Sunday, February 13, 2011

Multi-culturalism in Canada

David Cameron's recent comments about the failure of multi-culturalism in the UK coupled with Angela Merkel's similar assertions about Germany a year earlier had me thinking about the fate of multi-culturalism here. Is it really a masterpiece or merely one of those art modern pieces that our tax dollars overpaid for? Has it failed us too?

In order to analyze the situation in my own backyard, I first had to ask myself, what is multi-culturalism?

My thoughts are that in its original sense, it was meant as a welcoming mat for immigrants who were looking to flee economic or political hardships in their mother countries. In the '70's, my parents came here with a few hundred dollars in hand. While their numbers were low, the Chinese community was welcomed here to do what they had to do to earn a living. To my parents, multi-culturalism meant that their presence would be tolerated while they did their best to build a life. It meant being able to live their lives while learning the customs and culture of their new adopted homeland. It meant serving up chicken balls to earn a living when they had never heard of such a dish until they set foot in this country. Fitting in was the name of the game. When I was little, my father said to me "you can do anything you want, but you better do it twice as well as everybody else if you want to stay at the same level". It was a recognition that prejudice wasn't expected to go away just because our presence was tolerated. In school, it meant that we learnt to speak English, we dressed like kids here, we did what kids here did, and in a quest to integrate their children, my parents learnt about strange customs like hiding eggs supposedly produced by a mammal for us to find over this strange holiday called Easter.

I'm now an adult, and living in Toronto. I look around and see how much 'multi-cultalism' has changed. Its not merely about tolerating our presence, each culture seems to be in a fight for its life to preserve its identity. Cultures are now asking for more than tolerance, they are asking for rule changes to accommodate them. It isn't good enough that we can go to their schools, they have to let us carry our weapons, wear our headscarves, and even hire teachers that speak our language. We want special accommodation for our holidays and insist that white folks not wish us Merry Christmas for fear of offending our respective gods.

I look at our communities. We are so desperate to hang onto the traditions of the old world, we insist our children marry only within our cultures. Is that not the definition of intolerance? When we forbid our children to marry outside of the culture, is that not the ultimate act of racism?

When I look at the contemporary sense of multi-culturalism, I see legions of grandparents tutoring their children in the tongue of their homelands. I see cultural centres meant to educate young people about their own heritage extolling the superiority of their cultural practices. I see places of worship that do more to keep us apart than help us understand one another.

When we say "welcome to Canada, feel free to pursue your economic dreams while maintaining your motherland cultural identity", the response has been "thank you, and the only way to ensure the survival of my cultural identity is to teach my children to marry only within the race to keep our traditions alive". From personal experience, this path is paved by borderline xenophobic teachings about why our own races are superior (this isn't just my culture, but I'm told many other cultures follow this same philosophy as well).

When I think about it, multi-culturalism is doomed to failure. How can tolerance go hand in hand with a strong desire to maintain multiple generations of cultural continuity?

If inter-racial relationships aren't tolerated, what then, is the definition of tolerance?

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