“My kind of Brown”: Indo-Canadian youth identity and belonging in Greater Vancouver

Date created: 
Social geography
Youth gangs
Second generation

Since the mid-1990s, more than 100 Indo-Canadian - or South Asian - men under the age of 30 have been murdered in Greater Vancouver. Generally described as "gang-" or "drug-related," these murders and related criminal incidents have easily lent themselves to sensationalism. As a result, the image of groups of young Indo-Canadian men engaged in various violent and criminal activities has become increasingly prevalent. This has been reinforced by perceptions of them as lacking a strong 'sense of belonging.' In this project, I explore notions of belonging and not belonging in relation to Indo-Canadian youth violence and criminality. I focus on how news media, various state institutions, and community organizations have related youth violence to the notion that youth lack a strong sense of belonging, as well as how discourses about, and responses to, youth violence have affected young Indo-Canadians' understandings of their own identities, ethnocultural difference, and multiculturalism. I frame my discussion in terms of three socio-spatial binaries that have become central to discourses about Indo-Canadian youth violence and criminality. First, I discuss discourses that position 'immigrant culture' in opposition to 'non-immigrant culture,' a key element of which is the idea of 'culture clash,' particularly over gender norms. Second, I examine conceptualizations of society as consisting of discrete, 'bounded' ethnocultural 'communities,' such that 'ethnic' stands in opposition to 'mainstream.' I point out the racialization of these boundaries, as reflected through discourses about 'Brownness' among young Indo-Canadians. Third, I discuss discourses of belonging and not belonging, in which youth are characterized as alienated from either an ethnic 'community' or wider society, leaving them in a supposed state of poor or misdirected moral development. I argue that these socio-spatial binaries have been challenged, contradicted, and made ambiguous, even as they have been deployed as dichotomies with distinct poles. Therefore, I also discuss the slippages, gaps, and contradictions that destabilize them.

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Senior supervisor: 
Eugene McCann
Environment: Department of Geography
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.