Comparing Ethnic and Multicultural Immigrant Service Organizations In Canada: Bonding and Bridging



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Comparing Ethnic and Multicultural Immigrant Service Organizations In Canada: Bonding and Bridging
Ida E. Berger, Ryerson University
Katia G. Melnik Olive, LEST University Aix-Marseille 2, Center for Employ
Mary K. Foster, Ryerson University
Successful short-term and long-term integration of newcomers is an important goal of Canadian immigration strategy with over 230 organizations providing services to assist immigrants in their adaptation to Canadian society (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2003.) These organizations represent two types of immigrant serving agencies - those that are ethno-specific (ESO’s), providing services to an ethnically defined cliental and those that are multi-cultural (MSO’s), providing services to a variety of immigrant groups. However, very little research considers the similarities and differences between ESO’s and MSO’s in terms of their philosophies of integration, services provided, activities hosted, processes of interaction or achieved integration outcomes.

Unquestionably, the fundamental role, at least initially, of immigrant service organizations is to provide immigrants with the necessary tools to settle, function and contribute in Canadian society. At the most basic level, this translates into access to language skills, employment, housing, medical services, education (particularly for children), and social supports that aid in the integration process. Though all ISOs provide at least some of these basic services, the focus, nature and context of each type of organization may vary systematically. Any or all of these services could be provided with a view to help immigrants “bridge” to the greater Canadian society or “bond” with their own ethnic group through providing access to networks of multi-cultural or ethnic-specific employers, schools, medical care, social clubs, cultural activities and opportunities to build leadership capacity. The practical question at the core of this investigation is to understand how and where immigrants acquire and integrate Canadian cultural identity inputs with their own cultural identity.

Based on an in-depth analysis of qualitative interviews with 16 executive directors of immigrant service agencies across the Greater Toronto Area (9 ESO’s and 7 MSO’s) this paper compares and contrasts the role of ethnic specific vs. multicultural organizations in Canadian immigrant integration.

The results indicate very clear and important differences in philosophies and approaches to immigrant integration between ESO’s and MSO’s. Integration is acknowledged by most scholars to be a multifaceted concept that can be disaggregated into four dimensions: economic, social, cultural (including sense of belonging), civic and political (Chung 2005). We find from our data that ESO’s in Canada focus almost exclusively on the cultural dimension, while MSO’s focus on the economic and civic dimensions. ESO informants spoke about cultural integration in very rich, comprehensive terms including values, way of life, norms, celebrations, laws, parenting, garbage disposal. They also emphasized the need to support immigrants’ appreciation, engagement with and respect for the multi-cultural “fabric” of Canadian society – one that respects human dignity, freedom, equality – at the same time that they maintain core aspects of the unique identity with which they came. Full integration for ESO’s is the development of an integrated cultural identity, that merges the values, norms and beliefs of the immigrant’s ethnicity with the heterogeneous, multi-cultural, equality norms of Canada in such a way that the individual feels not only able to access and receive services, but also capable and willing to participate and offer benefits to the greater community.

This concept of full communal participation seemed to underlie the definition of integration offered by MSO informants. Virtually all MSO informants saw civic participation as the end-point of the integration process. The MSO informants methodically walked us through the “continuum” or progression of immigrant integration from arrival to becoming contributing” members of the “mainstream. In trying to define the integrated end state MSO informants, almost universally, focused on civic/political involvement, both as their example and goal. Though they acknowledged and accepted that immigrants desired to keep their own traditions they provided no support for how to do so.

Furthermore, from the interviews we were able to identify five characteristics of ESO’s that came through very clearly in the way that the informants described the services they offered to immigrants. The ESO’s appear to be i) client facing; ii) provide a welcoming port of arrival for immigrants from their specific ethnic group; iii) serve the most vulnerable populations; iv) use bonded-bridging processes; v) to provide psycho-social services. The MSO’s, by contrast, appear to be i) funder facing; ii) provide a venue of information, referral and equitable services; iii) serve all potential immigrants; iv) use formal pathways of economic bridging processes; v) to provide survival and settlement services.



The results of the field work will be used to consider Canadian immigration policy – particularly how immigrant serving organizations are and or should be funded, organized and evaluated


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