, you can become a hero. Just ask Bobby Valentine, the American baseball manager who won a Japanese baseball championship – and also ended up being fired by one of the teams he worked for. Because of his community involvement (and his success) he was revered in Japan, which was highly unusual for someone coming in from another country to work in baseball. There is a definite sense of pride within Japanese society, which can sometimes be taken as scorn to the outsider. However, a lot of this scorn comes from a sense that people from many other cultures do not have the same self-discipline as the Japanese do, and it can be difficult to earn respect within a culture that looks on outsiders with suspicion that borders, at times, on disdain. According to Jinen Nagase, a Liberal Democratic Party senior member, in a 2005 interview, allowing immigrants from such countries as Thailand would “create slums and boost the population of uneducated people. And eventually they'll demand the right to vote – these are problems European countries are facing now – that's why we are so cautious”(Head, 2005).
And here's the irony – the number of children in Japan declined 27 years in a row, as of 2009, and 22 percent of the populace was 65 years old or older. To avoid losing its population, according to the Liberal Democratic Party, the country needs to allow 10 million immigrants by 2059 (Japan Helping Immigrants Find Jobs, 2009).
There are many countries that are easier to immigrate into than Japan; there are few countries that are as welcoming to immigrants, at least officially, as Canada. However, just because it is easy to move from your own country of origin into Canada does not mean that your experience there will be easy. No matter where you are coming from, when you are entering a new country, there will be people who treat you with suspicion – people who think you are there to take their jobs, people who think that you should return to the place where your own culture originates, and people who simply don't like any people who are different from them. Of course, there were probably also people like that in the place that you left behind. The idea of the immigrant as a foreign, alien being, despite the many commonalities he or she would have in any country, because of all of the traits that we share, is one of the enduring ironies of the human experience.
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