Why the fear around “ethnic enclaves” and fewer White faces in Metro Vancouver?

If you are reading this on your handheld device, please sit down and put your device on a table, lest you drop it and break it.

Here’s the scariest news to come out this week: Whites will become the minority in Metro Vancouver in less than two decades.


If you have recovered from the jolt, let me walk you through the racially charged presentation of a demographic study, which is more shocking than the study itself.

If you read between the lines, it actually is a projection study by local geographer Daniel Hiebert for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Mr. Hiebert is a geographer at the University of British Columbia and as the co-director of research and policy forum Metropolis B.C., he “has travelled the world studying immigration patterns”.

But reading the actual lines is what leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially the “joke” that Mr. Hiebert cites in the Vancouver Sun news report published on April 01 this year:

One of Hiebert’s most stark predictions for Metro Vancouver and Toronto regards the increasing rise of ethnic enclaves.

Indeed, Hiebert cites a popular standing joke to describe just how ethnically segregated Metro Vancouver has already become:

“Question: What river separates China and India?

“Answer: the Fraser River (which separates Richmond and Surrey).”

Popular-standing joke? This is the first time I am hearing of this. The so-called joke is in reference to the “ethnic enclaves” of Richmond (populated mostly by Canadians of Chinese lineage) and city of Surrey (populated mostly by Canadians of South Asian heritage).

My journalist friend Bal Brach confirmed my worst fears in a Twitter conversation we had on April 02:

never heard “popular standing joke” about ethnic segregation. A bit suspect of some of the ethnic enclaves comments.

The Black-White racial segregation in the USA:

In Mr. Hiebert’s defence (I don’t know him), a researcher always comes in with a viewpoint into his investigation and builds or expands on his work against the existing available frameworks. Point noted. But why situate Metro Vancouver’s situation with the Black-White racial framework in the USA? Or against immigrant enclaves in Europe?

I am not implying that he has broken any law, but the situation of these frameworks is troubling. By situating the demographic concentration in Metro Vancouver against the Black-White framework in USA, what is being achieved or rather being said without actually saying it? I don’t get it.

And briefly on the Black-White framework in USA: first the White dominance enslaved an entire race and abused it. Then without exploring the framework of years of abuse and discrimination, the Black community continues to be projected in negative stereotypes. These stereotypes are fed into the public consciousness to mask consequences of discrimination as the direct fault of the Black community! A distressing example of victim blaming.

But coming back to the original argument, how is the framework of slavery and discrimination in the USA applicable to immigration and discrimination in Metro Vancouver?

Even more disturbing is the frame in which the Sun story examined the Metro Vancouver projections.

Without declaring whether these demographic trends will be negative or positive for Metro, Hiebert nevertheless says the “scale of ethnographic change over (the next) period will be larger and more rapid than anything we have seen previously.”

It seems to suggest that a concentration of any racial identity in a geographical space can cause trouble. Or not. Yes or no, maybe, but there is the suggestion that it can lead to negative consequences. To me, the language of the presentation reads as if minority groups are going to explode all over metro Vancouver and the situation will spell disaster.

My question is: why? Why is immigration so scary? In the first place, for argument sake alone, immigration is allowed and legal. All these numbers and projections are coming from legit sources. What did you think would happen when you allowed immigration? That people won’t come? Or you wouldn’t notice them when they did?

Now when people from different countries are calling Canada home, why the numbers are being projected in a racially charged language? To begin with, isn’t it the Canadian department of Citizenship and Immigration stamping visas in India and China and around? So do you want immigration? Or do you not want immigration?

The bigger question is: Why are you instilling a sense of fear with these numbers? These numbers in themselves are pretty harmless and the mathematical projections are based on scientific data but the projection is that of a mind, a human mind that has created these divisions based on his/her own fear, the fear of the “Other”; the “Other” (read minority groups) taking over the dominant culture.

The fear of “ethnic enclaves”:

South Asian heritage Canadians during Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan (parade) in Surrey, 2012

South Asian heritage Canadians during Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan (Vaisakhi parade) in Surrey, 2012.
Photo: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

What exactly do you fear from South Asian heritage Canadians living in Surrey? That we will break into a riot and march on the streets of Metro Vancouver? Wait a minute. When Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to Boston Bruins in 2011, why was the intersection of 72nd Avenue and Scott Road unusually quiet? Isn’t it the same South Asian “ethnic enclave” where traffic is brought to a halt and South Asian heritage Canadians break into bhangra to celebrate the victory of home team? Why didn’t the non-Whites of this racially segregated enclave burn cars, loot stores and create a nuisance? Uh yes, all that was happening in the downtown core, in the integrated open space. Why didn’t this “ethnic enclave” get a pat on the back post the riots? Why wasn’t a study commissioned to understand the calm behaviour of this racially segregated group?

There never is a discussion on the deeper meaning and complex framework of a community choosing to live together based on similarity of experience and lifestyle. In simple words: if you are going to keep projecting a racial and cultural group as an “Other”, as an “Outsider”, the group is going to come together for support, growth and harmony – as depicted during the Stanley Cup riots. There is nothing to fear.


Chinese heritage Canadians during Chinese New Year celebrations in Vancouver, earlier this year.
Photo: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

I am all for integration, but define integration for me. People need services in their native languages, they need the freedom to practice their religion, and live in their cultural framework, there is nothing to fear people who do that. For the senior citizen who has just arrived from Mainland China or India, it is not only moral but progressive to have road signs in Chinese or Punjabi or even Hindi. (I support bilingual signs: native languages with English) That is how you integrate people: by allowing them to become independent and live the Canadian life. Isn’t that the reason people pay to move to this country?

The dominant culture:

To me personally, even more troubling is the definition of the dominant culture. As I have tried to deconstruct Canadian identity in my earlier posts, who is to say what is the dominant culture? The White argument always starts with: Canada was founded on English and French (White) identity and everything else has to exist and behave against this constructed “main” identity.

Here’s a piece of history in case you still don’t know or are in denial: Canada existed way before the claim of White dominance. It was (is) the sacred land of Aboriginal Peoples. The foundation of thousands of years of Aboriginal civilization, culture and love (not dominance) cannot be wiped out by the 500 odd years of White Settler dominance and its residential school legacy.

Further lessons in history:

Canadians of South Asian heritage started to call Canada home around 200 years ago – not as immigrants but as British subjects from pre-partitioned India that was still under colonial rule. And then there are extended history chapters on Komagata Maru and Chinese head tax, but I am not going to go there, today.


  1. Stop instilling fear in the minds of White people about us non-Whites.
  2. Stop the fear mongering of minorities becoming the majority.
  3. Metro Vancouver will not explode if the number of Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean and West Asian heritage faces is more than White faces. At the end of the day, we all are Canadians.
  4. Stop creating this divide based on your mind projections. You are actually keeping the White-Canadians from integrating with Canadians of different skin tones. (Really, a skin tone is the source of your fear?)
  5. And please stop treating non-Whites as a member of an ethnic block – to do researches on, to write reports, or to use as a vote bank. I am a Canadian national first. Only if you are going to call the next White person English-Canadian or French-Canadian or other European lineage-Canadian, you are allowed to refer me in that frame.
  6. I am not ashamed of my lineage, but you cannot use my lineage to paint me as the “Other”.
  7. And most important of all: stop thinking White is the dominant culture. It never was, and by your own racist projections, it never will be.

Categories: Canadian Identity, Racism

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 replies

  1. I have a problem with the ‘dominant cultures’ of any background.

  2. As a colored Canadian, I am not troubled by Dan Hiebert’s prediction that by 2031, there will be more colored residents in Metro Vancouver because this is not news and I certainly do not need Dan to tell me. In fact the Vancouver Sun’ Todd Douglas has already done an extended series of ethnic enclaves in Metro Vancouver last year (2012. )
    What I do find extremely troubling is Dan’s definition of ethnic and non ethnic people. He seems to be defining ethnic as people with colored skin and non ethnic as simply ‘white!’
    ‘….. University of British Columbia geographer Daniel Hiebert predicts that by 2031, ethnic enclaves will multiply, making whites the distinct visible minority in the region. The immigration rate will be so rapid over the next two decades that whites will make up only two out of five residents, according to the projections done for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.’

    I do have issues with the lack of or insufficient communication between and among ethnic groups, that is a problem we need to fix as no society, let alone country, can function if its people only talk within their little groups, excluding others. However, as a UBC researcher, Dan needs to explain to me since when does skin color become an ethnicity? Irish immigrants may share the same skin color as Russian immigrants, I would not call them the same ethnic group!

    With this frame of mind, I guess the prospect of having majority colored people in Metro Vancouver does seem scary to Dan. Well, get used to it Dan, if you ask me!!

  3. I feel that we are also at an important and often over-looked point of cultural fusion in North America. My bother and I both “intermarried,” as did my husband’s family. All the children are mixed race Canadian with the exception of our son, who was adopted and is Jamaican-Canadian (so we are a tri-cultural family). We live in one of the most diverse (meaning lots of different ethnic groups (S/Asian/Vietnamese/Filipino/Euro including mixed-race Canadian) – Fraser/41st ish area. We love it. The fusion and mulitplicity of ethnicities suits our family.

    We were recently in Southern California and it was a different ethno-cultural mix – lots of Latino/White/African-American families – MANY culturally mixed. Loved it there.

    Personally, I prefer a diverse neighbourhood to a so-called enclave. That said, I do see the appeal of that kind of neighbourhood for immigrants. I also see the value in cultural preservation if only to ensure an endurance of traditions and so on.

    • Harriet – I am with you on diverse neighborhood. There are two frameworks here: Surrey in itself is a very new development. Most of the people who live here have moved from the interiors, or Vancouver (housing prices, South Asian businesses moving to Surrey) or are new immigrants. My argument is not to validate racial segregation but I am asking to examine why this is happening. In the research and the following story, no comment has been made as to why this is happening.
      Second: the presentation is in a framework that seems to “alarm” people for the hypothetical impending disaster. THAT made me uncomfortable.
      I would have loved a research into why communities are sticking together with similar cultural group to understand immigration patterns but the framework was incorrect. Also, the so called “ethnic enclave” exists just around the main place of worship – on Scott Road and 72nd Avenue. If you check the Stat Canada details, apart from this area, rest of the Surrey, in fact, has Korean, Chinese and other heritage Canadians calling it home. Those details were left out to feed into creating a sense of fear of the “Other”.

      • Good points. Strictly on an anecdotal level, I know plenty of people of non-south-Asian heritage who’ve moved to Surrey for bigger homes at cheaper prices and a great mayor!

        I also realize that I didn’t really respond directly to your main points about “the other,” but I am quite obsessed with the new fusion family reality that is going to be very visible in the next 20+years. Just yesterday, we were out at The Olympic Village, and we bumped into three young mixed race families – including us (we aren’t so young but our child is – LOL), that’s four families in the span of an hour!

        • You put it the way it should be – without any fear, inhibition, insecurity – thank you! That is why I never agree with one person doing a “study” and another writing a “report” – the bigger picture is different and a lot of work is required to present it in the correct framework. I am glad we have people like you and with dialogues like these, we can build a society free from fear and prejudice.

  4. I love this! Gorgeous photographs, by the way!

    In the United States, we have a similarly racially-charged immigration issue, though one would be hard-pressed to get certain groups to admit how racial the issue really is. People from various Latino countries all over the world, and perhaps especially those who actually do come from Mexico, are constantly the target of illogical conclusions about the future of America.

  5. “Fear of a black planet”. Though I think one comical rapper from the 1980’s coined the phrase “Fear of a black hat”!! Well, Toronto is full of these so called “ethnic enclaves” only most of us don’t refer to them that way. We have China Town, there use to be a Jew Town, which was next to China Town, there’s a Little India (part of my hood), Greek Town, also part of my hood (I know eh, Greeks and Indians side by side, who would’a thunk it?), Little Bangladesh, just up the street from my hood, Little Ethiopia, also close to my hood (now it’s getting complicated – Greeks, Indians and Ethiopians. Oh my!!). All it takes is for some white guy to come along and utter the words “ethnic enclave” and the swords and daggers come out. The thought of “gangs” (as oppossed to groups) pops up, lower property values, loss of “culture”, yadda, yadda, yadda. The reality is that “ethnic enclaves” have always existed here. Remember those things called “reserves”? Hows that for an “ethnic enclave”. You know those neighbourhoods that are 99% white? Hows that for an “ethnic enclave”!! In my neighbourhood, and the majority in Toronto, even those that I mentioned earlier, it’s nearly impossible to refer to “ethnic enclaves” . What constitutes the “ethnic” part of these places is really nothing more than a lot of restaurants and businesses that sell things that members of those communities would buy, like clothing stores selling saris and Indian music or Bollywood video, or Greek movies and music and souvlaki etc. Most of those neighbour hoods – the actual living spaces – are totally diverse. On my street there are several mixed couples, like my wife and I and are daughter, same for our neighbours, up the street and down the street, and across the street are three married gay couples, African, white, West Indian, Asian. Tat’s our ethnic enclave. Wake up Vacouver!!

  6. I am not sure if we fully understand the implications that prof Hiebert was trying to convey. I do not think that the majority of people in Vancouver are afraid that “we will explore from growing numbers of ethnic groups” in Metro Vancouver. However, facts stay facts. Some neighborhood become more mono cultural than multicultural (Stats Canada), while Vancouver residents are not that connected with each other, in general, immigrants are less involved in civic life and their neighborhood than general population (Vancouver Foundation) and the problem of disconnect is not going to disappear until we start thinking of how to unite people and make them interested not only in preserving thier cultures but participating in creating new Canadian cultures which on the top of all freedoms that Canada gave us celebrates acceptance, connections and civic responsibility to be engaged and interested in what unites us. Many of us made a conscious choice to immigrate here not because we thought it would be convenient to live in a neigbourhood with over 50% of residents speaking and looking like us. We enjoy all the freedoms and quality of life that Canada has to offer which come with: our civic rights and responsibilities to vote, volunteer, donate money to charities, be involved in our kid’s school, reach out to our neigbours to make this country even better place to live, play and work.

    • nobody has the right to make anyone do anything. seriously! and the question is who erased aboriginals history and never assimilated to our people.do keep in mind that aboriginals were the first and also came through asia but the fact of the matter is we are the first settlers.by the way nobody should celebrate colonial holidays if they don’t want to because within each holiday has either a religion or invasion for a bad reminder which marks its day in history.

  7. This is a touchy subject. But I believe if you immigrate somewhere you learn the language of the country. In your home, church, temple, you can speak whatever language you see fit. But in business, schools it should be the language of the country. Before I am jumped all over, my family is from Ukraine, we spoke Ukrainian at home and with each other, but we were forced to learn the local language, why not? If we wanted to live in a Ukraine like place, my family would have stayed in the motherland.

    Furthermore, a part of the pleasure of moving to new place is learning the culture, language and little things that make that place unique. I lived in Europe for many years (not Ukraine though) and I was forced to learn the language or I couldn’t fully participate in life, from work to friends. I didn’t want the signs in English, why, it is not their language there.

    Tell me something if I moved to China or India, would they make the signs in Ukrainian too so I can read the signs? I highly doubt it. They would tell me to learn the local language. Why should Canada be any different? Canada’s role is not to make it a immigrant wonderland, but to create the best country for Canadians. This is something that we don’t want to admit.

    Also. If you are going to have signs in Chinese, Indian,, then in a true multi-cultural place all languages should be represented. When I went to get my driver’s I had to write it in English, there was no Ukrainian option. A place is only truly multi-cultural when all languages spoken in a community have access to services in their own language. Not just some big minorities.

    Integration must occur, this does not mean you can’t have your own culture. My family has done a decent job with keeping the language, culture, religion alive, but we are no doubt Canadian. We adopted Canadian food, Canadian customs, English… It doesn’t take away from us, but adds to our already unique culture. Don’t look at it as assimilation = loss of identity, but more so if we all can become Canadian, we will have a more cohesive, happy society.

  8. Canada is not a “country of immigrants”. Canada was settled by Europeans. With respect to aboriginals, I do not think the south-east asian, or chinese, or indian, or african community has much sympathy. It’s clear, as argued in a fantastic recent (and quite politically correct) book: The Big Shift by Bricker and Ibbitson, that natives stand to lose by immigration.

    Immigration scares me because there are “Canadian” members of ISIS praising the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley. This is not Canada!! Do we want sharia law (based on the islamic religion) in Canada? One which undermines women entirely? That would be accommodating would it not? Just like Chinese street signs…

    People like to be with people who resemble themselves. We have thousands of years of history that support this – it has been the cause of countless (and almost all) wars – and on the other end of the spectrum, it is why there are and will continue to be ethnic enclaves.

    So you are arguing that immigrants are more law-abiding because there wasn’t a riot on a quiet residential street? A real statistic on this, Blacks made up 2% of the Canadian population, but account for 6% of those incarcerated in Canada, to quote The Big Shift by Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson. This is why Canada is now emphasizing economic criteria i.e. to cut down third world immigration. On a personal level, my little sister was assaulted by Somali men. She was walking home and was swarmed by several somalian men. They punched her in the face and threatened her sexually and made other remarks.. Thank God she was able to get away and home safely.

    Racism will increase leaps and bounds over the next few decades. There is no doubt. Canadian multiculturalism and the concept of the “post-nation state” is an experiment the attempts to turn upside down thousands of years of history; and Canadians are finally beginning to realize their ignorance. Ironically, this cannot take the form of immigration reform until we are well past the point of no return. Given our immigration levels are the most extreme in the world, politicians cannot even tiptoe near the point of reducing immigration, as it would so certainly mobilize so many and they would lose a huge vote-base. We also have developed this rhetoric as a society that “believes in everything”. We will soon learn that to believe in “Everything” is really to believe in Nothing. And so we will proceed further, until the situation becomes extremely grave.

    Consider Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France. Everywhere in Europe anti-immigration parties have emerged. Look up Marine Le Pen in France. Her Front Nationale party won the most seats in the recent European elections. But again, in Canada, we will wait until our situation becomes very extreme.

    I have many friends of different cultures, but given the current level of Canadian immigration, combined with fertility rates (which are not linear), it is clear that this is going to create immense problems for Canada. There is nothing moderate about the Canadian immigration. It is nothing short of the ethnic cleansing of what Canada. And reading your comments above, this is something you are celebrating?

    I will look forward to acquiring a 10,000 hectare farm where I will have 10 children, with blonde hair and blue/green eyes. I will not let us go extinct, as you all seem to be celebrating. We will live a truly Canadian life, and I will mobilize real Canadians in defense of Canada.

    For me, I know what Canada is. I do not lack an identity or confidence. I do not feel at home in the suburbs of Vancouver or Toronto (I have lived in downtown Vancouver and Toronto in the past 4 years – and have lived in 5 provinces). I am also fluent in French, and appreciate so much about the French culture. It so saddens me that France is set to become a muslim state. The birth rates among moroccan and algerian immigrants is 5x that of French families. They have such a rich culture – and one I wish all of Canada understood. For the reasons you are celebrating above, in the name of a “rich, cultural mosaic” we are exterminating France, exterminating Canada, and set on all becoming a mix of black/south asian/chinese/arab people. but per above this is something we should celebrate?

    Real Canada is dying!! Real Canadians feel this in the deepest part of their soul!! Real Canadians will not go down without a fight! This is a promise.

  9. A real canadian is one from Europe here for centuries, who speaks only english, and is most likely Christian.Each group that came left their culture and language to their homes and became canadian outside by respecting that it is english that has to be spoken outside and at work. I know because I am one, My family is here 400 years from New Brunswick, we are called the Canadians, if you read your history books, you will learn that the Acadians are the real canadians since they are the first white settlers and started the global fur trade. Canada used to be called Acadia and it did not include Ontario or the west. Also a real canadian is someone who had no ties to a foreign nation because this is their only country, it is their parents country and their grand parents country.

Leave a Reply to Sandhu Bhamra Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: