At home in Canada: Iranian immigrants’ sense of belonging, homemaking practices, and racialized experiences in the Atlantic Provinces and Ontario

Mohammadi, Foroogh (2023) At home in Canada: Iranian immigrants’ sense of belonging, homemaking practices, and racialized experiences in the Atlantic Provinces and Ontario. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This study focuses on Iranian immigrants’ experiences in four midsized Atlantic Canadian cities, including Halifax, St. John’s, Charlottetown, and Moncton, as well as Fredericton, and asks how do the communities of belonging emerge and function through the Iranian immigrants’ transnational practices. In this, I focus on how the participants’ everyday practices contribute to creating, developing, or resisting a sense of belonging within their home, neighbourhood, and beyond. I also include Iranians who left these Atlantic cities for five cities in Ontario with different Iranian community sizes: Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Lancaster, and London. In this exploration, I focus on everyday life to understand the dynamics of a sense of belonging in two different regions with different characteristics and considerable inner diversity regarding access, population, remoteness, urbanness, being an island or not, Iranian community size, etc. The central contribution of the comparison is to highlight how communities of belonging function within the Iranians’ diaspora in each region and how these communities function differently depending on the participants’ social location and where they reside. Using qualitative methods, including semi-structured, in-depth interviews with sixty-seven first-generation Iranian immigrants residing in the five Atlantic Canadian cities and five cities in Ontario, I explore the meaning of home for immigrants who left Iran during the 1979 revolution and examine how it is in conversation with a sense of belonging. Through a symbolic interactionist and social constructionist lens and using the sociology of home and belonging theories, transnationalism, group culture, and critical race theories, this study demonstrates that Iranian immigrants have shaped various communities of belonging within the Iranian diaspora with different characteristics in the Atlantic cities and Ontario. These communities of belonging are mostly shaped around the co-ethnic groups of Iranians rather than through negotiation with the Canadian communities. In other words, the formation of the Iranian friendship communities of belonging is in response to the exclusionary experiences of the participants based on their immigration status, language, and cultural differences with the centrality of race. The findings in chapters three and four show that home is a fluid concept for Iranian immigrant participants, depending on gender, religion, immigration status, where they live, and how and when they left Iran. Similar to their sense of belonging, home for the Iranian immigrants in this study does not have a homogenized specific definition. Rather, it is an impossible and ongoing project, a paradoxical notion that they constantly work toward to make sense of with their agentic strategies of action. Moving from more individual to community and group level processes, chapter five suggests that meta-stories and narratives shape the common imaginations of Iranian immigrants about remote and central locations and have an impact on their decisions to leave or stay in the Atlantic region. Moreover, it demonstrates that friendship groups significantly contribute to creating a space for interaction, mutual understanding, and performing an “authentic” or an Iranian-style version of self with the central role of the mother tongue language. These close and tied friendship groups play the most prominent role in enacting belonging and are pivotal in operationalizing temporary belonging in the Iranian diaspora in Canada. In chapter six, I engage with the participants’ racialized experiences as another influential driving force in navigating their sense of home and belonging in Canada. Despite the calls and claims at different local and national levels to celebrate diversity, I show that covert and tacit racism (Duck & Rawls, 2020) are omnipresent and subtle forms of racism in the participants’ lives that influence their understanding of selves, their thoughts, and their relationship with society. I argue that tacit and covert racism coupled with the Iranian immigrants’ initial identification of themselves as “White” pushes them to enter a racialized spiral of silence, resulting in taking racialized experiences for granted. The reality of being racialized in the Canadian context changes the participants’ identification over certain incidents. I borrow Kathy Charmaz’s (1991) concept to mark this identification transformation as the “Identifying Moment” and explain how race suddenly becomes a master status for the participants. In the midst of racial disparities and discriminatory experiences, the physical home is a social field for self-expression and an extension of self among family and friends for the participants. This study explores the lives of Iranian immigrants who land in Atlantic Canada: many of whom do not stay in the region and leave for Ontario. It contributes to the fields of sociology of race, home, and belonging in the Atlantic midsized cities and Ontario and to understanding the diverse experiences of immigrant groups — in this case, Iranian immigrants —within these contexts. It highlights the diversity of immigration across Canada and the importance of decentralizing immigration policies and plannings to create more welcoming contexts for diverse immigrant groups in different parts of Canada. Compared to the current diverse literature about the immigrant communities’ function in traditional immigration gateways such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, focusing on the Atlantic cities’ context allowed me to advance the scholarship in understanding the immigrants’ experiences in non-traditional immigration gateways in the five Atlantic cities. As a result, the present study reveals how Iranian immigrant communities function in these cities and how their transnational practices contribute to creating communities of belonging within each region with their own diversities. It also advances our knowledge of the racialization processes in the Atlantic Canadian cities and fills the gap in understanding the Iranian immigrants’ racialized experiences and the transition of their master status after migration to a White-dominated society.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 16365
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 317-355)
Keywords: belonging, home, migration, racialization, symbolic interaction
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: October 2023
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Immigrants--Atlantic Provinces; Immigrants--Ontario; Iranians--Canada; Transnationalism; Belonging (Social psychology)--Atlantic Provinces; Belonging (Social psychology)--Ontario; Social constructionism--Atlantic Provinces; Social constructionism--Ontario; Symbolic interactionism; Critical race theory--Atlantic Provinces; Critical race theory--Ontario; Iranians--Relations with Canadians; Halifax (N.S.); St. John’s (N.L.); Charlottetown (P.E.I.); Moncton (N.B.)

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