I had no conscious definition for Multiculturalism prior to reading the Fleras chapter: 50 Years of Canadian Multiculturalism. I accepted a vague idea that Canada was a cultural mosaic without fully understanding what that meant. My formative experiences of living in the Greater Montreal Area had led me to accept ethnic neighbourhoods as places I could visit as a tourist and to look no further into the diversity of who really lived there. By 1988, when The Multiculturalism Act was established in Canada, I started taking public transit through the neighbourhoods I had been taught to believe were single ethnicity communities, but my fellow bus travellers showed me the contrary: Mixed race families getting on and off at each stop and/or diverse groups of school kids talking to each other in many languages, usually simultaneously. These beautiful people simply weren’t living in “hermetically sealed silos of mutual indifference” (Fleras, 2019, p.29). I was witnessing a “dialogue, exchange, and interaction… without a loss of particularity.” (p.20) This was the Montreal I loved to see; not a Mosaic of identities, but multiple complex and evolving interrelationships of them.
As Fleras continued to unpack the governance model of multiculturalism, it became clear that it didn’t address the “post-multicultural realities of transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, post-ethnicity and hyper-diversity” (p.24) I had witnessed in 1988 Montreal; Much less what I experience today with so many more layers of identity being part of the conversation, such as individuals with exceptionalities (ie. special needs), “multiracial, multiclass, multigendered, multisexual, multilingual, multireligious, multigenerational, multihistorical, multiscalar and multicitizenships (Glick Schiller and Caglar 2013; Latham 2008; 2009).” (p. 41) What was originally conceived to help immigrants integrate into Canadian society, needed to evolve by accepting these new post-multicultural realities and develop into laws that serve a truly inclusive society. We need to start governing people in terms of interculturalism, as I understood Fleras to illustrate it: “fluid, creative and changing, internally contested around competing interests, heterogeneous of multiple and intersecting identities, and inescapably hybridic and selectively permeable (Brubaker 2004; Kirova 2008; Werbner 2012). (p.29)
I see my home-life as an example of interculturalism: Catholicism (my upbringing), Judaism (my daughter from my first marriage), Islam (my wife from my second marriage), Zen Buddhism (my personal spiritual practice). Our closest friends are our extended family and exert a strong influence on who I am. They have home-lives made up of an equally diverse mix of cultural identities. We are all living with intersecting diversity well beyond what our parents experienced. To further demonstrate the idea that “personhood” (p.31) is a multilayered concept, I would add our vastly diverse range of education levels, professions, and hobbies that contribute to our identities: individually, as a group/community, and as a society. As argued by Fleras, today we are all living with ‘hyper-diverse identities” (p.23) that the multiculturalism model is too limited to address.
To effectively incorporate the intention of cultural inclusivity, which appears to be a motivating factors for The Multiculturalism Act (p.20), we can look at practical ways to teach cultural sensitivity. In our Zoom-class (July 3, 2020) we unpacked the downside of the tourist curriculum: “The 3d Approach… runs the risk of the trivialization or Disneyfication of cultural differences, ignoring the real challenges that differences in cultural and religious values can raise (Exp.: forced marriage, criminalization of apostasy, etc.). (Kymlicka, 2012, p. ?)” (From EDUC454 class slides July 3rd, 2020, p.6) Teaching from a socially responsive model of interculturalism should be the new practice. The prevailing thought in class was that culture and identity shouldn’t be taught through a tourist curriculum; It has to go deeper. The desire to learn more about someone’s identity or culture needs to be fostered. Ghada suggested focusing on themes instead of superficial cultural expressions and challenging students to reflect on how their culture traditionally handles the theme. Furthermore, focusing on the individual’s experience and/or the allowing for the possibility of hyper-diverse families; we ask students how certain things are done in their homes. eg. How does your family eat dinner? (Together, at a table, in front of the TV, who’s there when you eat, is(are) there a special meal(s), what do you eat most?); What music do you hear in your home? (What are the influences on that music?); etc… The goal is to build value in the individual’s experience and allow the students to make connections.
This chapter opened many more connections related to the personal experiences of my family life, and raised additional possibilities for my own teaching/learning goals. The interconnectedness of experience was vast and easily the greatest challenge for finding a single take-away and/or understanding from this reading. Or, as Fleras states: “A commitment to multiculturalism is about making Canada more inclusive rather than making it more multicultural. (p.27) At the end of the day, Canadian Multiculturalism, like my life-long-learning mindset must be an ever-adapting concept.
FLERAS, A. (2019). 50 Years Of Canadian Multiculturalism: Accounting for its Durability, Theorizing the Crisis, Anticipating the Future. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 51(2), 19–59. https://0-doi-org.mercury.concordia.ca/10.1353/ces.2019.0010