People of colour are not born with racial identities.

Some white people appear to think that non-white people have a strong ethnic or racial identity by default. They may think that if a non-white person is unaware of her race or ethnicity, it is a result of white interference. However, ethnic and racial identities are socially constructed, not genetically inherited.

Infants of colour, for example, are born without knowing their race, their ethnicity, their culture, or their history. These things are learned. Learning culture may involve learning skills, learning history may involve learning knowledge, but learning racial and ethnic identity often involves the internalization of social categories of difference and otherness.

Perhaps white adults have a weak sense ethnic and racial identity—if they have any at all—because they have not had the same experiences with being othered and being different.

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South Asians in Canada: Ethnic Origin and Country of Birth

South Asians were the largest visible minority group in Canada according to the 2006 Census. However, South Asians are a very diverse group with respect to both ethnic origin and country of birth.

Ethnic origin of South Asians in Canada

Ethnic origin (also known as ethnic ancestry) refers to the ethnic or cultural origins of the respondent’s ancestors. An ancestor is someone from whom a person is descended and is usually more distant than a grandparent. Ethnic origin should not be confused with language, place of birth or citizenship. For example, a person of Haitian origin may speak French, be born in Canada and have Canadian citizenship. Since 1981, when respondents were first permitted to report more than one ethnic origin in the census, a distinction has been made between single response, multiple responses and total responses. […] Most of the data that are reported in this document refers to the total response count for each ethnic group, unless otherwise indicated.

13.1% of South Asians reported multiple ethnic origins. The “ethnic origins” or “ancestral backgrounds” of South Asians are shown in the bar graph below. (As a person can have more than one ethnic origin, these ethnic categories are not mutually exclusive.) Most South Asians (69.0%) were of East Indian ethnic origin.

East Indian, 69%. Pakistani, 9.3%. Sri Lankan, 7.8%. Punjabi, 4.1%. Canadian, 2.7%. Tamil, 2.7%. European, 2.6%. British Isles, 2.5%. Bangladeshi, 1.8%.

Since there were 1,262,900 South Asians in Canada according to the 2006 Census, the number of East Indians in Canada was about 871,000. (For individuals who want to compare the size of the largest South Asian subgroup with the size of the Chinese “visible minority” group, the number of East Indians in Canada (871,000) was lower than the number of Chinese (1,216,600).)

Country of birth of South Asians in Canada

29.3% of South Asians were Canadian-born, while 70.7% were foreign-born.

A majority of the foreign-born South Asians came from countries in the Indian subcontinent, such as India (48.8%), Pakistan (14.6%), Sri Lanka (11.7%) and Bangladesh (3.6%). The other leading source countries of birth among the foreign-born South Asian visible minorities were Guyana (4.2%), Trinidad and Tobago (2.5%), Fiji (2.4%), the United Republic of Tanzania (1.9%), Kenya (1.8%) and the United Kingdom (1.6%).

Applying these foreign-country percentages to the percentage of South Asians that were foreign-born (70.7%), and adding in the percentage of South Asians that were Canadian-born (29.3%), we can extrapolate a more integrated overview of South Asians’ countries of birth.

Country of birth Percentage
Canada 29.3
India 34.5
Pakistan 10.3
Sri Lanka 8.3
Guyana 3.0
Bangladesh 2.5
Trinidad and Tobago 1.8
Fiji 1.7
United Republic of Tanzania 1.3
Kenya 1.3
United Kingdom 1.1
Other 4.9

The pie chart below was generated from the above data:

South Asian's Country of Birth pie chart

Sources:

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Most Japanese Canadians are Canadian-born.

If you ask an Asian in Canada, “Where are you from?”, the person may be take offense at being assumed a foreigner because of her race, or she may be happy to tell you about her motherland. Foreign-born and native-born Asian Canadians are different. They should not be lumped together and treated the same.

Although you cannot tell if an Asian individual is foreign-born or Canadian-born by looking at his physical features (being born and raised in a Western country does not change small, slanted eyes into large, round eyes), we have data on Asian Canadian visible minorities as an aggregate and where they are from.

2 in 3 Japanese are Canadian-born:
Canadian-born, 63.2%. Foreign-born, 36.8%.
1 in 4 Chinese are Canadian-born (“Canadian-Born Chinese” or “CBCs”):
Canadian-born, 25.5%. Foreign-born, 74.5%.
1 in 3 South Asians are Canadian-born (so-called “Canadian-Born Confused Desis” or “CBCDs”):
Canadian-born, 29.3%. Foreign-born, 70.7%.

On average, 3 in 10 visible minorities were Canadian-born. The breakdown of the Canadian-born percentages across the individual visible minority groups are shown below.

Visible minority group Percentage Canadian-born Canadian-born occurrence
Japanese 63.2 2 out of 3
Black 44.3 9 out of 20
Southeast Asian 31.2 1 out of 3
South Asian 29.3 1 out of 3
Arab 27.0 3 out of 10
Filipino 25.6 1 out of 4
Chinese 25.5 1 out of 4
Latin American 21.1 1 out of 5
Korean 15.0 3 out of 20
West Asian 14.8 3 out of 20

(The “Canadian-born occurrence” column is an extrapolation from the percentage, not explicitly listed in the analysis series article.)

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