Immigrating: How To Avoid The Formation Of An Ethnic Ghetto

By Syed Irfan Ahmed

According to "Webster's New College Dictionary", a ghetto is "A quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal or economic pressure."

In the modern global economy, it is essential for western nations to have a highly trained skilled labor force. This skilled labor provides products and services that keep their economies growing while maintaining their competitive edge and economical supremacy. But due to low population growth there is often a gap between the supply and demand of skilled labor. The easiest solution is found by throwing open the country's doors and inviting foreign skilled workers and businessman to come in to the country to work and live here and fill this gap.

Canada in general and Toronto in particular have become Meccas for immigrants over past few years. While immigration is good for the country's economy, it has given rise to a few resulting social problems that need to be addressed: the worst of them is the formation of "ethnic ghettos". These come into existence due to the lack of interaction between different communities and become an obstacle in achieving a true multicultural society.

As human beings we tend to gravitate to those with any similarity to ourselves whether it is the color of skin, language, nationality or religion. This particular attribute of human nature plays a large part in forming communities and it is good to have strong communities - but they cannot survive as islands. The ethnic fibre of Canada and particularly Toronto, the largest metropolis, is made up of many small and large communities. Lack of communication between these communities contributes to mistrust and misunderstanding, which could be damaging.

What is the solution? It is important to realize that for peace, stability and economic success, we need to maintain contact outside of our communities with our fellow human beings of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We need to form bridges between different ethnic groups so that we are able to communicate. Newcomers need to realize that they will have to exist with all different cultures and ethnicities. They need to be prepared to embrace the differences that exist between different cultures. Failing to do so could be disastrous in the long term.

In France and the United Kingdom the immigrants could only manage to become a faceless minority. They seldom went outside of their ethnic ghettoes and the rest of the world tended not to venture in. The isolation and deprivation turned them into powder kegs, which eventually exploded, sending sparks all around the globe. These events highlight the need for a cross-cultural dialogue to keep the lines of communication open in an environment where a number of cultures have to coexist. And as Toronto is proud of boasting, it is the most multicultural city in the world, with more than 50 per cent of residents born outside of Canada. Within ten years, these statistics will apply across the nation.

As communities, we must make every effort to keep our own doors open wide. As individuals, we can take steps to pick up friends from other ethnicities:

  • The easiest and the most fun way would be to participate in the important events of different cultures (Whether it is a religious festival, sporting event or a cultural celebration). Be visible, talk to people - be a part of it and you are sure to pick up a friend by the end of the day.
  • Taste the food from different cultures. Make it a point to go out and dine on ethnic food. Seek out different restaurants using the web, yellow pages, restaurant guides or just by asking friends. Your adventures in dining will probably take you to many wonderful communities throughout the GTA where you otherwise may never have gone.
  • Buy your house or rent your apartment in a neighbourhood where there is no dominant ethnicity. When your neighbors are from different ethnic groups, you learn to live your life with them and gradually achieve an understanding of their cultures.
  • Another way of getting close to neighbours with different cultural/ethnic backgrounds is to learn a few words of their language and use them whenever you can. Nothing is more pleasant than hearing a stranger with a different ethnic background say a few words of your language.
  • If you run your own business, avoid the temptation to hire only people from your own ethnic community. Working with people from other cultures may be the best way of getting to know them.
  • The best advice is to learn to tolerate the differences and always remember the universal rule "To get respect you have to give it first".

CNM