Francois: One thing I don't understand, bien sur, is this idea that Canada is a multicultural country. Maybe there are two cultures, and I don't mean to sound separatist when I say this, but maybe there is really only one culture. C'est vrai. Canada is not really multicultural, we all assimilate.
Rob: I'm not convinced that's true, mon ami. Even if it is true, that we really all move to one or two cultures, can you say that this is forced?
Marie: I think it is. My people were forced to assimilate. The white man spent a lot of effort taking the Indian out of the Indian. You know about the residential schools. If this country is truly multicultural, why suppress my culture? Why is it that I do not speak my own language?
Desmond: I should probably interject here, because I live this every day. I would say that Canada is a multicultural society, most definitely. Where else could I be Bajan and Canadian, where else could I eat a roti while I watch the Windies play, and the guy next to me is eating a poutine and watching the Leafs?
Francois: Thank you for making my point, Des. Twenty years ago, who would have eaten poutine and watched that godforsaken team? They would have watch les Habitants. The Anglos adopted poutine as something of their own. It is not, of course, mais non, but we borrow from each other and forge a national identity out of it. To me, that is not multiculturalism at all.
Rob: Well maybe if we are going to have this discussion, we should actually understand what multiculturalism is. The government makes a point of promoting multiculturalism, but do we really know what it means?
Desmond: They tell you when you apply for citizenship. It's important. Here, take a look at the Citizenship and Immigration webpage: "The Government of Canada is committed to reaching out to Canadians and newcomers and is developing lasting relationships with ethnic and religious communities in Canada."
Francois: That doesn't tell you what multiculturalism is."
Rob: Of course it does, Francois. It says a lot, actually. It says that the official view of the government is that there a lot of different ethnic and religious communities within Canada, and if the government is willing to force a relationship with them, the government obvious expects that these communities will retain their identities over the long run. Why else would you forge a relationship with a community, if you just expected it to assimilate.
Marie: But this is for immigrants. What about the cultures that have been here all along? We were forced to assimilate. I think if you found a Chinese person who built the railroad they would say the same thing, non?
Desmond: Nobody told me to be any different. The only thing I changed is my wardrobe. Maybe in the past things were different but today you can be whoever you want to be. To me, that is multicultural. I think the government statement is important. I once read that Canada is one of the only countries that has built a state policy of multiculturalism (Moodley, 1995) We have education in many languages, we accommodate people, and we work to bring them into the community. I mean, there are always challenges, but that does not mean that multiculturalism is any less an integral part of Canadian society.
Francois: Des, I don't want to dismiss your experience here, but I see that over time the different cultures that comprise this country are moving towards a monoculture. Every Western nation faces multiethnic immigration and faces challenge integrating those groups into the culture. We have enough trouble integrating Haitians in Montreal without having to worry about allophones. But we are moving towards a middle culture. It might take bits of pieces of other cultures, but at the end of the day I am still speaking English, Marie is still speaking English, and Des is a hockey player who loves Tim Horton's. We all move towards the dominant culture, one trait at a time, one person at a time. Is that really multiculturalism, or is multiculturalism like Bissoondath (1994) says and just an illusion we are selling?
Rob: I would still say that multiculturalism is an essential component of the Canadian identity. We are not a 'melting pot'. We respect the rights of every body to be who they are. Maybe we did not do this in the past, Marie, but today things are different.
Marie: You wouldn't say that if you'd been to the Rez. Things are not the same for everybody. I am the first to admit that maybe we have lost our way, but part of that was by design, by being subject to systems that we could not understand. Everything here is of English or French design, not First Nations. You know I am actually quite proud of Canada, but it is more my land than it is my country. If people accept immigrants from the Caribbean, from China or from India, that is great, but they still do not accept the people to whom this land belonged. You cannot call yourself a multicultural society if you do not accept all cultures as having value. Who values us? You think because you saw the Fast Runner you are a friend of the Indians? So insulting.
Rob: Don't get me wrong, I think that we have a lot to learn. I am not going to sit here and tell you that Canadian multiculturalism is perfect. Whatever the definition of perfect multiculturalism is, we aren't it. But that does not mean that what we have is not multiculturalism. It is, and I think we have come farther than just about anybody else. We do not have the ethnic strife that they have in England -- look at those riots last year, that was totally race related. Here, we live intermingled in our great cities. We eat each other's food. And, if this table is any sort of example, we can all sit here and drink beer together, too. We've been doing this a long time. I was reading a book about Jane Jacobs and Toronto was an awesome multicultural stew even back in the sixties (Alexiou, 2006).
Francois: So as long as everybody is peaceful and can eat their own and worship their own god then everything is okay? That's multiculturalism enough for you?
Desmond: I love pho. I really could use a bowl right now.
Francois: But food is the easy thing, you call it 'low-hanging banana?' Everybody likes food. And everybody likes sex -- so we make love with each other. But is that what you mean by multiculturalism. Because I do not see this peace you see. I see the FLQ. I see Kanesatake. I see Japanese internment camps. I even saw a swastika spray-painted on the wall the other day.
Rob: But conflict is going to happen. Conflict does not undermine multiculturalism any more than an argument undermines the love between a husband and wife. It is what happens after the conflict -- does that conflict define our relationship or is it a bump on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Marie: Easy for you to say. I don't think the conflict ends and we go back to being happy. You are a white male, the world looks good from your position of privilege. Just look at the way you talk -- husband and wife. What about husband and husband, or wife and wife? You assume, in some way, that everybody else is just like you. If you feel like this little multicultural experiment is working then of course everybody else should feel the same way. But everybody has different world views. Things do not work as well for some of us as they do for you.
Desmond: But how much of this 'oppression' is in the eye of the beholder. I'm black, so they tell me I should be at a disadvantage. And three times in my life I have had epithets hurled my way. But I am getting my education and nobody ever once told me I can't get a job. There are stereotypes of island boys that are supposed to hold me back, but everybody loves me and I don't have problems. Sometimes if one wants to see trouble at every corner, then of course that is what they will see. I mean, I know that I don't oppress anybody. My ancestors came to Barbados on slave ships, why would I want to do that to anybody else?
Francois: I think perhaps, Des, you are being defensive too much. That is something that makes discussions like these a bit difficult (Meacham, 1995) and I want you guys to know that Marie and I are not trying to accuse anybody. In fact, if we did not share points of agreement she might have problems with me -- a minority within a minority feels oppression all the…