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.