Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mixed marriages rise 30 per cent in the last five years

If Ward and June Cleaver were the idyllic picture of marriage in the 1950s, then Vishva Ramlall and Stephanie Linton could be the face of relationships in the 21st century.

Mr. Ramlall was born in Guyana and came to Canada when he was 11. Ms. Linton was born in this country and grew up in several small towns across Ontario.

The two met through friends in Ottawa, started dating and have been married for nearly three years.

The couple represents a small but growing number of Canadians who are involved in interracial unions - a number that many experts predict will jump dramatically in the next few decades.

"The numbers are skyrocketing," said Minelle Mahtani, a geography and journalism professor at the University of Toronto who studies mixed-race identity.

Nearly 300,000 Canadians were involved in mixed marriages or mixed common-law relationships in 2006, a rise of nearly 30 per cent since 2001, according to the latest census figures released yesterday by Statistics Canada.

In 1991, just 2.6 per cent of couples in Canada were in a mixed-race marriage or
common-law relationship.

Mixed unions still make up a very small percentage - about 4 per cent - of all marriages and common-law relationships in Canada. But interracial unions represent a powerful and growing segment of the country's increasingly multicultural mosaic.

"We are seeing this trend more and more and it's becoming a prominent feature in our society, in Canadian society," said Ayman Al-Yassini, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

About 85 per cent of all mixed unions involve relationships in which one partner is white and the other is not. Nearly 42,000 couples in the country consisted of two people from different visible minority groups.

Canadians of Japanese descent are more likely than any other visible minority to be in a mixed union. There were 29,700 couples involving at least one Japanese-Canadian person in 2006. Of those, nearly 75 per cent involved a partner who was white or from another ethnic group. People of Latin American descent were the second-most likely to be in a mixed union, followed by people who are black.

But as the number of visible minorities in Canada continues to climb, Ms. Mahtani said an increasing number of them will marry outside their ethnic group, and to non-white individuals. "When you think about mixed unions, you think about white and black or white and Japanese. That's going to change," she said. "It's going to be between two visible minority groups."

Visible minorities of South Asian or Chinese origin were least likely to be involved in a mixed union, according to Statistics Canada. For instance, there were more than 327,000 South Asian couples in Canada in 2006, but only 12.7 per cent were in a union with a white person or someone of another visible minority group. Sociology experts say one major reason is that those communities are so large, and sometimes insular, that members are more likely to marry someone of the same ethnic background.

Although society is much more accepting of interracial marriages today than several decades ago, some couples say the subject still makes some people uncomfortable and that there may be residual racism in Canada that needs to be overcome.

"I think racism still exists. It's just probably more in the closet," said Barb Rodezno, a Toronto native whose husband is originally from El Salvador.

Mr. Ramlall said he and his wife havenever felt stigmatized because they come from different backgrounds, and their families have been supportive.

But their marriage has been an exercise in learning about each other's culture and adjusting to the differences that come with their religious backgrounds, including the fact the couple had two wedding ceremonies to accommodate their families' Hindu and Anglican backgrounds.

"I learn every day and Steph learns more about me," Mr. Ramlall said. "Even our wedding was hilarious. I've been married twice to the same woman."


Mixed-union breakdown

The number of Canadians in mixed unions (marriages of common-law) jumped more than 30 per cent from 2001 to 2006, according to the latest census date released by Statistics Canada. Although mixed unions represented just 4 per cent of all unions in Canada in 2006, that proportion is expected to grow significantly in the near future.

Note: Numbers may not add up to total due to rounding.

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