It's Not Only Immigrants Who Have Multiple Loyalties

It's not only immigrants who have multiple loyalties

We all have to juggle family, religion, work, friends, culture, ideas -- and we're much the better for it

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun - June 5, 2010
How can Sikh immigrants be loyal to Canada and, at the same time, press to create an independent Sikh homeland in India called Khalistan?

How can devout Muslim Canadians be loyal to both Canada's democratic laws and the teachings of the Koran?

How can Chinese immigrants be loyal to Metro Vancouver if they speak Mandarin in their homes and retain citizenship in China?

These are some of the ways that Canadians in the 21st century are talking about controversies revolving around the issue of "dual loyalties."

The phrase is typically pejorative. It's mostly used to question the level of commitment that immigrants may or may not bring to their new homeland.

But is it fair to accuse recent immigrants of having "dual loyalties," let alone " multiple loyalties?"

Is having multiple loyalties as dangerous as it's made to sound? Is it an act of betrayal?
Even though the multiple loyalty discussion usually focuses on immigrants, it stretches across the social spectrum -- to all of us.

Questions about multiple loyalties pop up in politics, workplaces, families and even intimate relationships.

We all face loyalty challenges. We all have to make choices about how committed we intend to be to different things about which we care, which can sometimes feel in conflict.

Before exploring how each one of us must juggle divergent loyalties in our pluralistic society, let's first explore the traditional way people have seized the issue.

It has usually centred on nationalism. In North America, one the most famous battles over dual loyalties emerged during the Second World War.

That's when Canadian and U.S. citizens of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry were confined to internment camps because of fears they would undermine the Allied cause as traitors.

Later, in the 1950s, U.S. senator Joe McCarthy harassed and jailed many noted Americans for allegedly being a fifth column, more loyal to communism than America.

During John F. Kennedy's campaign for U.S. president in 1960, some opponents questioned whether a Roman Catholic would be more beholden to the pope than the citizens of his own country.

Similarly, in Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, the University of Victoria's Paul Bramadat said some members of the dominant Anglo-Protestant community worried that allowing more Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Italy would lead to the collapse of English-speaking Canada.

"This question is not new at all in North America," says Bramadat, director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at UVic. "What does change are the names of the people whose 'multiple loyalties' some people fear will lead to social disintegration."

Still, Bramadat acknowledges that questions about multiple loyalties are again coming to the fore in North America because of rising immigration, more affordable travel, economic globalization and advanced communication technology.

While Bramadat is right to argue that the dangers associated with multiple loyalties can be greatly exaggerated, it's not entirely fair to suggest, as some do, that anyone who asks questions about multiple loyalties is a bigot.

In an increasingly complex society -- where a host of politicians, spiritual leaders, sports teams, corporate brands and loved ones ask us to commit to them -- there is still something good about old-fashioned loyalty.

Loyalty helps us create a coherent sense

of who we are and where we're heading. Commitment ties people and communities together.
In the confusion of contemporary life, it is beneficial to declare we are strongly attached to something -- our country, our family, our faith or our ethical principles.

When our traditional loyalties are threatened, it can feel as if our psyches are breaking into fragments.

We can feel emotionally torn, says Simon Fraser University ethicist Mark Wexler, when we attempt to be loyal to both a new country and our country of birth, to both our growing families and our demanding workplaces, to both our religious leader's teachings and our individual consciences.

Our sense of personal integrity and purity can feel as if it's becoming undone, Wexler says, when we start asking questions such as: "How can I be loyal to two countries, particularly when one is at war with the other?

"How can I be loyal to my principles when I am drawn to many different and viable options? [If I divorce and remarry] how can I be loyal to two families? How can I be loyal to two faiths, each with their own version of God? "

As we loosen traditional loyalties, Wexler says, we can regret leaving behind our previous identity, and fear we will fail at our new one. Worst of all, we might lose track of who we are.
With multiple loyalties, as Wexler says, we have reason to fret about becoming "a chameleon on a Persian rug;" a chaotic patchwork of conflicting identities.

It's clearly not only immigrants who have to struggle with such questions of multiple attachments. The issues are inescapable for most of us.

And that can be a good thing.

The positive aspect of being open to multiple loyalties is that it helps us grow. It stretches our boundaries. It makes life adventurous.

There is a sense of romance and excitement in trying out new loyalties, new commitments, new attachments.

We leave behind the "old country" to bring our talents and hopes to a new nation.
We develop new friends as we change professions or social status.

We find ourselves with additional family members as we step out of old relationships and into new ones.

When we experience multiple loyalties, Wexler says, "The joys of a new sense of self come into being. There is the romance of what may be possible in an alternate world or an alternate identity.

"This is far more than a delusion. It is the hope of becoming."

In other words, it could well be empty nostalgia to yearn for a time when we thought we could avoid multiple loyalties. The only way to sidestep them is to remain static, in a rut.

If we want to live with creativity, the challenge of juggling multiple loyalties becomes virtually unavoidable.

Maybe that's the kind of thing Bob Dylan was talking about when he famously sang, "he not busy being born is busy dying."

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1947-2014 (Archived)
If this were the year 1900, and the first great waves of immigration from Asia, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Russian -- you name it -- were taking place. And boats entered harbors of the new world daily laden with abjectly poor and for the most part illiterate immigrants escaping from unbelievable economic and political oppression in the millions -- only to fill their stomachs and have a few bright skies in their lives. And all these immigrants were actually bought and paid for -- they came here to build railroads, and cut down forests for lumber, and fill seats in sweatshops where goods are made....If this were the year 1900 and not the year 2010... WOULD WE BE READING ARTICLES LIKE THIS?

And the answer is .................YES. All the same hatred and suspicion of people who talk different languages and follow religions that were considered barriers to complete loyalty. And if anyone doubts me, we can take a look together at the kinds of obscene rhetoric that was written about immigrants then.

So here is my problem with the article...I think the author is well meaning. Would someone explain why more than 1 century later we are still trapped. The author is trying to apologize in a way and explain away an issue that has been experienced many times in NA. We are no longer at the stage of the dress rehearsal. The show has been running for more than 100 hundred years. Canada has not suddenly discovered South Asians, nor has the US suddenly discovered that Mexico is south of Washington DC.

So what's up? Or did we all forget that all of us are immigrants? Or we are the children of immigrants? Or that immigrants built both countries and their economies? Or possibly that their loyalties are not questionable? I think it is time for some humbling reminders to become part of the conversation in both countries.
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