The dictionary definition of racism is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others. (Dictionary.com, 2007) According to the definition, the experience felt by the new immigrants in Vancouver from India was definitely racism. The idea that the white race was superior was one that was established firmly in most of the Canadian’s way of thinking. It is a wonder why so many of these immigrants chose to stay on in a country where they were continuously met with discrimination. The table available in the appendix outlines the estimated number of immigrants to Canada from 1904-1966. “The data presented…may not be absolutely correct but they do reveal some idea about the flow of East Indian immigration to Canada.” (Ujimoto & Hirabayashi 66) The journey that the immigrants took, the work they did upon arrival, and the different types of discrimination these individuals faced are explored in this paper as a means to educate the reader about the hardships faced by the new population. Also included are two interviews that shed light on some of the issues dealt with by immigrants at the time of first arrival and first generation East Indians in Canada today.
The reasons for immigration from India to Canada were not simple. Many issues surrounding the increase in immigration had much to do with not being able to achieve a prosperous lifestyle in India. “There was a population explosion followed by droughts, famines, and severe epidemics. Irrigation canals helped to increase crop yields after 1900, and the railroad distributed surplus, but migration also became an important factor in maintaining prosperity.”(Jensen 24) As a result of the decrease in resources, “younger sons were increasingly encouraged by their families to migrate so that the villages would not become impoverished. Absent sons did not have to be fed, and their absence reduced births at home.” (Jensen 24) The young men who were compelled to leave the situation at home behind in hopes for a more prosperous future in foreign lands had the added expectation to support their families in their homeland by sending money to India so that that extended family could maintain an adequate lifestyle. (Jensen 24) “By the turn of the century, Punjabis had already ventured to Australia and were sending their savings home. They also helped build the Uganda Railway in Africa. As opportunities in Southeast Asia and Africa lessened, Sikhs began to look to the Pacific Coast of America for jobs. In North America wages were higher, and men could emigrate as free workers rather than as contract labourers.” (Jensen 25) The hopeful immigrants looked to Canada and the United States as a provider for a good source of income. The vast number of immigrants ready to leave their lives behind was ever increasing, and as demand increased, the pressure was felt by the countries that had ‘accepted’ them. “Sikh veterans of the British India army played a key role in the original immigration to the Pacific Coast…Some of the first Indian immigrants to Canada were overseas veterans who settled in Canada rather than return to army life in the Punjab.” (Jensen 25-26) the fear of the battlefield was one of the leading causes for men to leave India. They had served their time and were weary of the wars. They felt that if they moved away, their lives could make a new start and they could escape the turmoil that followed them in India and with the British army. Little did they know, there was a different kind of struggle awaiting them in the land they so eagerly awaited to set foot on. Because many decisions to leave India had to be made in haste, it was hard to acquire the amount of money it took for the passage. Family members when possible were able to lend some financial help but “as many as 80 percent of the Sikhs...
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