The Discussion, Part
The Gazette addressed the issue of “What is Canadian culture?”
While we discussed cultural icons, such as tuques, Tim Hortons coffee
and the great B.C. Gold, we avoided the topic that Sheila Copps, our Heritage
Minister, would love for us to boast about: Canadian multiculturalism.
There is no denying that our country has a wide variety of culture, but
the diversity Canadians are often proud of was not something we felt we
could address in short pieces. The issue of multiculturalism simply can
not be summed up in 250 words or less.
We sat down seven Western students from diverse backgrounds and cultures
to discuss what multiculturalism and living as a young Canadian means
Throughout grade school, and now as university students, we have been
taught to believe that our nation is a wonderful “mosaic”
of happy, diverse cultures. Individual impressions of this “mosaic”
are mixed, as our student roundtable discusses the issues of identity,
discrimination, stereotypes and the media.
The following is the first of this two part discussion.
here for Part II of the discussion.
Andrea Chiu and Kasia Iglinski
We often throw around these terms "nationality"
"ethnicity" and "culture," but what do you think they
Spencer: I think it's human nature to categorize and
subcategorize in this ongoing complexity. It's human nature to kind of
use the process of taxonomy to sort of better understand the complex world
around us. Be that a racial thing or scientific, it's present everywhere.
Rob: Even though something like skin colour is really
like a spectrum, it's tough to categorize it a lot of the time. As you
said, they are human constructs. I suppose it's just a simplistic way
of looking at things, although there is often some cultural meaning attached
Ash: It really comes down to the point of identity. We,
as Canadians, tend to identify as what we are not, to define ourselves
as not American. The more cultures you come across, the more you begin
to understand yourself, and the more you can put forth the idea of your
Catherine: For me to define myself by way of [my parents'
nationality] never really made much sense to me. So, I would consider
myself to be Canadian because it is part of the culture that I grew up
in and identify with the most.
Kamilla: I consider myself more Polish. I got my citizenship
only in August. While I'm technically a Canadian citizen, I did come here
when I was 14, and the certain formation period had already passed. They
say that the five first years of life are the most crucial ones, so I
would say that I am Polish.
Ash: I think there are sort of two definitions of nationality
one that applied a couple hundred years ago, and one that applies
today. The one that applies today is a social construct. I don't think
who you are is tied into the nation state, whereas 200 years ago, if you
were to say you were from Poland, you could probably bet that there was
a long line of family that had lived in Poland and has always been from
Poland. Now, with people freely immigrating much more than they used to,
the issue of nationality is sort of lukewarm. I could be Canadian, I could
also be Egyptian, but what I consider myself ties into my identity. The
word nationality just ties into what passport you are carrying these days.
Rob: I think I would distinguish between the two terms
nationality and ethnicity as well. Ethnicity being, I suppose, your descent.
If someone were to ask me, I would say British and Irish, but I have no
attachment to those cultures at all. It has been several generations,
so I don't feel any sense of affinity to British or Irish people. I would
definitely consider my nationality Canadian.
Spencer: I'm British four or five generations back, but
I don't really identify with that. I mean, I don't go home and whip up
a meal of bangers and mash. In some ways I want to say I am thoroughly
100 per cent Canadian, but that's hard to define. I think it's hard to
define to what degree one is Canadian because we are a nation that really
defines itself as being this multicultural ideal.
Amrita: I think it was a lot different when I was younger.
It wasn't that my parents tried to exercise Indian culture upon me, but
there was more cultural influence from back home, and, as I grew, I think
that dissipated a little.
Catherine: I grew up in Toronto, which is very multicultural.
I found when I came [to Western] where there are very few minorities
and there is very little multiculturalism I became very aware that
I was very different from the majority of people. It has been a hard thing
for me to deal with because it's odd to be confronted with this situation
so far along in the game. I managed to grow up and go through my formative
years and never really took that into account before.
Rob: It's funny that you say that because I grew up in
a small rural community in Manitoba and they were all white people
no racial minorities at all, everyone was Christian. It was very mono-cultural.
When I came here it was more diverse.
Do any of you feel you lack a culture or
a cultural identity?
Spencer: Growing up in Pickering is not the most diverse
community, but in my public school and high school there was definitely
a plethora of ethnic groups. It was by no means a strictly white upbringing,
much like [Rob] described. But, coming here, I think I became acutely
aware of my "whiteness." I don't feel like I have a culture
per se, but in a post-secondary environment like this, at least the way
Western is oriented, it is still an old white boys club in many respects.
Amrita: I think there are a lot of minorities represented
on campus. We have a diverse student body, but they are more or less segregated
Spencer: Walk through the atrium during Clubs Week and
you can just see that a huge chunk of the booths are geared towards ethnic
clubs. If you want to see an example of the segregation, I think the [University
Community Centre] is a perfect case study. Throughout the whole building
it is just different pockets.
Catherine: I feel the same way. I didn't join the Caribbean
Students' Association or the Black Students' Association because groups
like that further segregation. It is not necessary for an ethnic group
to close themselves off like that. If a bunch of white kids did it, they
would be ostracized, but just because I'm a minority, I'm supposed to
be part of this group. I really feel you are just increasing the divide.
Amrita: But there is not exclusion to anybody joining
any of the groups. If anything, I think it's healthy to have that representation
on campus. You have the opportunity, if you so wish, to join. I think
it's a matter of being able to exercise your right as a certain culture
on campus, and I think that is really important.
Kamilla: I don't think we should focus too much on the
fact that it is exclusive; I think there are a lot of people who almost
need the existence of these clubs. I remember, when I first came here,
I didn't even know the language that well. But it was of great help that
there were a lot of Polish people in my high school so that I could have
friends, because I couldn't really talk to the English kids. I didn't
join the Polish Students' Union because, right now, I can make non-Polish
friends and I don't really feel the need to make Polish friends
to seek them out. [But] I think it's an important resource for people
who do need that support.
So where do you draw the line between these
clubs segregating us to those who use them as a jumping point?
Rob: I think that reality arises somewhat from the fact
that the Canadian identity is so ill defined. I think that ends up making
us more inclusive, because the criteria of being Canadian is so open-ended
and so open to revision, it is easier to join into. But maybe that's a
big lie, maybe we are just told that Canada is a mosaic and the United
States is a melting pot.
Spencer: It also has a lot to do with the fact that we
are such a young nation relatively, anyway. One hundred and 35
years really isn't that old. In recent years, national identity is sort
of crystallizing. It's unfortunate that we define ourselves as what we
are not, but this multicultural cornucopia of people is forming more of
a cohesive national identity that is so diverse.
Ash: I think what we have is and I'm sorry to
have to drop this word globalization. This is a process in which
you have exclusion and inclusion happening all at the same time. So, you
have people who are put together because they are the same culture and
you also have people who get away from that. It comes down to being very
subjective, and when you are talking about such subjective issues, you
can't draw lines.
How different are your values from your
Kamilla: My parents, they don't really like the Canadian
lifestyle. They don't like the emphasis on work, and I think they miss
being more in touch with a community as a whole. I can remember that there
is that sense of community [in Poland] and there is a great emphasis on
family, and my parents talk about it a lot.
Rob: Culture is like air; it's everywhere. For me to
say that I've come from an Anglo community, to say that I have no culture,
is false. My parents grew up in the '40s and '50s, in a Canada that was
still very British, and I've grown up in a different generation, so I
think I've been influenced by different things. My grandparents didn't
know people of different races, they didn't associate with them. They
lived in a very closed society in many ways.
Amrita: As a first generation Canadian, I kind of feel
that when my parents came to the country has a lot to do with it too
my parents came during the Trudeau years [former prime minister Pierre
Trudeau] in the early '70s. I think immigrants didn't have the same support
system that immigrants have now, from whatever culture that you come from.
I think that my parents were forced to assimilate more than immigrants
would now, so cultural values would be based on that as well.
Joyce: I agree. My parents have been here for 30 years,
and, although our views are very different in terms of values, they still
recognize that I'm going to adopt more of a Canadian lifestyle
that is sort of how they raised me. If they wanted me to stay true Chinese,
they would have stayed in Hong Kong where I would have gotten the full
How does culture play a role in dating?
What are your parents' views on it?
Ash: My parents are always in favour of me exploring
and defining myself by meeting other people. But, what I did find was
that, when I dated someone of a different culture, the fact that my background
is Middle Eastern would be a concern in my partner's mother's eyes when
I walked into the room.
Amrita: My mother has expressed sentiments that [dating
is] fun and games now, but there's that underlying tone of seriousness.
Rob: Well, I think when the person you bring home is a boy, the
issue of race is far out of the spectrum. No, my parents don't care about
race or sexuality or anything.
Joyce: I know for my parents, they definitely want someone
Asian or Chinese, but I think that it's clear that's not going to happen.
I think it's just because that's what their friends' kids are doing
With regards to friends, do you hang out
with birds of the same feather?
Spencer: I would look at my friends and, even though
they're of varying skin colour and sexual orientation, they're all still
very "white" in a lot of ways. They're very accustomed to Canada
and, I think that, in many ways, that's a reflection of how people group
Ash: That could also be because I have no club representation;
I can fit into so many groups. I actually value that my lifestyle involves
that I live with people who are different from me. Let's use an analogy
it's like you get a different mix of nuts in one place. It makes
for a good time.
Catherine: I have friends from a lot of different backgrounds
and I'm happy that I get to be exposed through them to their different
cultures. I have a friend whose parents are very traditional and British,
and, as a result of spending time with him, going to his house, I can
be personally in touch with that kind of culture, whereas otherwise, I'd
be getting my dose of it from TV or something.
Ash: That's true. Had my family and I not come to Canada,
I can safely say I would not have never met a Sikh individual, for example,
or my only exposure to Asian culture was a Japanese friend of mine that
I met at school. Because I came to Canada, I got to be friends with a
lot of people with different backgrounds; I got to learn about their culture
without having to travel to where they came from to understand their point
Kamilla: My best friend is actually Polish, and I think
it's pretty coincidental, because it's not her Polishness that I treasure
about her. But we actually began our friendship by comparing how Polish
our fathers were. It's just like, "Oh your father does this? Mine
too!" and that kind of got us going on a connection.
Catherine: I met a girl who came here on exchange from
the Bahamas and we had the most hilarious time just talking about silly
things that our parents do just like really Bahamian things to
do, like strange foods that we eat, like talking about how it makes my
mother crazy 'cause my dad will come home and decide to make this huge
goat and my mother will be like, "Please no more goat, I don't like
goat." It was nice to have someone else who could get the cultural
jokes and references. There's a kind of comfort level that you can have
with other people because they share your culture. But, at the same time,
I don't think I could actually actively pursue meeting people just because
they share my culture. I think it comes back to that question of the divide
between support and comfort, becoming self-segregated.
Rob: In my experience, there's often an affinity when
two gay people meet each other because there's a lot of commonalties right
away in terms of the experiences that we've had. But the sense that you
didn't fit in or that you are somehow rejected by mainstream culture,
that's lessening a lot.
Please read tomorrow's special Campus and Culture for more.