Communications technology helps immigrants adapt to Canada, recent grad finds

There’s often an expectation that when people move here from another nation they should immerse themselves in Canadian culture, but maintaining a close connection to their home country makes them better immigrants, according to a recent PhD graduate.

And modern communications technology is enabling that connection, says Frances Cachon who recently defended her thesis in Sociology, Anthropology, & Criminology and is working as a sessional instructor there.

“We’ve always known that immigrants maintain connections with their country of origin, but what’s new, is technology, and the intimacy and immediacy of those connections through technology,” said Dr. Cachon, who studied under the tutelage of professor Barry Adam. “My research highlights the importance of these connections to Canadian migrants’ emotional well-being.”

Cachon conducted a qualitative study, focusing on the “ambient intimacy” that’s enabled through technology. She interviewed 30 Mexican migrants—20 immigrants (10 men and 10 women) – most of whom were highly educated, upper-middle class Canadian citizens, as well as an additional 10 Mexican migrant workers.

Her research explores the concept of transnationalism, which is used to describe the ways people belong to or organize their lives around more than one nation state. Her interviews revealed the dual orientation sustaining the lives of Mexicans living in Southwestern Ontario—lives lived here and there.

“My research explores how Mexicans living in Canada use technology to stay connected to Mexico and the meaning of these connection to migrants’ everyday lives,” said Cachon, who was born in Mexico to a Mexican father and American mother, but moved to Kitchener-Waterloo when she was seven after a brief stint in her mother’s hometown near Cleveland.

“The people I spoke to have a great love for Canada and they’re very grateful, but at the same time many also felt disconnected from the country, struggling to find their place” she said. “Many immigrants feel isolated and trapped in their homes, while migrant workers feel like ghosts in Canada—unwanted and unseen.  What was really interesting was the extent to which both groups were actively connected to Mexico through modern communications technology.”

During her interviews, Cachon sat in the kitchen of one stay-at-home mother who maintained an open window with relatives back home through Skype.

“The computer was always on, and it was like her relatives were right there with her in the room while she was cooking and helping her kids with their homework,” she said. “That just wasn’t possible five or ten years ago.”

Her findings could provide important insights for policy makers looking for ways to improve migration outcomes and could complement initiatives aimed at helping vulnerable workers, like temporary migrant workers and new immigrants, she said.

“We shouldn’t automatically be suspicious of immigrants’ active ties to their homelands,” she said, “nor should we assume these ties mean immigrants aren’t being integrated into Canada. In fact, ongoing connections can enhance immigrants’ emotional well-being, so we should reconsider what fosters successful settlement. Immigration isn’t an all or nothing prospect. We shouldn’t think immigrants need to abandon their countries of origin in order to be good Canadians and we need to radically rethink our current definition of who is ‘fit’ to be a Canadian.”