A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, COMING TO CANADA

Most African immigrants to Canada come from countries of social oppression and natural disaster. Voice of Freedom's Opiyo Oloya fled his native Uganda, escaping its living history of tyranny, terror, torture and murder.

Oloya was granted refugee status in Canada in 1981. But not all Africans seeking to leave their homeland have been as lucky. Only about ten percent of people classified a refugees in Africa would qualify as a refugee according to the United Nations definition of the term. In 1995, Canada's finance minister, Paul Martin, announced a tax of $975 on newly arriving immigrants and refugees over the age of 19 years and a $100 "right of citizenship" fee. It was an added financial burden for all newcomers in general. Canadian immigration policy also currently favours entrepreneurs and self-employed immigrants with enough money to establish business operations capable of employing Canadian citizens. Such candidates are more likely to come from the privileged classes -- affluent European-Asian African groups than from black African groups.(10) (12)

When Oloya left Uganda, he left his entire family behind on the prospect of starting a new and freer life in Canada. It wasn't until he got here, however, that he realized how much his life was really going to change. One moment he was in Africa, the next he was in a very strange land. Oloya became conscious of the colour of his skin; changes crept in and started whittling away at his African soul. He changed his name to a more North American sounding "Joseph." He enrolled in teachers college -- deliberately choosing a career removed from his experience with political activism. He was trying very hard to learn a new culture, to understand the people. For a while, being African took a back seat.

The danger of being an immigrant is in becoming isolated and interacting only with people of a similar cultural heritage. At the Canadian African Newcomer Aid Centre in Toronto, the common pattern of African immigrants is to keep a low profile in trying to integrate and overcome the "culture shock." Changes in basic life values shift from what they are used to traditionally (placing importance on the good of the community), to the more North American focus on the interests of the individual. African mores respecting elders and community leaders, emphasizing modesty, obedience and humility are not as highly valued in Western society. Changes in the power dynamics of spousal relations, especially with woman taking on more responsibilities, rights and freedoms, makes it particularly challenging for couples and families to adapt. Many immigrants have difficulty in learning how to ask for help, and find it necessary to undergo counselling to ease the many transitions.(13)

In trying to fit in, one common experience of black African immigrants to North America is prejudice and racism. Despite liberal credos such as Canada's policy of multiculturalism, which encourages ethnic diversity and identity, discrimination persists in the subconscious of society. It is submerged and reappears unexpectedly, usually during poor economic times.(14) It manifests itself in day-to-day social interaction and in how people of different ethnic origins are treated in the areas of community service, housing, education, law enforcement and employment.(15)

An estimated 90 percent of African professionals in Toronto cannot find work in their chosen fields. Overall, African Canadians are well educated; an estimated 25 percent have university degrees, while 41 percent have some post-secondary education. Nevertheless, these well educated and highly trained individuals often end up in dead-end jobs because their degrees and certificates are not recognized in Canada. In professional fields, for example, there is negligible African presence in the police force and school boards.(16)

Nevertheless, change and progress is being made. As Oloya became used to his new country of Canada, he soon decided that the name Joseph didn't fit and returned to his roots in choosing to be known by the name of "Opiyo." He went to Queen's University and got his master in political science and then went on to teacher's college. Now, as a teacher, he shares his story with his students and learns about their diverse experiences as well.

Footnotes:
1,2,5,6,7,8,12,14,16
The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

3,4,9,10,11
The Integration of Black African Immigrants in Canadians Society, by A.B.K. Kasozi
(Canadian African Newcomer Aid Centre, Toronto, 1988).

15
The Black Presence in the Canadian Mosaic, A Study of Perception and the Practice of Discrimination Against Black in Metropolitan Toronto, by Wilson A. Head
(Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto, 1975).

17,18,19,20
CELAFI, Celebrating African Identity
(CAN: BAIA, Toronto, 1992)

The Blacks in Canada, A History by Robin W. Winks
(McGill-Queen's Press, Kingston, 1997).


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