As a specialist in Canadian immigration history, I read Les nouveaux territoires de l’ethnicité with great pleasure, thankful for an academic study of central issues surrounding diversity, rooted in a Quebecois context, yet with an international outlook. Doing justice to its title, the eleven contributions effectively demonstrate the fundamental link between territory, conceptualized as a social, political and economic space, and ethnicity, ultimately moving away from traditional understandings of both concepts. In an introductory essay, Xavier Leloup and Martha Radice outline the rapid changes that contemporary cities have undergone in recent years, due to increased mobility, immigration and new technologies, rendering the notion of the “city-mosaic”, where neighborhoods are nearly ethnically homogeneous and spatially contained, extinct. In light of these transformations, as the editors maintain, the relationship between space and ethnicity needs to be re-visited.
Indicative of its conceptual framework, the essays in Les nouveaux territoires de l’ethnicité stress the relational character of ethnicity, the product of the relations between groups or more specifically, between a majority and minority group or else between two or multiple minority groups. Deidre Meintel and Josiane Le Gall provide an interesting comparison of mixed couples in and outside of the metropolis, underlining the effects of the couples’ milieu on the intergenerational transmission of identities. Highlighting the importance of biculturalism, versus cosmopolitanism, in the parental projects of the couples living in the nearly ethnically homogeneous countryside, the authors point to the significant role played by the non-Quebecois’ country of origin. Returning often and maintaining close links with the foreign-born partners’ family, Meintel and Le Gall assert that these mixed couples have adopted a transnational way of living. Undoubtedly, trans-nationalism is re-defining the relationship between ethnicity and territory in the twenty-first century, an overriding theme in many of the essays.
The editors assert in their introduction that the seemingly natural link between territory and nation, neighborhood and community, region and local costume can no longer be taken for granted. Aptly illustrating this hypothesis, Nevena Mitropolitska examines the role played by the online discussion board used by potential Bulgarian immigrants to Canada. Initially utilized to “decode” Canadian society, the social links created between members later served as a springboard for more tangible forms of mutual assistance and, in some cases, a common neighborhood. Thus, this “emancipated community” does not proceed by official bureaucratic channels when seeking aid. In fact, social and transnational networks, as Michele Latz Laaroussi maintains in her chapter on immigration to the Quebecois hinterland, can undermine and even conflict with local geographical, administrative and political spaces. For example, when the regions outside of Montreal readily accepted immigrants to replenish their depleted workforce, many, such as those from the former Yugoslavia, left for Hamilton and London, joining their long-established counterparts and family members in Ontario. Indeed, immigrant networks, as one can discern from many of the essays in this collection, challenge scholars to call into question the role of Nation-State, especially with regards to its control over its territory.
In an era of increasing globalization, as Cecile Poirier specifies in her essay addressing immigrant neighborhoods, the city is a point of reference, both administrative and symbolic, in the construction of community. Hence, the social and economic integration of immigrants is viewed as a key function of the neighborhood. However, due to increased mobility, even at the local level, this notion has been called into question. For instance, Josiane Le Gall and Christelle Cassan’s study of immigrant men in relation to Montreal’s health services reveals their “nomadic” approach, where the men are willing and able to go anywhere in the city to receive care. Thus, as Le Gall and Cassan’s essay confirms, the neighborhood, to borrow the words of Poirier, is the “trampoline” used to access the rest of the city, no longer serving all of an individual’s needs, as in the days of the “city-mosaic”. The relationship between immigrants and their neighborhoods is, therefore, considerably more complex than popular discourse suggests.
Published shortly after the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, Les nouveaux territoires de l’ethnicité also aims to contradict common misconceptions held by the general public. For instance, instead of viewing ethnic enclaves as a sign of poor integration, Nong Zhu and Said Aboubacar maintain that, in some cases, immigrant neighborhoods ease the economic integration of new Canadians and the area’s ethnic businesses and restaurants, as Martha Radice argues, can acquaint Canadians with immigrant cultures, albeit superficially. Similarly, contentious debates over expression of ethnicity in the public sphere are not inevitably negative. Instead, Carolle Simard, in her chapter on the place of ethnic minorities in Canadian politics, asserts that the struggle for visibility is a key component of the political integration of ethnic minorities. It is, in fact, as Annick Germain, Laurence Liegeois, and Heidi Hoerning contend, sometimes necessary in order to establish an equitable social order. Further delineating the arguments brought forth in previous essays, Valerie Preston territorializes the question of ethnic visibility, comparing the establishment of an Asian shopping mall in Sydney, versus its rejection in Toronto. Underscoring the role played by the municipal, provincial, and federal governments, Preston concludes that in Australia, Chinese immigrants were positively perceived at every level of government, unlike in Toronto, where the municipal authorities were hostile to their claims in spite of Canada’s overall positive reception of the Hong Kongese. In short, the authors bring to light the complex nature of the question of ethnicity in the public space, the milieu where the receiving society constructs its relationship with the minorities in its midst.
Emphasizing the multiple meanings of ethnicity, a function of not only ethnic origin but also, for example, social class, age or sexual orientation, and the multiple identities and forms of belonging that a territory can embody, Xavier Leloup’s final essay is a fitting conclusion to this collection. A must read for academics looking for the latest research on ethnic studies, this book, nevertheless, could have benefited from an analysis of the ethnicity, and its relationship to space, of the two French and English majority groups. Because, indeed, as Les nouveaux territoires de l’ethnicité illustrates, the dynamic between individuals and their milieu is no longer necessarily a question of majority versus minority in a given space, but instead, extends to the many different social, economic, political, cultural and global forces that define our society today.