Chinese-Canadian Odyssey

by Terence MacNamee

People in Canada who know about the mass exodus from Hong Kong coming up to 1999 which led many immigrants to Vancouver and Toronto may be surprised to hear of a recent survey reported in the Globe and Mail. It looked at young Chinese-Canadians now moving in the opposite direction – going to Hong Kong to work. Well, it may be that the return of Hong Kong to the Middle Kingdom was not such an apocalyptic disaster as some people were forecasting. But it is interesting to see that things have gone so far that Hong Kong is attracting Chinese-Canadians back. And it makes for sobering thoughts when you ask why this is happening.

The study authors find that “Canadian-trained immigrants see more opportunity in their parents’ native countries, either because they feel discriminated against in Canada, or because the allure of success abroad is too great”.

Every Canada Day (July 1), which we are now celebrating, there is a great deal of trumpeting (in English Canada at least) about multiculturalism and how that is the new reality and the future of the country. Yet how open is Canada really, if young people born there feel they have to leave to get a decent job? That they feel alienated, and even squeezed out? According to the study, “almost all the participants had multicultural groups of friends growing up, but began to hang out more with other Chinese-Canadians in high school, and continued to do so throughout university”.

On the other hand, having grown up in Vancouver or Toronto, they don’t feel all that much at home in Hong Kong. The study found that they “tended to hang out with expatriate Chinese-Canadians or other non-Chinese expatriates. They drink coffee and watch Vancouver Canucks hockey games on their mobile phones during breaks at work.”

So today’s international mobility is clearly an advantage for young people, as this study indicates, but it also sounds something of a warning note for Canada Day, doesn’t it?