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Group Maintenance and Ethnic Commitment

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Romanians/G. James Patterson

For Romanians in Canada, ethnicity tends to be voluntary, pragmatic, functional, and situational. Many wear their ethnic identity only when it suits them or offers advantages, using ethnic institutions for help in adapting to Canadian culture, and moving in and out of church, club, or kinship ties as their own needs and aspirations dictate. Much of Romanian ethnicity in Canada is symbolic, with some of the rites of passage, folk dancing, holiday celebrations, and homeland food being re-created traditions. This is especially true for the third and fourth generations.

As measured by exogamy and loss of language, more than four-fifths of Romanians in Saskatchewan and Alberta have become assimilated, behaviourally and structurally. The second generation began to move out of the small rural communities in the 1930s, to Edmonton, Regina, Calgary, and elsewhere. Some settled in Romanian neighbourhoods, but most did not, losing their church and club ties. Church records and field work indicate that fewer than 20 percent of all Romanians in the west have married within the group and kept the language; about 6 percent of Romanians in Saskatchewan speak Romanian most often at home. Romanian churches and clubs continue, but are of importance to fewer and fewer in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

In Montreal and Ontario, post-World War II immigrants and newer arrivals have experienced considerable behavioral assimilation, and about half have married externally and lost their language, principally in the second generation. Field work in Ontario in the mid1990s also suggests gradual assimilation.

Among those Romanians in Canada who are keeping the culture, that culture is somewhat altered from homeland patterns. The prairie Romanians were isolated from the homeland, so dilution and alteration were inevitable. The Ontario and Quebec communities received new infusions of homeland culture with each new immigrant, but most of these people are refugees, glad to be away from a system they dislike, and the more successful may shed homeland culture quickly.

The religious, linguistic, ceremonial, and culinary adaptations of some Romanian immigrants constitute what could be termed a third culture, neither fully Romanian nor fully Canadian. That these patterns are embraced by fewer than one-fifth of Romanians on the prairies and by only about half of those in central Canada does not mean that Romanian-Canadian culture is inevitably being lost at present, although it has been seriously weakened in the west and may survive there in name only. Romanian culture is being moderately sustained in Montreal and the four Ontario cities, for, as the second and subsequent generations move towards assimilation, the new immigrants give the culture some life, even if they also eventually move away from it.

During the 400 years of Ottoman domination in the Balkans, the Orthodox Church preserved and perpetuated national heritages in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Serbia. Generally, to be any of these nationalities was to be Orthodox, and the national heritage included the national language, in which religious services were conducted.

As soon as the earliest Romanian immigrants in Canada settled, they sent home for wives and priests and founded churches. The Romanian Orthodox Church has been the primary institution for Romanian Canadians and has struggled to maintain community boundaries, by defining Romanianness as being Orthodox, by using the language in the churches, by importing priests from Romania, and by defining and explaining traditional theological and ecclesiastical culture to the people. That the Orthodox Church is losing some of its vitality is a warning signal to conservators of Romanian culture in Canada: assimilative trends are inexorably at work, and the process is a threat to the perpetuation of the culture.

Voluntary associations also serve to maintain boundaries and, as they lose members, are bellwethers of the gradual loss of homeland culture. Recent multicultural legislation has encouraged ethnic diversity; some funds have aided Romanians. An example is the $135,000 provincial grant to assist in constructing a Romanian cultural centre at the Romanian Camp north of Hamilton, Ontario.

There is a major loss of language in the west, and there are similar but less severe declines in Quebec and Ontario. Exogamy is ever increasing. The religious institutions work the hardest to perpetuate the culture; there are no educational institutions; community life is decreasing; peer pressure for ethnic maintenance, especially among the young, has been largely lost.

Relations with the homeland, so often a positive source of cultural connection, have not been as much of a factor for Romanians as among some other groups in Canada. The prairie communities had a difficult time maintaining contacts with the homeland because ship travel was time-consuming and expensive. World War II almost completely severed connections, and the postwar Communist regime in Romania forbade emigration and severely controlled and limited communications, further exacerbating the physical and psychological distance. In addition, Romanians in Canada, having often lost contact with families and friends in Romania, felt little desire to make connections with a country whose government was an irritant and embarrassment. However, the repressive regime, especially under Ceauçescu, forced Romanians to flee, and a trickle of refugees flowed into Canada throughout the Cold War era, growing to a small stream in the 1980s and 1990s, infusing Ontario and Quebec’s communities with some new injections of homeland culture.

While the elderly and the newly arrived have some degree of commitment to ethnic viability, the majority of Canadians of Romanian descent, and even most of the recent immigrants, show less commitment to ethnic perpetuation than do many other ethnic groups in Canada. Most Romanians in this country are proud Canadians, relieved and glad to be here, and have little interest in returning to the country that they or their ancestors left. Romanians in Canada do not reject their Romanian heritage and indeed proudly celebrate it when it meets their needs, but neither do they mourn the passing of a culture that has been less sustaining and gratifying to them than many other immigrants have found their own heritage. They are becoming Canadian.