Immigration and identity negotiation within Bangladeshi immigrant community in Toronto, Canada

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Halder, Rumel
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Bangladeshi Bengali migration to Canada is a response to globalization processes, and a strategy to face the post-independent social, political and economic insecurities in the homeland. Canadian immigration policy and the Multicultural Act that were adjusted to meet labour demands in local job markets encouraged the building of a new and growing Bangladeshi Bengali immigrant community in Canada. The general objective of this research is to explore how Bangladeshi immigrants’ national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, and class identities that were shaped within historical and political contexts in Bangladesh are negotiated in new immigrant and multicultural contexts in Toronto. By looking at various identity negotiation processes, this research aims to critically examine globalization theories in social science, and multicultural policies in Canada. More specifically, the objective is to determine whether transnational migration to Canada as a global process creates homogeneity, disjuncture, hybridity, or inequality in Bangladeshi immigrants’ lives in Toronto, and how Bangladeshi Bengalis as an ethnic and cultural group relocate their identity within Canadian multiculturalism. In order to address these objectives and issues, one year of in-depth anthropological research was conducted among the Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto between 2007 and 2008. The core research location was the Danforth and Victoria Park area, but in order to address class diversity, respondents from Dufferin and Bloor Streets, Regent Park, and Mississauga areas were incorporated. Applying snowball and purposive sampling techniques, and identifying key informants, 75 Bangladeshi immigrant families were selected from three religious groups – Muslim, Hindu, and Christian. In-depth personal interviews, case studies and focus group discussions were conducted among these Bangladeshi immigrants. This research underscores that, on one hand, Bangladeshi Bengali immigrants negotiate and re-define their “proper” ethnic, cultural, nationalist, and religious identities by imagining, memorizing, simulating, and celebrating local traditions. On the other hand, immigrants define “authentic” identity by creating “separations” and “differences” based on colonial and nationalist histories. Religious differences, the ideology of “majority and minority”, and social classes play major roles in shaping identity. This study finds that multicultural diasporic immigrant space is neither a disjointed, nor an in-between space, nor a place where ethnic cultures are only “consumed”, but it is a battleground to resist and challenge religious and gender inequalities in a globalized location. Bangladeshi Bengali identity is both fixed and contextually variable; identity is shaped in response to political contexts of both global and local.  
Anthropology, Immigration, Globalization, Transnationalism, Multiculturalism, Post-colonialism, Bangladeshi, Identity