9 October 2011

Happy Birthday, Multiculturalism!

As columnist Haroon Siddiqui points out in today's Toronto Star, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's announcement of the policy of multiculturalism.

Siddiqui notes that the "failures" of multiculturalism in Europe stem from the European policies being dependent on political whim.  Here, multiculturalism is firmly ingrained into Canada's constitution, both in the 1982 Charter of Rights and the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, which reads that "multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future." 

Canada's legislative commitment to encouraging a place for a multiplicity of cultures to live together is profound in a world where people's commitment to the proliferation and security of "their own kind" resonates strongly.*  Siddiqui traces this multicultural bent to the 1867 British North America Act which recognized the rights of "aboriginal peoples, English-speaking Protestants and French-speaking Catholics on the basis of race, language and religion."  These historically protected rights of minorities** have made Canada one of the most culturally rich places to live.***

As someone who is moving to Germany (one of the countries whose leader pronounced multiculturalism "dead"), I feel that the multicultural nature of Canada, and particularly, Toronto is something that I'm going to miss.  Even now, sitting in a Starbucks in a strongly Jewish neighbourhood in the northern suburbs of Toronto, I have seen and sat amongst Jewish people, black people, brown (south Asian) people, East Asian people (the neighbourhood also has a large Filipino population), and non-Jewish white people.  Riding the subway is another experience altogether, where one can hear upwards of 5 languages in a single subway car. 

Last summer, travelling through Europe, I felt uncomfortable in many of the homogenous European countries, particularly in Poland, Slovenia, and Croatia.  In Slovenia, I actually witnessed people giving a couple of African men dirty looks just for walking down the street.  In parts of Italy, the only black people you would see were Africans selling knock-off handbags on street corners.  It was only when I was in London that I felt more at home and comfortable with the vast array of humanity present. 

So what does all of this mean?  Genetically, the concept of ethnicity has already been disproven.  There is no such thing as "race," as all physical differences between people are merely adaptations to various living conditions around the world.  Therefore, since there is no such thing as race, one should feel just as at home in an ethnically diverse city like Toronto, or New York, or London, as in a much more homogenous one like Cracow, or Ljubljana. 

However similar our DNA is, sociologically, there are differences, with like gravitating to like.  As I've told young umpires as an instructor and evaluator, "Perception is Reality."  If we perceive differences between ethnicities, and thus act upon them, the reality is that there are differences.

That said, one of the things in moving to a new place is to experience a different culture.  Having lived in the United States for a couple of years (at a particularly volatile point in recent history, right around 9/11), I've experienced how two cultures (even as similar as Canada's and the US's) can be subtly different.^ Thus, I'm looking forward to experiencing the differences in German approaches to multiculturalism.

Anyways, to sum up this somewhat rambling blog, I'll just say, Happy Birthday, Canadian Multiculturalism!  Makes me proud to call Canada home.


* I just finished reading Niall Ferguson's compelling The War of the World, which is a fascinating look at the factors leading to World War II, and the decline of the world empires active at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Ferguson cites ethnic nationalism, specifically the desire to "liberate" a country's ethnic peoples living as minorities in neighbouring nation-states, and to homogenize the country's population, as one of the leading causes to much of the armed conflict around the world since the end of WWI.

** I won't get into the opression and indignities that Canadian governments have inflicted on Canada's First Nations peoples ("native americans").

*** Although this is more true for the big cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver than rural Canada.

^ Even Americans are surprised that things are subtly, yet significantly different in Canada.... as Homer Simpson once called Canada "America Junior."

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