Sunday, May 24, 2009

Further Musings on Multiculturalism

I love all the responses I've had to my last post! I was going to reply one by one, but I realized that there were still a few more general things I wanted to say.

One is that part of my aggravation with my Mississauga customer and others like him (and yes, I'm thinking of you, Raph) is that I truly, honestly DO NOT understand what the problem is. Maybe it's that I always considered my exceedingly white, WASP family to be profoundly boring. In fact, when I heard an old family rumour from an uncle that one of our ancestors might have been Jewish, I was thrilled and determined to prove it was true. Otherwise, we're just straight western European Protestants all the way down the line. Yech!

Part of it may be that I've always been the sort of person who wants to be part of the minority. I've always figured if I look or dress or act like most other people, I must be doing something wrong. But I suppose there are other people who like being in the majority. They prefer to be around people who look and dress and act just like them, and anything else makes them uncomfortable. Ok. I guess.

Me, I'm happy to see the hijabs and the turbans and the tunics at my son's school - and I'm even happier to see those kids walking down the street in groups and cliques together with plain old white bread 'Old Milton' kids. Some of their parents may prefer to live in little segregated enclaves within our sprawling new developments, but from what I've seen that attitude is not being transfered to the next generation.

Another thought: A video store is perhaps the perfect place from which to observe a community. I suspect that if I were to keep statistics on the customers who walk through our doors on a given night, I would have a perfect demographic profile of the town of Milton. So I can tell you that most of our new arrivals are South Asian in origin, but almost as many are Latino. And many of the construction workers in the new developments have come from Northern Ontario, often leaving their families behind to find work.

I can also tell you that a very high percentage - I would guess about a third - of non-white individuals who come through our doors are married or otherwise attached to someone of a different race. In fact, just on my own block I have a black man married to a white woman next door, and a French-Canadian fellow married to a Chinese woman from Sudbury a few doors down. In my own very WASP family I have one cousin who married a Filipino woman and anther who married a man of Pakistani descent. They've all got kids.

All of which makes me think of something John Ralston Saul said: We are a M├ętis Nation.

This is not 'mongrelization' or 'assimilation' or any other vulgar characterization. This is the natural tendency of a nation where, unique in all the world, French and English have co-existed for centuries without ever having truly succeeded in killing each other off. Where we originally respected and worked with and intermarried with the indigenous peoples of this land, before we got around to trying to assimilate and marginalize them. Where people still speak Gaelic on the east coast and Salish on the west coast, and that's all something to be celebrated.

Are the people of Newfoundland or Cape Breton hampered by clinging to their Gaelic heritage? Are the people of Manitoba less 'Canadian' because so many are blonde and make the best Pirogi in the country? Are the British-descended people of British Columbia being subsumed because some street signs are in Chinese, and the physical and cultural presence of the Haida and Salish and Nisga'a are all-pervasive?

What indeed is the difference between the current wave of black and brown immigrants from all the many tides that have swept across this nation for the past four centuries?

To those who feel uncomfortable with the number of non-WASP people who may be slowly filling their neighbourhoods - I'm sorry. I really am. But you have to understand, this is the way a lot of us like it. So maybe what you should be asking yourself is this: am I really experiencing a cultural discomfit or disconnect, or am I just going to have to admit at some point that it's simply a matter of race?


  1. When I teach junior and intermediate grade students in the Toronto area, I notice that those students whose families have recently come from other countries do integrate fairly quickly into Canadian society. Sometimes when a few of them travel to their families' former countries, they say that they are visiting an unfamiliar or strange country. Even thought the people overseas may share the same skin colour and religion, the daily way of life is very different. The students are happy to come back to Canada. I can understand what the students mean. Two years ago, I took a day trip to my grandfather's original homeland. While the people were very nice, they were "foreign" in my opinion. They lived a different way than many of us do in Toronto and Canada--not better or worse, just different.

  2. "Me, I'm happy to see the hijabs and the turbans and the tunics at my son's school - and I'm even happier to see those kids walking down the street in groups and cliques together with plain old white bread 'Old Milton' kids"

    What I find interesting is that you will see groups of teenage Somali girls or even families where some are wearing the hijab and some are not, a clear indication that it is their choice, unlike some countries where they are forced to wear it, and others where they are not allowed to.

  3. This division between people based on colour and creed is plain crazy. We all are humans first and foremost. Look at Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They all share religious values as all believe in Abraham, Moses, Christ and Muslims also believe in the teachings of Mohammed but with the same religious roots. They share one of the most sacred places on earth called Jerusalem yet they cannot wait to kill each other. This is a reflection of the beastly side of humans and sooner we tame it better for humanity and ourselves.

    rww, if you think we are a superior society the we give that choice then think again. Many societies have similar values such as Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon to name a few.

  4. "rww, if you think we are a superior society the we give that choice then think again. Many societies have similar values such as Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon to name a few."

    and some do not, such as France.

  5. rww, if you're talking about the tolerance of each other’s beliefs then I am with you.

    However, we should not forget resentment about hijab especially in Quebec and then Harper's insistence that women in hijab must show their faces before they can vote although they have valid identity. Or cutting a native boy's hair.

  6. I'll be the last one to say we don't have our own problems but I still believe overall that multiculturalism works.

  7. Great post, Jen!
    It's so true that of all the places to come-up with a pretty spot-on demographic of Milton, the local movie store is one of the best. You reminded me of the MANY mixed race couples that we see in there each day and I think that's great, as is the 'white bread' kids walking out to lunch with the girls in hijabs - i am one of them! Yippee for diversity (rhymes too, fancy that!)