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Food for thought: COMING TO CANADA - Dream vs. Reality


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Coming to Canada: Dream vs. reality

Many young Indians emigrate in pursuit of a society less marked by class and status; some are disappointed

Manpreet Grewal

Special to the Sun ( The Vancouver Sun, Canada )

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Many Indians immigrate to Canada to join family, pursue economic opportunities, enjoy a better regulated system or simply live in a cleaner environment.

But many young educated Indians are here in pursuit of a classless society that values all ordinary human beings equally.

In India, the power of class is palpable. Hierarchies are based on wealth, status and power. Class and status determine your access to health care, education, bureaucracy and justice.

If you need cooking gas to run your stoves, how fast you get it depends on your status. If you are breaking traffic rules, your class and status will determine whether you are penalized.

With class and status, you jump the waiting list for any kind of service. Whether you are at an airport or a railway station, your station in life will determine the treatment you get, which includes free cups of coffee or soft drinks and staff time from the transportation authorities.

If you have wealth and power, you can sit in an office sipping your tea or coffee in a bank manager's office while dozens line up trying to get to a teller. If you have class and status, you always have people at your beck and call. Doors open smoothly and life is good.

So what happens to the ones left standing in the long lineups where service can be inconsistent, inefficient and maybe non-existent?

Many of them have resigned themselves to the status quo. Idealists exhaust their long list of hopeless fights. But many who are fed up and tired of feeling worthless dream of moving to North America, which they perceive is a classless society.

In my several visits to India, I have come across dozens of people who want to immigrate to Canada or the United States because they believe that in these two countries "people are valued equally." They have heard that hard work is valued fairly.

Those who manage to fulfil their North American dream realize to their delight that some of their perceptions are true.

By and large, the western world is egalitarian. There is respectful and fair customer service and there is legislation that grants basic rights and equitable treatment.

But some of these idealists are also in for some rude shocks.

They find out that every society has elements of class and status. They realize that they themselves are jobless and still a nobody for a long time. Their educational credentials aren't recognized.

As they struggle with the inconsistency between their dream and reality, they realize that people in powerful positions command more respect and attention in any setting. They realize that there is still a difference between white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Slowly, they recognize that factors like race and white privilege come into play even in progressive societies.

The most shocking recognition they come to is the established layers of hierarchy within their own transnational Indian community.

Issues of not only class, but caste and sect persist in terms of standing and image even in the West. Money and grandeur still lead to more social acceptance. Rubbing shoulders with politicians, bureaucrats and the wealthy is still prestigious.

So, from the boring lineups in India, they find themselves in a fast-paced race in the promised land to climb the economic class ladder as quickly as possible. The resilient try and make it through sheer hard work over the long haul.

The weak fall into the trap of quick fixes and wayward means. Cutting corners on costs, poor business practices -- all can be a temptation to compromise to make a quick buck.

Some young people have caught onto these immense social pressures and are themselves looking for overnight riches. Rather than looking at education and hard work as a means to success, they are caught up in a culture of entitlement where they expect parents to provide them with fancy cars and clothes. (Unfortunately a significant number of young people have fallen into a life style of criminality, drugs and violence where many have lost their lives).

The Indo-Canadian community has to check its own moral compass before it effectively redirects its younger generation. To be effective role models, adults have to learn that there is no society of equal privilege. There will always be socio-economic differences. Even in the Communist world, those in power enjoy a different stature than the ordinary people.

People have to determine their own value from within, irrespective of class, race, caste and status. The message to the kids has to be that it is okay to be ambitious, but only through legitimate means.

They also have to be grateful that they are in a country that at least affords them basic dignity and human rights.

Manpreet Grewal is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford.


© The Vancouver Sun 2006

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