Multiculturalism is More than the Sum of its Parts

The whole household has been pretty sick this weekend, with some serious chest and nasal congestion. I collapsed into bed and slept for about six hours yesterday afternoon. Erin lost her voice and two days of work earlier this week. So far, the only person unaffected is Vivian, and that isn’t always a good thing. Though Erin was feeling slightly better on Saturday, she could not keep up with the firecracker, and we had to turn to my parents in order to take her out to dinner and keep her out of our hair for a couple of hours that evening. My parents’ task was much appreciated, let me tell you.

So I haven’t had much energy or inclination to write, and as a result my blog has suffered. But strangely enough, I did end up getting into a bit of an online contretemps over on Stageleft. That’s always the perils of the blogosphere; you can get dragged into things whether you want to be or not.

It started when Stageleft lampooned a post by a blogger complaining about the path immigration has taken the country. Fellow Non-Partisan (but also Blogging Tory) Raphael Alexander responded, saying:

Careful, you’re in dangerous Canadian Cynic territory for calling people stupid in every post.

I think that Left Nutter was a tad long-winded about things, but he genuinely strikes upon some important and true statements. Canadians do, in fact, fear losing their culture to the continued heavy influx of immigrants. I know I certainly don’t want to live in a foreign country. I want to live in Canada. And yet every day Canada looks less like it’s supposed to be.

Speak for yourself Raphael. You do not speak for me.

Now, usually I respect Raphael. He has some good centrist opinions on a number of issues, but on the value of immigration and multiculturalism, we do not see eye-to-eye. And I admit that I come at this from a pretty personal point of view. I am a third-generation Chinese Canadian, and my wife is an immigrant from the United States, and too often I’ve seen my wife, and other recent immigrants being derided as being less than Canadian, despite the Canadian citizenship card they have in their hand. One person even said to her, “You can’t be Canadian and American, Erin, they’re opposites.”

The history of Canada’s official policy of discrimination against Chinese Canadians is well known; Prime Minister Stephen Harper was kind enough to close the book on the story with a long overdue apology. So, yeah, I tend to bridle at any assumption that immigrants as a group are somehow less valuable as individuals than natural-born Canadians. As I said to Raphael, “You will always be wrong as long as you fail to see every individual as just that: an individual, whose contribution to this country should be valued on his or her work alone, and not on the country from which he came.”

Canada has always been a multicultural country, from the moment the nation was founded on three peoples. We have always been a country of immigrants; even the aboriginal peoples moved here across the Bering Strait. They just happened to arrive first. They suffered considerably when the first European settlers moved in and significantly altered the demographics of the land, and it is a little hypocritical of Raphael to worry about his own Scottish-Canadian culture being challenged by the changing demographics of today’s world.

Unfortunately, when I called Raphael on this (here and here), he trotted out what I can’t help but see as a considerable bit of paranoia and arrogance. In his words:

And finally, nobody cares about the Canadians losing their culture because people have been brainwashed into surrendering it by progressives like yourself. In the end it’s all about cultural dominance, and if we don’t act now, we’ll succumb to whichever cultural influence is strongest, whether it be Islamic, Chinese, or Indian. It’s always been that way.

Brainwashed, huh? The only brainwashing happening around here is the assumption that multiculturalism was imposed on this country by Trudeau, and that we as Canadians aren’t the better for it. Canada has always been a multicultural country, and by the 1970s it was long past due that the contributions of other groups, as well as the Scots, the Irish and the English, were recognized. What about the Chinese Canadians who helped build the railroad? Don’t they deserve a turn? What about the Ukrainian Canadians who helped open up the west? Don’t they deserve a turn?

In this day and age, immigrants from Middle Eastern countries are teaching and studying at universities like Waterloo. They are among Canadians from a diverse number of backgrounds are conducting groundbreaking research in computer science and nanotechnology and the other industries of the future. As our baby boomer generation approaches retirement and as our manufacturing sector ages and fades, we would be fools to forgo the skills these new immigrants have to offer.

And I bristle at the suggestion that I don’t value Canadian culture. I celebrate Canadian culture every day, from remembering my Chinese grandfather who paid the $500 head tax to enter this country. I remember the struggles Ukrainian Canadians faced in opening up the Last Best West. I remember the work the Scots, the English, the Irish and the French did in giving this country responsible government. I value and celebrate the work of Canadians throughout history; I just acknowledge, even if Raphael can’t, that not all of them were of strictly his Scottish-English descent. I acknowledge that more than one group had a hand in making this country great. We are better because of multiculturalism, and so is the world.

How? Well, I close with the work of Ukrainian-Canadian author Marsha Skrypuch, who recently put together an anthology entitled Kobzar’s Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories. This book contains many stories describing the Ukrainian as well as the Ukrainian-Canadian experience through the twentieth century and right up to the Orange revolution of 2004. Note the following excerpt from a review:

“As a child, [Marsha Skrypuch] could only find one Ukrainian book written in English, so she started to read Russian stories, Polish stories, and Jewish stories. The more she read, the more she noticed a disturbing trend: `Ukrainians were often portrayed with negative stereotypes’—they were portrayed as buffoons, bullies, drunks, and murderers.”

As an adult, she heard about the kobzars—blind, wandering minstrels of Ukraine who memorized long epic poems, which had been passed down generation to generation. “Those poems captured the rich history, the folk tales, and the cultural identity of Ukraine.”

During Stalin’s regime, kobzars intermingled the older tales with “contemporary stories of Soviet repression, famine, and terror. In the 1930s, Stalin called the first national conference of kobzars in Ukraine. Hundreds congregated. And then Stalin had them all shot. Stalin then rounded up Ukrainian journalists, artists, novelists, and playwrights, and murdered them, too.”

For the Ukrainian, the word kobzar has special meaning—Kobzar is the title of (Ukrainian bard) Taras Shevchenko’s first collection of poems, which was published in 1840. Shevchenko “is popularly known as The Kobzar. During Stalin’s time, Shevchenko’s writings were deliberately falsified.”

With the support of the Ukrainian government, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation, this book is being distributed throughout the Ukraine, helping the country reestablish its national identity, re-establishing stories that were deliberately stamped out by the Stalin regime and subsequent decades under Russian Communist rule.

That’s what Canadian multiculturalism offers the world. And yet people would have had the immigrants from the Ukraine forget their past, forget their language, forget their heritage. These assimilators would have walked in the footsteps of Stalin. For shame.

In Other News: Obama Wins One More

It pleases me to hear that, for the first time in the state’s history, Nebraska will be splitting its electoral college votes, as Barack Obama has carried the state’s second congressional district. I believe this is the first time a Democrat has taken any electoral college vote from Nebraska since 1964, and before that 1936.

I know friends and family in Omaha who must be feeling really good right now. Congratulations, guys, for adding your own unusual footnote to history.

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