John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
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This paper examines Punjabi-Sikhs, a diaspora community with over one century of migration history in Canada, and their experiences of marriage breakdown in order to explore how “new” and “old” migrants create new dynamics of multicultural citizenship and belonging. This legal ethnography of the forums and actors that are employed by Punjabi-Sikhs when facing marital trouble utilizes legal pluralism (Chiba 1986, 1989; Merry 1988; Menski 2006) in order to map this uneven terrain. Interviews (n=27) with old migrants are contrasted with the legal case files (n=14) for new migrants, revealing that both groups utilize forums and actors in the official sphere of civil society as well as the unofficial sphere of the diaspora community. Reconciliation is emphasized since marriage is the cornerstone of the community. Stark differences appear when examining the role of family law actors. Old migrants approach the law to dissolve their marriages and divide assets, whereas new migrants’ claims are entwined with legitimate and/or suspected immigration fraud. New migrants’ experiences signal an evolving relationship family law courts play in the regulation of marriage and its dissolution on the one hand, and the evolving dynamics within the diaspora community on the other hand. These intertwined phenomena have implications for discourses of Canadian citizenship for the diaspora community, since old migrants may inadvertently reinforce troublesome tropes about new migrants, who are primarily female and arrive in Canada as marriage migrants, creating a chasm within the community that is distinctly classed and gendered.