British Columbia

Hyphenated identity: SFU researcher examines what it means to be Canadian

Italian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Irish-Canadian and all other hyphenated identities is at the heart of a new research project about Canadian identity and the future of multiculturalism.

Newest study builds on previous research looking at the Italian community in Vancouver

Eva Sajoo is examining Canadian identity and the future of a hyphenated nation in her latest research project. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Italian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Irish-Canadian and other hyphenated identities are at the heart of a new research project about Canadian identity and the future of multiculturalism.

Eva Sajoo, a researcher at Simon Fraser University, looked at Italian identity in Vancouver in a survey three years ago and has been asked by the city to expand her project for Canada 150.

The first study presented a curious look at what it means to be Canadian, she told CBC host of On The Coast Gloria Macarenko.

"It was really a fascinating look at how identity changes over time," Sajoo said. 

The original study showed marked generational differences when it comes to how immigrants feel about their identity.

First generation immigrants, she said, often feel a strong connection to their country of origin, while their children, born in Canada, who want to assimilate more. 

"The third generation, the grandkids, were way more interested in where their grandparents had come from and in learning to speak Italian and learning to cook Italian than their parents were," Sajoo explained.

"That's a story that really a lot of us can relate to even if we are not Italian."

Hyphenated nation

Sajoo's newest project, called Being Canadian: The Future of a Hyphenated Nation, goes beyond Vancouver's Italian community to look at the wider scope of Canadian identity.

"The question really is 'Do we have a shared sense of identity that is different than having the same mother tongue or the same cultural background?" she said.

The results are particularly important given the recent tension toward immigration in places like the United States and Europe, Sajoo said.

"Increasing rates of immigration have led to feelings of loss of community and tension around race and anti-immigration protests," she said.

"Unless we have a sense of maybe shared values or some other thing that crosses our difference, then it's possible that we may experience some of the same tensions."

Sajoo is gathering data for the project in an online survey.

With files from On The Coast.