- The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver: Three Generations Amid Tradition, Modernity, and Multiculturalism
A generation or two hence, some scholar investigating the history of the Sikhs in BC is likely to have a 'eureka moment' on discovering a well-worn copy of this volume on a library shelf. Nayar, a sociologist, briefly sketches the historical background of the Sikhs in BC, but her book is primarily about a community at the turn of the twenty-first century coming 'to terms with a modern society oriented towards multiculturalism' (5).
Nayar denies attempting 'to prove or disprove any particular social theory or model' (8) and claims that only during her research did she discern 'distinctive thought forms' among the generations (25). The main empirical data are almost one hundred interviews in Punjabi, English, or both, with three generations of Sikhs living in Greater Vancouver. The author was also a participant-observer at several community events. She tried to interview a broadly based sample, but her reliance on 'snowball sampling,' by which one interviewee referred her to another, raises doubts about how representative they are.
Her theme is the relations between the generations as the community moved from agricultural villages in India to an industrialized metropolis, Vancouver. The generations, however, do not necessarily conform to the time of arrival, since immigrants often send for their parents. The first generation (the grandparents) grew up in an 'orality' tradition that retold traditional ideas without reflection and in which individuals identified strongly with the collectivity. The transitional second generation, with a longer Canadian experience, is 'literate,' has some comprehension of the abstract, and makes some differentiation between the self and the collectivity. Only members of the third, the Canadian-born and educated, [End Page 172] with their 'analytics' mode of critical thinking, can reflect on ideas and comprehend them without experiencing them and distinguish the self from others. Nayar properly cautions that these are generalizations but shows how such differences lead to intergenerational conflict between tradition and modernity in religious practices, child-rearing, and family relations, especially conflict over preserving izzat or family honour that 'has become synonymous with the preservation of traditional culture' (172).
Nayar is critical of Canada's multiculturalism policy. Many of her second-generation interviewees claim that it reinforces racism rather than discouraging it, while the third generation want to be out of the 'Punjabi bubble' and assert that multiculturalism encourages segregation. She agrees and partly blames the cultural preservation aspects of multiculturalism for 'the Sikh community's lack of socialization into the mainstream' and its prolonged 'adjustment to modernity' (221, 223). Members of the community themselves, she contends, should be free to retain their culture and religion, but only if they wish to do so, while the government should focus on greater integration of the community with modern Canadian society.
Despite its sometimes textbook-like style with frequent repetition of key points and its emphasis on the present, The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver can profitably be read by historians today. A provocative commentary on multiculturalism, it is also a good, clear introduction to the Sikhs, their religious beliefs, and their diversity. That is especially important, given the attention Sikhs receive in the press both for violence within their community and their political and economic accomplishments. A generation or two hence, this pioneering work will be a valuable source for some historian who, one hopes, will also be able to find other studies of the Sikh community on which to draw for comparative purposes.