Why Are There So Many South Asians in Brampton?
Written by Nerissa Harrypersad
For those living within the Greater Toronto Area, it is generally known that many individuals refer to Brampton as “Brown-town.” Brampton is located within the region of Peel, in the center of Mississauga, Vaughan, Caledon and Georgetown. Being someone who goes to Brampton quite often, it is understandable to see why many people have nicknamed the city “Brown-town.” There is a Brown person to be spotted everywhere in sight. By Brown, I am referring to mainly South Asians, who significantly populate Brampton.
Why is it that Brampton has a high concentration of South Asians? There are other cities that they could have chosen to reside in, but why Brampton? It is interesting that South Asians have chosen to cluster within Brampton as opposed to other cities. What I am curious in discovering is why Brampton is attractive to South Asians. There may not be only one answer. I predict there are multiple factors drawing South Asians into the city.
In 2006, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah published an article in the Globe and Mail describing the Brampton community. She mentions that nearly 40% of Brampton’s population is South Asian. As an attempt to describe a factor contributing to the overwhelming number of South Asians in Brampton, she states that the house prices being lower than other cities is maintained as attractive. Another explanation is that relatives tend to move together in flocks, sticking together as a community.
Another news article was posted in the Toronto Star in 2013 with regards to the overpopulation of South Asians within Brampton. It was published by San Grewal and also provides possible explanations for South Asian being clustered in Brampton. He provides two possible factors. One includes illegal apartments being affordable for recent immigrants. Since it is affordable, the author explains that it has become popular. Secondly, he mentions that families who are new to Canada want to feel comfortable and want to feel a sense of belonging. Being around other South Asians provides this comfort, making it easier to adapt to the new environment.
As a means of discovering why Brampton is disproportionately populated by South Asians, I decided to have informal conversations with three of my friends who currently live in Brampton. All of these friends identify as South Asian and they were all given pseudonyms. I asked questions based on their history of moving, including when and why they moved to Canada, what cities they have lived in, whether they have rented or owned these places, and how long they have lived at each place. Due to the interest of the neighbourhoods they have lived in, I asked what type of people lived in their neighbourhood they have lived in, specifying race and ethnicity.
Diya was the first individual that I informally interviewed. She is a twenty-one-year-old female who is a soon-to-be graduate from the University of Toronto- Mississauga. Diya identifies as South Asian, more specifically from Sri Lanka. Her religion is Hindu and she speaks Tamil. Diya was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Ontario, Canada in 2009. Currently, Diya and her family, including her mother, father, and two younger brothers, live in Brampton.
Since moving to Canada, Diya has lived in three different places within the city of Brampton. Diya and her family first lived in a house near Shopper’s World, which is a mall located on the intersection of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue. They rented this house for three years before moving. This house consisted of four bedrooms. Diya and her brothers all shared the master bedroom, and her parents had their own separate room. The other two bedrooms were used as guest bedrooms, and ideally for storage. Diya generally describes this house as large. She also describes the neighbourhood as one that both she and her family considered safe. The neighbourhood consisted of more than half being South Asians who spoke Punjabi. Although Diya and her family admired the house and the neighbourhood, there was a need to downsize in order to save money.
This resulted in Diya and her family’s second move within Brampton to an apartment building. This apartment building was in the same neighbourhood as the house they rented. It was located across from Shopper’s World. They also rented this apartment for about three years. The apartment consisted of two bedrooms. Again, Diya and her brothers shared a bedroom, while her parents had their own. Although, Diya and her family moved within the same neighbourhood, she describes this neighbourhood containing mainly Brown and Black people with a couple of Whites. When asked to specify the ethnicities of the Brown people, she mentioned that she could not distinguish them and that it was difficult to tell.
Finally, when Diya and her family were able to save enough money, they decided to move to a house. Diya and her family currently live in this house in which they own. The main intersection of this house is on Creditview Road and Sandalwood Parkway, also in Brampton. Diya describes this area as one that has developed over the years and still currently developing. This house has three bedrooms. Diya and her brothers were finally able to have bedrooms of their own, however one of her brothers uses their basement as a bedroom. Her current neighbourhood consists of mainly Black people, and some Brown people. Again, when asked to identify what ethnicities were associated with the Brown people, she stated that she could not distinguish.
As we can see, the end goal of the multiple moves was to obtain ownership of a house. Renting was seen as a means of saving money with the hopes of being able to purchase their own house. It took Diya and her family approximately six years worth of saving money. This involved them familiarizing themselves with housing options to determine how to save money.
What is more important is the reason behind Diya and her family choosing to move to Canada, and also choosing to move to Brampton. Diya contends that their decision to move to Canada was based on fleeing the civil war that was occurring in Sri Lanka at the time. They perceived Canada as country where they would have freedom and place where they would have safety. They were told by their family-friends, who also live in Brampton, that Brampton was a safe city. Diya mentions that the main deciding factor in moving to Brampton involved was the comfort of knowing that their family-friends were nearby and could also help them out. For this reason, Diya and her family remained in Brampton.
To summarize my conversation with Diya, there were three main factors involving Diya and her family’s move to Brampton. First off, her family-friends strongly influenced them to move to Brampton because they said it was safe. Secondly, Diya and her family felt a sense of comfort knowing that they knew people within the city if any assistance or support was required. Lastly, although Diya did not mention this, the house market seemed to play a role in the family deciding to remain in Brampton. They spent six years trying to save for house, and they ended up purchasing a house within Brampton. This could mean that Brampton houses were viewed as affordable at the time of purchase.
The next person that was informally interviewed was Amaya. Amaya is a twenty-two-year-old female who is also shortly graduating from the University of Toronto- Mississauga. She identifies as South Asian, being born in India, Gujarat. Her religion is Hindu and she speaks Gujarati. Amaya moved to Canada when she was ten-years-old, in 2005. Currently, Amaya and her family live in Brampton.
Amaya and her family have lived in two cities since moving to Canada. These cities include both Scarborough and Brampton. Their move to Scarborough included Amaya and her family renting from an apartment building. They lived in this building for about five years. The apartment contained one bedroom. This means that Amaya and her parents were required to share a bedroom. Her neighbourhood in Scarborough consisted of primarily White people.
Amaya and her family’s second move was required after her father got a job in Mississauga. The commute was too overwhelming from Scarborough to Mississauga, which encouraged the family to move. They were planning on moving to Mississauga, however they could not find a house within their price range. The decision was then to move to Brampton.
The location of their current house is Bovaird Drive and Chinguacousy Road. This house is owned by the family and they have been living there for seven years. The house contains four bedrooms. Amaya describes the neighbourhood as one that is multicultural. One of her neighbours is a Chinese family, and the other is a Black family. She states that there is a mix of Blacks, Whites, and Browns, but mainly Browns within her neighbourhood. Similar to Diya, Amaya could not distinguish the ethnicities associated with the Brown people in her neighbourhood. She reveals that there are far more Brown people in her neighbourhood currently, as compared to her neighbourhood in Scarborough.
The last person I interviewed was Kavita. Kavita is a twenty-one-year old female who will be graduating from the University of Toronto- Mississauga in a few months. She identifies as being South Asian, from India. Her religion is Sikh and she speaks Punjabi. Kavita and her family moved to Canada in 2000 and has lived in Brampton since.
Unlike the other two females who were mentioned above, Kavita and her family have only lived in one house since moving to Canada. They did not need to rent apartments or houses with the intentions of saving up for house. Instead, Kavita and her family were able to own a house shortly after coming to Canada. They had to stay with a family-friend, in Brampton, for a few weeks after coming to Canada just to get settled in.
Currently, Kavita and her family live in an area that she describes as the rich area of Brampton. Her house is located in Castlemore. She lives with her parents and her older brother. Kavita’s house contains four bedrooms. Kavita describes her area consisting of mainly South Asians who also speak Punjabi. She also states that her neighbourhood has a few Gurdwaras, which are temples for Sikhs.
When asked why Kavita and her family decided to move to Canada, she stated that all her family and family-friends were here. They were the ones who influenced Kavita’s family to move there. What particularly caught my interest was Kavita’s response to why her family chose to move to Brampton, as opposed to other cities. She stated that her family and family-friends live in her current neighbourhood and for them, having a large house is viewed as being well-off. For Kavita and her extended family, it is all about competition. Whoever has a larger house is viewed as better. She revealed that Castlemore is an area perceived as upper-class where those who are well-off live in the neighbourhood.
All three conversations can be related as they involve similar themes. First, all three women are immigrants who were born in South Asia. What is interesting and that they all ended up residing in Brampton. Another emerging theme was the fact the both Diya and Amaya’s family were involved in renting before being able to own a house. Both Diya and Amaya did not have their own bedrooms until their families were able to own a house. For both of the families, house ownership was intended to be the end goal. Interestingly, Kavita’s family was wealthy and did not require saving money to own a house. For Diya and Amaya’s family the house prices in Brampton were viewed as affordable, which was a significant factor in the decision to own a house in Brampton. Next, the influence of other family members and family-friends was another major factor in the decision to move to Brampton. Both Diya and Kavita’s family and family-friends influenced them to move to Brampton. However, for Diya it was for the purpose of being safe, and for Kavita it was for the sake of competition.
On the topic of neighbourhoods, all the women’s current Brampton neighbourhood contain mainly visible minorities. To reiterate, Diya’s neighbourhood consists of mainly families who Black with some Brown families, Amaya’s neighbourhood consists of a mix of Blacks, Whites and Browns but mostly Browns, and Kavita’s neighbourhood consists of mainly South Asians. Since Kavita is from Castlemore, this may mean that the Castlemore area is more heavily concentrated by South Asians. However, comparing the all three neighbourhoods, mainly visible minorities reside in the neighbourhoods of all three women. It is unclear whether these visible minorities are also immigrants, or born in Canada. More in-depth research would be required to determine this.
Now we are going to draw back to the original question posed in the beginning of the paper: Why are South Asian highly concentrated within the city of Brampton? We have obtained a few insightful answers from the informal interviews conducted with all three South Asian women. Summing up the emerging themes, we discovered possible answers to this question. Affordable house prices is a possible answer. However, this sparks that question of whether this is still a deciding factor to move to Brampton due to the recent increase in house prices. Brampton is becoming developed with more businesses and housing being built, which may have currently increased the house prices as well.
Another potential answer to the question that can be obtained by the interviews is the fact that other family members and family-friends are significantly influential. Having family or friends that are nearby in city may bring a sense of comfort to a newly immigrated family. If any support or assistance is needed, they are close-by and could be there in a matter of minutes. It seems that immigrated families tend to go where ever other family members or friends live. They tend to stick together. On the other hand, living within the same neighbour (like Castlemore) as family members and friends could be a matter of competition. They could bribe an immigrant family to move into their neighbourhood to show-off their big houses, or to show they are better and better-off than they are. Then the question must be asked, why are they so anxious to display that they are well-off?
The results discovered from these informal interviews have proven to be consistent with the news articles mentioned at the beginning of this paper. The article from both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star mentioned that the price of housing is deemed attractive by newcomers, as the prices tend to be less expensive as compared to other cities. This was the case for two of the women interviewed. The article from the Globe and Mail revealed that newcomers tend to tell their relatives and friend to move into their community, and this was the case for two of the women interviewed. The article from the Toronto Star stated that those who are new to Canada want to feel comfortable and this was the case for one woman interviewed.
In addition, there are other factors that should be considered when thinking about the reasoning behind the high concentration of South Asians within Brampton. For example, I believe that community resources must be considered. Is there a large number programs or services that are offered to immigrants to assist them integrate into Canadian lifestyle? The resources provided to newcomers in other cities must be compared to the ones in Brampton to obtain an accurate account. I have also noticed that there a lot of businesses that are targeted towards South Asians in Brampton, such as grocery stores and clothing shops. Have these businesses been deemed as attractive and/or convenient for the South Asians who live in Brampton? Also, it may be the case that these South Asian businesses make recent immigrants from South Asia feel more at home. Another factor that should be considered is the job market. Perhaps South Asians are more highly concentrated in a particular employment field. If this is true, then a study must be conducted in order to determine whether there are many job opportunities within this field in Brampton. Many people move to a certain city to be closer to their jobs for an easier commute and to save on gas money. I am sure there are many other factors that can be considered, however these are just possible factors at the top of my head.
Reflecting on this project, I realize that I have considered Brampton as a potential city that I would like to reside in the future. My reasoning is consistent with the discoveries of this project. My sister currently lives in Brampton and she always tries to persuade me to move near her. She is a major influence on me and I would love to live close in proximity to her. Also, the housing market is currently booming, and I have always heard that Brampton is more affordable that other cities. If I ever decide to own a house, affordability would be a major factor. However, I do not identify as South Asian, meaning other these explanations do not only apply to the South Asian community in Brampton. House prices and being close to family members or friends can apply to anyone as attractive factors to moving to a city. This means that South Asians and their decision to live in Brampton needs to be studied more in-depth.
Nerissa Harrypersad is currently a senior student at the University of Toronto- Mississauga, completing a Specialist in Sociology and a Major in Criminology. Raised by Trinidadian parents and coming from a rich Trinidadian culture, she is particularly intrigued by other cultures, while consistently learning something new about her own culture every day. She loves the study of culture and what it means to come from a particular ethnic background.