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RACE AND ETHNICITY

As multi-ethnic population in Canada rises, complications arise for families

Navigating the many complications that come with a mixed identity, which range from political to sociological to health-related, is becoming more common across the country as an increasing swath of residents are reporting multiple ethnicities, according to data from the 2016 census. Dakshana Bascaramurty reports

Andre and Sunshine Batson and their three and half year old twins Maxwell (grey hat) and Brandon (blue hat) enjoy their New Years Day in the snow covered Lakeside Park near their home in Oakville.

Brandon and Maxwell Batson, fraternal twin brothers from Oakville, Ont., were only three years old when they had their racial awakening.

This past summer, their mother Sunshine, who is Filipino, was in the front seat of the car with her husband, Andre, who traces his roots back to Barbados, when the boys began comparing skin colours in the back. Maxwell, who has straighter hair and lighter skin, was claiming he was "light like Momma and Poppa" (his Filipino grandparents) and that his brother, Brandon, with the tight curly hair and deeper complexion, was, "dark brown like Daddy." The parents were upset by the tone in their son's voice.

Mr. Batson was offended, and then worried that Maxwell might make a comment like that in front of his black family.

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"It shocked me," Ms. Batson said. "We didn't even know how to handle it."

Navigating the many complications that come with a mixed identity, which range from political to sociological to health-related, is becoming more common across the country as an increasing swath of residents are reporting multiple ethnicities, according to data from the 2016 census. In the last 20 years in Canada, the multi-ethnic population has grown by almost 4 million people – almost double the overall population growth rate – to make up 41 per cent of the country's total population.

The generational shift in ethnic origin

The longer an immigrant group has been settled

in Canada, the more likely its members are to

report multiple ethnicities.

17.8%

45.3%

49.3%

Overall

100%

0

Percentage of

first generation

reporting

multiple

ethnicities

% of second

gen. reporting

mult. ethnicities

% of third

gen. and

higher

reporting

mult. ethnicities

Barbadian

Polish

Mexican

Iranian

Russian

Dutch

Nigerian

Jamaican

Lebanese

English

Ghanaian

Filipino

Chinese

Japanese

East Indian

Note: The charts show a selection of the more than

250 ethnic origin groups in the census.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

The generational shift in ethnic origin

The longer an immigrant group has been settled in Canada,

the more likely its members are to report multiple

ethnicities.

17.8%

45.3%

49.3%

Overall

100%

0

Percentage of

first generation

reporting

multiple

ethnicities

% of second

gen. reporting

mult. ethnicities

% of third

gen. and

higher

reporting

mult. ethnicities

Barbadian

Polish

Mexican

Iranian

Russian

Dutch

Nigerian

Jamaican

Lebanese

English

Ghanaian

Filipino

Chinese

Japanese

East Indian

Note: The charts show a selection of the more than 250 ethnic

origin groups in the census.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

The generational shift in ethnic origin

The longer an immigrant group has been settled in Canada,

the more likely its members are to report multiple ethnicities.

17.8%

45.3%

49.3%

Overall

100%

0

Percentage of first

generation reporting

multiple ethnicities

% of second gen.

reporting multiple

ethnicities

% of third gen.

and higher reporting

multiple ethnicities

Barbadian

Polish

Mexican

Iranian

Russian

Dutch

Nigerian

Jamaican

Lebanese

English

Ghanaian

Filipino

Chinese

Japanese

East Indian

Note: The charts show a selection of the more than 250 ethnic origin groups in the census.

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

While many from countries in Asia and Africa have lower rates of mixed ethnicity, data suggest that won't always be the case: they are relatively recent arrivals, but the longer an immigrant group has been settled in the country, the more likely they are to report multiple ethnicities.

Among Filipinos as a whole, only 22 per cent reported multiple ethnic origins in the 2016 census, meaning the majority had two Filipino parents – but a breakdown by generation tells a different story. For first-generation Filipinos, like Ms. Batson's parents, 14 per cent listed multiple ethnicities. But Ms. Batson's group, the second generation, it was up to 42 per cent. And by the third generation and beyond – a segment Ms. Batson's sons belong to – it reached 83 per cent.

Likewise, 11 per cent of first-generation Chinese reported multiple origins, but with the second generation it was 31 per cent and third generation and beyond was 78 per cent. Similar increases were seen for the Indian, Vietnamese, Nigerian and Ghanaian population, among others.

The Indigenous population and those who identified as having European origins – the people with the longest histories in the country – had much higher rates of mixed ethnicity: 69 per cent and 66 per cent respectively.

"A lot of these [European] people came just after the war up until the 1960s, 1970s, this is largely the second generation and third generation to some extent," says Michael Haan, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and the Canada Research Chair in migration and ethnic relations. "They're going to be much more likely to hyphenate than if you just came over from India or China five years ago."

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Jeff Chiba Stearns is a fourth-generation Canadian of Japanese ancestry on his mother's side and English, Scottish and Russian ancestry on his father's side. Being part Japanese makes Mr. Chiba Stearns a member of a unique population: only 18 per cent of people with East or Southeast Asian origins reported multiple origins but 53 per cent of those with Japanese roots also listed other ethnicities. Mr. Chiba Stearns, who has explored his own roots and the topic of mixed race extensively in several documentary films, including One Big Hapa Family (hapa is a Hawaiian term for mixed heritage), believes this is due to the internment of the Japanese in Canada during the Second World War and their forced dispersal from Vancouver's Japantown to other parts of the country.

"Essentially, the community was very broken, mixed up, displaced," he said. "They wanted to assimilate, they had to become more Canadian and what's the best way to become more Canadian? To mix."

Though Mr. Chiba Stearns co-founded Hapapalooza, an annual conference that celebrates mixed identity, his work has also helped him recognize one serious challenge that comes with the territory. Those who are multi-ethnic and require a bone marrow or stem-cell transplant face much lower odds of finding a donor match than the rest of the population. In Canada, 69 per cent of the database is made up of what Canadian Blood Services defines as "Caucasian" donors and the remainder are either racialized or multi-ethnic, the latter composing a small fraction of the total.

"Every ethnic community has specific inherited genetic markers," says Dena Mercer, director of Canadian Blood Services' OneMatch Stem Cell Network. "When you add blended ethnicities to that mix, it makes the matching more complex and the ability to find a match a steeper hill to climb, specifically for Canada."

Mr. Chiba Stearns has learned that people see him different ways in different contexts. Growing up in Kelowna, he was "the ethnic kid" in his mostly white school, but when he travels to Japan, he's "the white guy." Now he lives in Vancouver, where being mixed is common: 39 per cent of the population reports multiple ethnic origins. In smaller cities in Canada, such as Thetford Mines, Que., Edmunston, N.B., and Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld., it can be as low as 16 per cent, 24 per cent and 29 per cent respectively - and much of the mixing is happening between those of European origins.


The number of mixed race relationships is growing in Canada. How do families negotiate race in the most intimate setting of all — at home, with the ones you love? Listen to an episode of Colour Code: An award-winning podcast about race in Canada

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When Ariel Borden was growing up on Cape Breton Island, whose population mostly comes from the British Isles, she thought herself somewhat exotic: though her mother's side is Irish and Scottish, her father's is Polish and Russian. As she grew up, Cape Breton began slowly diversifying, with an increasing influx of Eastern European immigrants. The next generation, Ms. Borden's three children, are part of what is locally seen as an even more radical mixed population: they are Irish, Scottish, Polish, Russian and – because of Brian, her African Nova Scotian husband – Jamaican and Barbadian.

Because the African Nova Scotia community is so small in Cape Breton, Mr. Borden felt from an early age he should date outside his ethnicity. "He had so many cousins, he wasn't sure who were people in his family or not," Ms. Borden said, laughing. "To keep it safe, he wanted to date outside of his race to make sure he wasn't dating family." In Cape Breton, 73 per cent of those with roots in Africa or the Caribbean listed multiple ethnicities in the 2016 census.

The Bordens' eldest daughter, who is in Grade 2, noticed her skin colour and how it compared to others' from an early age. "Because of the books she read or people on TV they saw, she would say 'They look like me.' And it would always, always be people of African descent," Ms. Borden says.

Observing her daughter come to terms with her racial and ethnic identity has been eye-opening to Ms. Borden and forced her into a new headspace, thinking about the world in a way she might not have without multi-ethnic kids.

Minelle Mahtani, the author of Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality who is of mixed Indian and Iranian ancestry, warns against idealizing multi-ethnic identity, or imagining it as a silver bullet that will bring about some kind of post-racial era – not all approach the subject with Ms. Borden's empathy.

Much of the glorification of mixed identity is rooted in white supremacy, she points out: North American society often gives elevated status and special privileges to black people who have some white ancestry, especially the ones who can pass as white. In other cases, some who are a mix of European and non-European ancestries are often given no agency in how they want to self-identify – there's pressure to identify with their racialized side.

And for many Indigenous Canadians, Dr. Mahtani says, having a child with a non-Indigenous person can compromise the child's ability to claim Indigenous status and the government benefits that come with it.

On the flip side of that, in 2016, a Supreme Court decision that made the Métis the responsibility of the federal government prompted a surge in the the population claiming Métis identity, which grew by 51 per cent between 2006 and 2016. Academics Adam Gaudry and Darryl Leroux see it as a sign of those with very distant connections to Indigenous women from the 1600s (it was Indigenous women – the "civilized, Frenchified" ones– who were married off to the predominantly male settlers in the colony of New France) trying to claim Indigenous identity for political gain.

They look back to that period nearly four centuries ago to find one of the first vocal proponents of ethnic mixing in Canada: Samuel de Champlain. In 1633, he told his Indigenous allies, "Our young men will marry your daughters, and we shall become one people." Since then, many have taken Métis to simply mean what its French translation suggests: "mixed." In a paper, Dr. Gaudry and Dr. Leroux write, "The major problem with using a mixed-raced understanding of 'Métis' is that it finds 'Métis' everywhere and in so doing denies the more explicit peoplehood of the Métis Nation."

The decline of single ethnicity

Percentage of population reporting a single ethnic

origin

1996

2016

75.4%

66.8%

64.1%

Overall

58.9%

60.4%

Portuguese

54.9%

51.3%

Japanese

46.7%

47.6%

Italian

43.8%

Trinidadian

30.3%

French

21.5%

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

The decline of single ethnicity

Percentage of population reporting a single ethnic origin

2016

1996

75.4%

66.8%

64.1%

Overall

58.9%

60.4%

Portuguese

54.9%

51.3%

Japanese

46.7%

47.6%

Italian

43.8%

Trinidadian

30.3%

French

21.5%

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

The decline of single ethnicity

Percentage of population reporting a single ethnic origin

2016

1996

75.4%

66.8%

64.1%

Overall

58.9%

60.4%

Portuguese

54.9%

51.3%

Japanese

46.7%

47.6%

Italian

43.8%

Trinidadian

30.3%

French

21.5%

MATT LUNDY, THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: STATSCAN

Because her mixed children are Filipino and Barbadian with no European ancestry, Ms. Batson assumed she could avoid many of the complications other parents dealt with – "I thought, we're both visible minorities, it should be easy," she said.

But while her family can go to the mall without raising eyebrows, Ms. Batson said she always feels like they're attracting uncomfortable stares at Filipino or black cultural events. She feels that in her community, mixed couples who are Filipino and European are are looked at more acceptingly than she and her Barbadian husband are. She gets flack from friends for not teaching her sons enough about Filipino culture.

Her husband sees her sons as boys who will grow up to be black men and is mindful of how they dress: no hoodies, no grown-out hair. At three they've already been exposed to racial profiling, Ms. Batson says. She knows that if they had two Filipino parents, life would be simpler.

"I know it would be easier. I wouldn't be questioning, I wouldn't get defensive when my girlfriends say, 'You're not celebrating both [cultures],'" she says. "People wouldn't be making those comments. It would be different."


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