- The African Diaspora in Canada: Negotiating Identity and Belonging
Wisdom J. Tettey and Korbla P. Puplampu's The African Diaspora in Canada is a welcome addition to the growing list of works being published in Diaspora Studies. The particular focus of their collection, which gives it special status, is their primary focus on African Canadians. The term African-Canadian itself raises a number of conceptual difficulties that the editors deal with adroitly in their introduction. (It has to be said in passing that their introduction is destined to spend a lot of time on the photocopier; it is very well written and ideal for teaching.) There is just one potential problem to be noted in what is overall a highly commendable effort. This pertains to the discussion of the different means by which African-Canadians are defined both in the introduction and in the subsequent essays. Put simply, it is in the ease with which homeland was used in several of the pieces to stand for nation-state of origin. And yet as an analytical category homeland has implications quite different from nation-state, not the least of which is that historically not all homelands have been nation-states. In their critique of Citizen and Immigration Canada's categorization of all people from Africa as Africans, the editors note that this ignores the lack of racial homogeneity across the continent. They take the view that the term should be narrowed down to include only Blacks who can trace direct and recent genealogy to Africa (over the past forty years), excluding [End Page 338] Africans of different races such as the whites of South Africa and the South Asians of East Africa, as well as the Black communities of Canada that trace their roots to the period of slavery in the nineteenth century. This narrowing down makes sense as a heuristic move, except that it ignores the main premise behind CIC's typology, which is not racial at all but nation-state based. That is to say, for the CIC anyone who comes from a country located on the continent of Africa is an African, irrespective of race or ethnicity.
But what might be termed the nation-state definition of an African comes to have other implications when turned to theoretical use. It can be asserted that in the homeland-hostland-diaspora community triad, homeland and hostland should exert equivalent theoretical pulls as nation-state entities with political and other interests in their diaspora communities. Furthermore, the vicissitudes of the nation-states of origin of African-Canadians can be centred upon for understanding the identities that this category of people may have to negotiate. Something of this is hinted at in the piece by Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika and Denise Spitzer in this collection. Their interest is in illuminating 'the experiences of African women in the context of transnational and flexible identities and allegiances.' Their preliminary findings suggest that 'these women have not completely left Africa: they serve as the bridge between African and diasporic communities.' Even though they pay attention to the cultural values behind these women's definition of identity and their struggles to translate these values into their family set-ups in Canada, there is no direct mention of the dynamic that is incorporated into their struggles by virtue of their coming from particular nation-states in Africa (does being a Nigerian in Canada not raise slightly different problems from being a Zimbabwean, for example?).
The essays are evenly balanced and the various sections give a good range of themes to work from. There will be more to be done on African-Canadians, their origins and heritage, the stories that they bear with them, and the means by which they attempt to get integrated into Canadian society. Much will depend for the success of this book on the opportunities that it opens up for comparative analysis, say with the condition of Africans in Australia, a country of similar immigration pressures. The African Diaspora in Canada is to be commended...