Winders: Fueling fear of an Asian planet

Is it time for this again, already?

On Feb. 11, National Post columnist Jonathan Kay penned the latest in a series of ‘Asian Boogeyman’ articles popping up in right-leaning Canadian media questioning the place of this growing demographic in Canadian higher education.



Kay’s piece, We’re all turning into ‘Tiger Mothers’, contends the mere sight of elite Canadian campuses increasingly dominated by immigrants – although only Asians are cited – will “arouse some of the tribalistic impulses that usually lie dormant in our society.” Of course, the column’s preceding 900 words to that phrase did nothing more than arouse said tribalistic impulses of National Post readers (not a long journey, I realize).

Not satisfied with simply insulting Asian students, who are painted as blocking white student achievement, and white students, who are told they can only compete with their own kind, Kay then blames this influx of perceived over-achievers from afar for altering the parenting style of Canadian families.

No more television, kiddies, it’s time to hit the books. And you can blame the Asians for that.

“It used to be that upwardly mobile native-born parents could count on getting any reasonably bright child into a good private school and university,” Kay wrote. “Now, those children are in competition with Asian immigrants who spend their weekends drilling math and spelling-bee lists.”

Ah, yes, nothing like the nostalgic waxing for a non-existent simpler time where everyone knew their place. It’s the last vestige of solace for fools and Luddites, people like Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum, who prays for a return to a mythical world before gay people, or CBC court jester Don Cherry, who begs for a boat upon which to ship Europeans back across the pond.

In 2010, Maclean’s magazine ran a since-discredited piece entitled, Too Asian’: Some frosh don’t want to study at an ‘Asian’ university. (Showing the shallowness of his stance, Kay cites this embarrassing article in his own.) Since that article, the topic has cropped up every now and then when someone wanted to stir the pot. And nothing like down economic times to cultivate a little fear of foreigners.

Remember, Kay and publications like Maclean’s don’t ask loaded questions without answers already in mind.

Fear-mongering campaigns usually start as whispers, mentions here and there to test the waters of the acceptability of a usually unsavory opinion. I saw this play out in the U.S. South on countless editorial pages and in political campaigns where loaded words were substituted for far more crass ones. But they got their point across nevertheless.

Canada is facing a tectonic shift in its cultural demographics. Canadian birthrates are not keeping up, and immigration is increasingly being seen as the answer to our long-term sustainability. This makes certain people nervous. And trial balloons of distrust like Kay’s are the leading indicators of a larger campaign.

It is not coincidental this column ran during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to China. The visit hoped to fling the door open on relations between the two countries on everything from trade to higher education. On the latter issue, Western University President Amit Chakma has taken the lead.

The Globe and Mail reported the federal government has made a $10-million, two-year commitment in the 2011 budget toward developing an international education strategy and attracting students from overseas. Chakma heads the advisory panel that will make recommendations on how best Canada can go about doing that.

Despite the fact China already sends the largest number of international students to Canada, the country is seen as our greatest growth opportunity as well. But Chakma and Co. should know that opportunity will come with plenty of pushback. It might seem like a slamdunk to the sane, but that’s not the target audience for appeals like Kay’s.

And the campaign has already begun.