Newcomers have a unique opportunity to fuse the cultures of Canada and their homelands into something greater.
It’s a village spanning the northern half of the continent of North America: Canada (the name coming from the Saint Lawrence Iroquois word Kanata). This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation of Canada. On July 1, we came together to embrace the diversity of those former colonies that made this spectacular union, and the great ambitions and complications included in that effort.
Historians regard Confederation as an exercise in non-ideological “political pragmatism,” attributing the country’s creation to demographic pressures, population expansions, economic nationalism, and the promise of prosperity.
Naming the new country was hard. The name had to draw feelings of pride and strength, and reflect the character of the land and its people. “Efisga” was as one of the proposed names, containing a combination of the first letters of England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Aboriginal lands. Perhaps this is an example of the early recognition of multiculturalism as a value of this new nation.
The Iroquoian word kanata suits us because it means village, a gathering, a community. Canada—the land, the air, the water, and the people—is all of that in both the physical and spiritual sense. Canada strives to foster a sense of national unity by gathering people of diverse origins under the umbrella of one community. It’s comprised of the most diverse populations in the world today. It’s diverse in terms of its ethnic makeup, culture background, and religious practices.
In any society, family is the cornerstone. Families shape the attitude, hopes, ambitions, and values of the new generation. Many newcomers navigate daily the linguistic, cultural, and psychological challenges of immigration, and the complexities of immigrant family life. Parenting is demanding for anyone. Since parenting involves conveying culture and values to children, immigrant parents face the added task of doing so while adapting to the challenges, culture, and values of a new society.
Newcomers often find their tasks and dynamics with their children change, and occasionally these children are vulnerable while finding their identity and trying to avoid social isolation. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This advice isn’t always well-suited. Newcomers shouldn’t have to lose their sense of culture. They should be able to treasure their heritage while they take in and embrace what Canada offers. Integrating and adopting many aspects of Canadian culture shouldn’t mean ignoring, avoiding, or rejecting all beliefs and traditions of their heritage (unless they’re extreme ones).
With evolving cultural sensitivity, there should be no reason not to moderately maintain ethnic identity, and at the same time immerse in a new one. Continuing to embrace your original culture doesn’t prevent success, and often helps. Maintaining cultural traditions and lifestyle is often celebrated, if we also accept with an open mind that cultural values may differ from the country of origin.
I always looked at the melting-pot metaphor used in the U.S. as the opposite of the mosaic of cultures we use here in Canada. However, thinking more about it while wearing my chef hat and being a big fan of cooking gourmet foods, I saw it in different light. As food ingredients melt, they assimilate into one uniform substance.