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PRAJWALA DIXIT: Is multiculturalism as wonderful as we think?

The Monument to Multiculturalism in Toronto, Ontario. - 123RF Stock Photo
The Monument to Multiculturalism in Toronto, Ontario. - 123RF Stock Photo

There are two sides to every coin and multiculturalism is no exception

Multiculturalism is a Canadian hallmark.

Firmly imprinted in the Canadian DNA, the word tends to evoke strong feelings of pride. Its popularity soared when then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau introduced the merit-based point system of immigration which saw a wave of non-European immigrants arrive in Canada. Prior to this, for the longest time, Canada chose its immigrants based on racial categorization.

Touted in the 1970s and assumed to be only a few decades old, multiculturalism is often thought to be a novel concept.

But is this fact or fiction?

A closer look at recent history reveals Atlantic Canada is no stranger to multiculturalism. In addition to the settler populations, visibly different immigrants, such as Chinese, Lebanese, Black, Sikhs and Jewish, have been part of the social, cultural and economic footprint of Atlantic Canada. Turning back time even further, the plethora of Indigenous cultures that continue to enrich Canada today prove the existence of multiculturalism prior to colonization. Add to this mix the Francophone cultures and it soon becomes apparent that multiculturalism has been the norm and not the exception perceived today.

Despite this, the current socio-cultural environment isn’t yet reflective of the generations worth of multiculturalism present in the region. Yes, there is a wave of change emerging in this region but considering it is 2019, why hasn’t this arrived sooner?

Is this perhaps due to multiculturalism?

Since the 1970s, with a shift from race-based to merit-based immigration, the word has been used to promote belonging for immigrants coming from all parts of the world. The positive effect of this tag has made room for many cultures to grow and thrive within the region. Hindu temples, synagogues, Sikh temples, Masjids and ethnic community centres have successfully been established providing a space for several cultures to co-exist harmoniously.

Yes, thanks to multiculturalism, there are days and weeks designated to celebrate the many religions and cultures that are vibrantly colouring the fabric of Canada. It is glorious to see all the diversity that shines through on these occasions.

However, sadly, none of these individual cultures, many of which have played an essential role in the formation of today’s Canada, currently enjoys the luxury of being designated a statutory holiday (but I’m still hopeful!). The designated weeks and days provide spaces to celebrate and showcase various cultures turning “multiculturalism” into a mere tag laid on anything that doesn’t “fit” the dominant demographic norms.

An undesirable consequence of this occurrence, that may leave a bitter taste in the mouth, is a sense of othering. Yes, there is space provided to practise individual cultures and religions, but they can all be found huddled under the umbrella of “multiculturalism” as they aren’t considered mainstream or perhaps even Canadian, despite having existed here for centuries. Resulting in the heightening differences, cultures that have been a part of this region for millennia are either exoticized or feared.

So, what could be a potential solution?

It starts with recognizing and acknowledging the power of words and everyday language. Understanding that this label has two sides is another great step. Finally, accept that much like us, Canada is evolving too, and part of this process is to shift how multiculturalism is perceived.

There is no denying the word conjures ample positivity. The intentions behind this label might be pure. But it is important to pay heed to the uninvited side effects of such a marker.

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist in St. John’s who writes a biweekly regional column for SaltWire Network. When she isn’t engineering ways to save the world, she can be found running behind her toddler and volunteering. Follow her and reach her at @DixitPrajwala  


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