Forging futures with Canada

Traditional thinking suggests that immigrants who maintain ties to their homeland will have trouble forging a connection with new countries of residence like Canada. But Michael Lanphier, professor of sociology at York University, and his co-investigators are currently challenging this outdated assumption.

Right: Michael Lanphier

Leading a major interdisciplinary research project, titled “Social Cohesion,” Lanphier and his research team postulate that immigrants who strengthen transnational ties to their homeland also strengthen their attachment to Canada. “Staying in touch with your homeland,” said Lanphier, “involves more than just telephone calls and letters. It often involves organizing community events – and that has to be done in a distinctly Canadian way.”

Lanphier points to how mosques, founded in Canada by newly arrived Muslims, must adopt distinctly Canadian methods of organization and business in order to host community events. A lecture series of Islamic scholars, for example, requires a great deal of planning. Details such as advertising the lecture, renting a location for the lecture and accommodation for the speakers can only be achieved through a positive interaction with local Canadian businesses and institutions. Even the very construction of a mosque demands a thorough understanding of Canadian practices related to real estate and zoning laws. “By working to strengthen the connection to their homeland,” notes Lanphier, “immigrants are also forging a deep relationship with Canada.”

For the project, Lanphier has coordinated the efforts of sociologists, anthropologists, geographers and environmentalists in a number of cities in addition to Toronto, including Vancouver, Montreal, Prince George, BC and Sudbury, Ontario. Ultimately, the results of the project will not only help immigrants sustain cultural connections with their homeland, but also contribute to public policy in Canada and perhaps abroad.

Lanphier is also working with Paul Anisef, professor of sociology at York. They co-edited The World in a City, an important study of multiculturalism in Toronto, published in the fall of 2003.

This article was submitted to YFile by Jason Guriel, a second-year graduate student in English. Guriel is a regular contributor to YFile.