Friday, December 09, 2005

IS CANADA A MULTICULTURAL NATION?


Being a foreigner in North America means more than just arriving at the airport and seeing another world. You have to learn and accept whatever traditions, cultures and ways of life that you find here. Above learning and accepting you are also expected to offer maximum tolerance towards any of them.

It’s a foreign land, lots of surprises . Sometimes are known as culture shocks. Some are admissible as defense tools in some court of laws. Don’t say you didn’t know this and that instead just stick to culture shock. You can win a legal battle this way. If you decide to live in the United States of America you should be prepared to live and accept American ways of life. What it simply means is that when you get in USA you should forget about whatever traditions and cultures that made who you are and learn the American lifestyles. You will be baptized in the name of American culture. In the old days of slave trade slaves were forced to change even their names. They had to get new names that sounded like American names. Americans are proud of their country, at least those who do not know much about their foreign policies and what the rest of the world offers. Whether you like it or not your culture matters not to Americans. Their culture stands.

Canada, instead, proudly claims being a multi-cultural nation. This federal policy was born thru the 1988 Bill C-93 to be known as Canadian Multicultural Act. This followed the first attempt starting in 1971 when the federal government had announced its multiculturalism policy. The demand for multiculturalism was mostly shaped by increasing and changing immigration issues that Canada faced and still faces today. There was a time when Canada needed no new immigrants. There also came a time, after great economic successes, Canada needed immigrants to help it push forward the economic success it had started to enjoy. Labor force became a national need as industries demanded more professionals.

Multi-culturalism technically means preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a society, state or nation. Preservation, simply means keeping alive or in existence; make lasting( from the dictionary) It claims to offer the freedom of continuing practicing whatever tradition and cultures that made you a man or a woman you are before even thinking about a place called Canada. This is what I want to discuss here. How much freedom and tolerance is extended to those who wishes to practically continue to practice their cultures in Canada? Is there something like multiculturalism or there is something behind this curtain that people just don’t want to have a glance at? What about Canadian Culture, is there such a thing?Toronto and Vancouver stands out as most culturally and diverse cities in Canada.

Walking in the streets of Toronto or Vancouver one can simply notice the diversity that this city holds. People from all walks of life and ethnicity exists here. I have met people from nations that I never thought I would ever meet in my life. Canada is one of few countries in the world that can claim to be indeed rich in diversity. I agree with this fact and I love it.Canada is a modern society and therefore it embraces its modernity mostly thru improvement of social justices. Issues like gender equality, war against racism and all types of discrimination, human rights, tolerance towards ethnic diversity etc are very common talks in city halls, parliament and the entire community.

The further this nation goes in its modernization campaigns it becomes a joke to continue claiming that multiculturalism exists. Canadians are such law abiding people hence their country as well. I am always confused from the legal terms that arises when, for example sex crimes are mentioned. Rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault, improper touching, etc etc. To correctly notice the differences between these crimes one needs laws PhDs to figure out.The contradiction that social, political and economical modernization brings against multiculturalism is the main challenge that Canadian multiculturalism faces. A friend of mine told me a fascinating story about two Kenyan immigrants that wanted to practice their culture in Canada. After all they have always been told that Canada is a multicultural society whereby people are free to give life to their cultural practices. These two gentlemen lived in the condominium. According to their culture Christmas was not Christmas without slaughtering a goat. So they went and bought a goat. One challenge that they faced was where do they slaughter the goat. After some negotiating they decided to “practice their culture” in their apartment, in the bath-tub. That was the only place they could think of given the tough laws on trespassing. Just as they started slaughtering the goat it made noises that forced neighbors to call 911 thinking that someone was being brutally murdered in that apartment. Cops arrived, broke into the apartment just to find these two gentlemen with their hands full of blood in the bath-tub. They were later on charged with quite many offences from distraction of peace to cruelty against animals. Practicing their culture costed them a big deal.

Examples of tough limitations in practicing foreign cultures in Canada can go on and on. How many kids have been taken away from their parents just because they yelled at them and got what is considered disciplining in Africa and child abuse in Canada?Sadly Canada makes it almost impossible to practice whatever one would call “my/ our culture” . Before going further and making sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned its important to remember the most popular definition of culture which proclaims Culture being the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. Basing on such popular definition which accounts higher authorities it means leaving behind one or two ways of life one pays no attention to culture as culture and instead embraces what I want to call “in between cultural values” or halfway culture which to me IT IS NOT CULTURE.

I am not against multi-cultural trials that are made in Canada. However, I am of an opinion that Canadian Culture born under multiculturalism would make more sense than what surrounds our communities today. Multiculturalism policies should also include “ with serious limitations” words because that is what it is, literally. The assimilation policy that Canada tried after the second world war was perhaps not a very good way but more realistic.I believe that traditions are progressive in nature. They keep growing and changing everytime and for better. Everyone has a cultural value of some sort and before trying to change him or her necessary efforts should be done in learning and understanding their those values first. How much efforts is Canadian government giving to that? So if I am yet to believe that in Canada men also are baby-sitters, that women are free not to wear the hijab, that circumcision is not only done in the forests when someone reaches 16 years old, that to be a real man I must not marry more than one wife, that no man is entitled to take care of his deceased brother’s family including re-marrying his widow, would you respect that or you will demand to see an immediately changes in the way I value those cultural values? How many can walk free by claiming that whatever they did (wrong) in Canadian definitions is practically okay in their cultures? I am not talking about beating or abusing wives (there is no such culture in the world). Isn’t it true that there are some ways of life that are considered better than others? How willing one person is in changing towards the so called “better” culture should not be by force through laws but rather be by choices. Then claiming being a multiculturalism society would make sense. Otherwise where is the respect of my culture? Unless we completely want to get rid of the theme culture then multiculturalism does not fit anywhere in today’s world.

Multiculturalism should mean practical multiculturalism .If culture exists only in books and people’s minds without possibility of being practiced what kind of culture is that?There is Canadian Culture; there is Canadian ways of life. Regardless of where this culture originated from. We must start advocating for that. Important is to remember that this culture is made up of a combination of different types of cultures from across the globe. This does not automatically give birth to multiculturalism but instead it bears a child called Modern Canadian Culture. One culture ,practically possible.

It is said that Canadian government views multiculturalism as just about festivals and cuisines like Caribana Festival (picture above from Caribana Parade,Toronto 2005). Many argue that such is a crude oversimplification that leads to easy stereotyping.

10 comments:

Nog said...

Speaking of American culture, some of us (Americans) tend to like to point and laugh at people of other cultures who paint their faces. Follow one of the laughers to a sporting event; there you'll see him adorned with a painted chest and face and a beer hat.

I think that we are the most crazy "face painting tribal people". Americans ought not be laughing at things that they do themselves.

Amelopsis said...

Very interesting post, Jeff.

You make so many observations that it's hard to know where to start the conversation - let me say it's a conversation that I think must be had in order for Canada to continue on it's self assigned road of relative harmony for all it's people.

The story of the Kenyans particularly interests me. I would submit that it's a very peculiar issue and while I'm conflicted, my personal beliefs of none violence lead me to conclude that this may be a custom that should not necessarily continue here. Having said that, I must add that my views come from a vegetarian, non-violent perspective. If I were in Kenya, I would have a hard time seeing all this at Christmas (I think this is custom in many African countries, isn't it?) but I would accept that it's the way things are there.

I didn't intend to focus my comment on any one instance though, so....
I propose that there should be Canadian funded information services available to anyone immigrating here that will provide cultural and legal information to help people acclimatise to our laws without doing it the hard way (finding out you've broken the law by doing something that would be perfectly 'normal' in your country of origin).

I also think that people should be given instruction on speaking english at little or no cost; this is crucial to being able to become a part of society here, and to enrich the lives of the community by sharing one's own culture.

I know that these small gestures can and would make a huge difference to the lives of immigrants as my own upbringing was multicultural and often involved community support for new immigrants in an entirely non-structured informal fashion. This is much more difficult to do in large cities, which is why I propose that it be given at the time of planning to emigrate to Canada, or in the case of refugees, at the time of claiming refugee status.

I still have much to consider ... Thanks for bringing up the topic

Jeff Msangi said...

I hear you,
But the laws and control that Canada can put down is what unqualifies Canada into being a multicultural nation.I agree with you about cruelty to animals and stuff but the point I am trying to make is of "culture and traditions" per se.I believe there should be a canadian culture,and thru that way then we shall be able to see the difference especially among youth!Thanks for your contribution

The Intolerant One said...

I would be interested in what you think of other cultures who would like to bring their own "Justice" forums into the country. I mean those who would like to deal with their own people according to their old country's traditional ways.

For example, I am aware that in the Northwest territories alot of the Aboriginal bands deal with criminal offenders thru what they refer to as the circle where the accused goes before the elders and memebers of the band. Although as I understand it, the process is still overseen by law enforcement.

Where my concern comes into play is how much of this do we allow before it becomes a muddled mess? Another example that, according to some of my African friends out here in Manitoba, is Ontairio has been considering allowing Sharia law for the Muslim community. I don't feel I know enough about this to comment on but my friends appeared fearful of this particular law coming to Canada. The only thing I gathered was that they expeirenced some terrible events while living in their respective countries.

I am not sure introducing all these different justice forums in order to accomodate other cultures is a very good idea. I would appreciate your thoughts on this one area.

Jeff Msangi said...

Thanks for the contribution.You just have to keep in mind one thing,there is a difference between law and culture.When something is projected as a law it looses every attachment of culture.

The Intolerant One said...

Thank you Jeff, that makes sense. Personally, I believe when you come to a new country you must respect and adhere to it's laws that are already in place.

mandora said...

One thing I would point out is that aboriginals did not COME to Canada - they were here first. So, technically speaking, following the logic of 'you come to Canada you assimilate' we should be observing THEIR laws, not them ours...

I'm not sure where I stand on the 'assimilation' issue mentioned above. Canada, as I see it, is not multi-cultural, at least not in the sense that all cultures are respected or encouraged. However, I'm not sure how to respect or encourage ALL cultures within one nation state. I'm not sure that it's possible. Laws create and maintain order, and if a cultural practise conflicts with the law, where do we draw the line? I suppose we can all just suggest anarchy and destruction of the state machinery.... I guess that's the obvious/simple solution. ;)

mandora said...

Also, for those who have argued the 'you come to a new country you abide by our rules' what would you do if you went to another country where the laws/customs didn't permit you to practise your religion/culture/customs? Especially if, for example, you had to emigrate there as a refuge or some such reason that didn't involve you just going for the hell of it?

Would you change your way of life if you were put in that situation? For example, if you are a woman and went to a muslim country would you wear a veil (if it was required of all women)?

I've had this discussion often, and a lot of people say 'not a chance'... I'm not sure where I stand on this issue, but I do know that whatever side you're on, it has to be consistent.

Jeff Msangi said...

Mandora,
You make very good points here.If we now know that practically multiculturalism does not why do we continoue(rather say the govt) promoting it?Modern Canadian Culture is what would be the best.I have a proposal,lets write a book about Mixed Culture.Lets study all cultures that are present in contemporary Canada,see which ones can work better and promote those ones.What do you think?

mandora said...

I think that's a great idea. Only the 'good' cultures get to be a part of Canada. ;)