What Was Not a Nativist Response to Immigration and Immigrants: Critical Essay

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When we look at Canada today, we see a tolerant, welcoming, and multicultural nation. Despite how our country is perceived today, it was the exact opposite not even a century ago. From the early 1900s until about the 1930s, many Canadians wanted to limit immigration, and some even wanted to cut it out altogether. However, Canada was not the only xenophobic country at that time, most of the world was, but Canada is known for some extreme examples of it. Nativism in Canada between 1900-1930 was extremely strong due to the fear Canadians had for immigrants, especially from Europe, China, and Japan.

In the early 1900s, especially during World War One, Canadians strongly feared people from Europe. Canadians considered people from countries that Canada was at war with as “enemy aliens”, although a large majority of these people were innocent civilians fleeing war and persecution. Ukrainian people especially had it rough. Many Ukrainians were interned and disenfranchised because Canadians felt that they were still loyal to their countries of origin. This was not the case however as these Ukrainians were just trying to find a safe place to live. In 1914, the Canadian government took things to another level. The “War Measures Act of 1914” was passed in response to the war and gave the government power to do pretty much anything they wished. The new law allowed authorities to arrest anyone based on suspicion that they were an enemy alien. Thousands of civilians, mostly Ukrainians were interned, stripped of all their wealth, and forced to work. This law applied not only to Ukraine but to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, and Germany. These immigrants were forced to carry identification with them at all times and were not allowed to leave the country or possess any weapons. The reasoning the government gave for this new law is that they were trying to protect citizens from enemy aliens but it is obvious that it was a blatant abuse of power. Immigrants from Russia were also met with hostility. Due to the first red scare, many Canadians came to fear communism, and since Russia was the largest communist nation at the time, Canadians associated Communism with Russia. Canadians feared that the Russians will “bring with them dangerous ideologies in addition to their foreign languages and strange lifestyles”. Although the war was coming to an end and Russia itself was greatly damaged, Canadians still very much feared the Russians. The government still did not want any immigration from Russia as they feared communism. Although the government was trying to protect itself from the rise of communism, it is arguable that they were being just as authoritarian as communists by not allowing people from countries that have different views from theirs, even though most of the civilian population knew very little about communism and were just trying to escape the atrocities that were taking place back home. One other group that was treated very poorly by Canadians was the Germans. Since Germany is seen as one of the main aggressors of World War One, it had a very bad international reputation. Germans were “ranked high on the list of undesirable newcomers” because many Canadians thought these German civilians were an extension of the German empire. German immigrants were treated horribly by Canadians and the government. Their civil liberties were trampled, and they were stripped of many of their rights. They were also subject to curfews and those that did not follow orders were accused of being spies.

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Furthermore, Nativist attitudes in the early 1900s were also attributed to Canadian fears of the Chinese. In 1895, The government levied a head tax on all Chinese entering the country. This means that every time a Chinese person was entering Canada, they had to pay $50 to be let in. This was a lot of money in that time period and was mainly introduced to deter Chinese immigration and to make sure that the ones that do get in, are not poor and impoverished. Chinese people were also subjected to racism and stereotyping. “One persistent belief was that he was unclean”, this is one example of the many stereotypes that Chinese immigrants faced here in Canada. Since many Chinese immigrants were poor and impoverished, many of them shared beds with 3-4 other people. This led the public to believe that this was a threat to the public’s health. Chinese immigrants were also, without any evidence, accused of carrying diseases. Canadians “linked Chinese immigrants with the possibility of epidemics” but did not take into account the role they themselves might have played in the spread of diseases. Another reason why the Chinese were discriminated against was the rise of prostitution. The rise of prostitution was blamed on the Chinese because the public thought that they were very lustful. This led Canadians to fear Chinese immigrants, especially males because they were thought to have been targeting white women. In response to this hysteria, a new law was established that banned Chinese business owners from “employing white women. This law is just one example of the nativist feelings Canadians had towards the Chinese and every other immigrant group. White Canadians were also obsessed with the idea of white preservation. They felt that the Chinese were ruining Canada and were the root of all the problems that were occurring at that time. They were afraid of all the different immigrants that were coming in and wanted Canada to go back to being a white-only nation. The success of Chinese students was also the cause of nativist feelings in Canadians. A survey done in that time period revealed that “The Chinese were greatly superior to the average white population”. Canadians greatly feared and could not accept that a foreign group was considered to be smarter and more intelligent than them. All of the racism, stereotyping, and nativism led to the government introducing “The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923”, which effectively banned Chinese immigration into Canada for the next 25 years. For a supposed “democratic” country, banning someone from entering your country based on their ethnicity could be considered the opposite of democracy. This law is one of the most infamous laws in Canadian history. It caused great pain for the Chinese for decades to come. Completely banning immigration from a specific country which has contributed greatly to this country’s culture, just goes to show how strong nativism really was in the 20th century.

Moreover, Japanese immigrants were also the cause of the nativist attitudes in the 1900s. This fear of the Japanese started in 1907 when over “2,300 Japanese arrived in the province [of British Columbia]”. Canadians were petrified at the rates of Japanese people coming to Canada, and how they all seemed to be immigrating to only one province, British Columbia. Canadians were angry and were questioning why there was such a sharp increase in Japanese immigration. It was revealed that “more than a third of the year's arrivals came by way of Hawaii, and therefore were beyond the control of the Japanese government”. Many immigration agencies were also reported to have contracts with Canadian corporations which supplied them with cheap Japanese labor. Japan at that time was a relatively poor country and Japanese people were in need of work, hence the reason for the massive increase in immigration. Politicians also voiced their disapproval of the large influx of Japanese immigrants. R. G. Macpherson, a Liberal MP, claimed that “in a very short time our Province will be Asiatic”. This shows that not only was the public fearful of Japanese immigration, but government officials were also very worried. Canadians began to view the Japanese as the most serious oriental threat in Canada, even more so than the Chinese. Many Canadians also had an inferiority complex with the Japanese

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What Was Not a Nativist Response to Immigration and Immigrants: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-was-not-a-nativist-response-to-immigration-and-immigrants-critical-essay/
“What Was Not a Nativist Response to Immigration and Immigrants: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/what-was-not-a-nativist-response-to-immigration-and-immigrants-critical-essay/
What Was Not a Nativist Response to Immigration and Immigrants: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-was-not-a-nativist-response-to-immigration-and-immigrants-critical-essay/> [Accessed 18 Apr. 2024].
What Was Not a Nativist Response to Immigration and Immigrants: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 19 [cited 2024 Apr 18]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-was-not-a-nativist-response-to-immigration-and-immigrants-critical-essay/
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