UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of ethnic organizations : fostering integration and making connections in Canada and beyond Ho, Mabel


Individuals have the option to maintain ties to their ancestral country while settling into Canada. These connections are called transnational practices, the activities and attachments individuals have across nation states, such as celebrating festivals or engaging in business investments based in the ancestral country. I conducted 61 interviews and engaged in 85.5 hours of participant observations in four ethnically-based organizations in Toronto to examine the factors that shape an individual’s participation in transnational practices, the meaning individuals give to their practices, and the identities that they develop. I draw attention to how organizations facilitate these practices, in part by lowering the cost to participating. Specifically, I demonstrate how organizations create the space for the development of social ties, which are critical for spreading information and building social pressure among group members. I compare political and cultural groups and find that political organizations were most explicit in connecting various types of transnational practices. As a result, individuals belonging to political organizations participated in a greater number and variety of transnational practices. I also examine the meaning individuals give to their engagement in transnational practices. I create a four-fold typology to categorize individuals’ transnational practices as rooted, multiple, wavering, or romantic connections. I show how the language spoken at events and the activities hosted by organizations shape the meanings individuals attach to their practices. Last, I examine how individuals create and develop their identities within organizations. I argue that these organizations help foster particular ways of enacting the Canadian hyphen. Individuals can come to see their Canadian and ancestral country identities as connected in different ways, what I label as core, contextual, or composite identities. This dissertation highlights the critical role that ethnic organizations can play for newcomers, established co-ethnic members, and larger society. Unpacking the role of these organizations gives insight into the complex ways that individuals integrate into Canada as a whole while maintaining connections beyond our borders and speaks to the larger issues of inclusion and integration in society.

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