Making Multiculturalism Work


by Channon Oyeniran

In the post I wrote in November titled “Multiculturalism: A Primer,” I talked about what multiculturalism is, its benefits, and briefly discussed which countries adopted the concept of multiculturalism (Australia, Canada and the UK). Multiculturalism is defined as: “the peaceful coexistence of a culturally diverse or multiethnic populations in a country.” In a time when immigration and migration is ever increasing, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at why multiculturalism works in the Canadian city of Toronto and most other Canadian cities. I recently read an article by Charles Foran titled, “The Canada experiment:  is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country?,” which you can find in its entirety here. It stated that as 2017 began, “…Canada may be the last immigrant nation left standing. Our government believes in the value of immigration, as does the majority of the population.”


Why is that? Why have multiculturalism and stable immigration policies worked for Canada? I think it’s important to look at this because this world is constantly changing, revolving and growing, and people are regularly moving and changing their locations (voluntarily or involuntarily) and where they choose to call home. I want to look at why this concept of multiculturalism works in Canada and hopefully show the benefits that can come along with it if other countries adopt it and work towards its main purpose.

Multiculturalism in Canada187345019_thinkstock_can-flags-multicultural-72dpi

A definition of multiculturalism in Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy specifically states that the “value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.” Multiculturalism is a concept, introduced as policy in 1971, by then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau (father of current prime minister Justin Trudeau). This formalized policy states that it will “protect and promote diversity, recognize the rights of Aboriginal peoples, and support the use of Canada’s two official languages.” The policies and an act surrounding multiculturalism in Canada have allowed people from all over the world to come and live in Canada, bringing with them their various cultures and traditions.

Multiculturalism has offered Canada the opportunity to be more diverse in every aspect of its society, whether it’s bringing new skills to a job, new ideas and thoughts to a classroom, or new food to a neighbourhood. Multiculturalism in Canada continues to bring together talented people who bring their innovative and interesting ideas and skills the country, thus allowing it to thrive! Also, because there are so many different people from other countries who have made Canada home, there is no single identity that Canada claims, as stated by current Prime Minister Trudeau. He said that,  “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” Foran’s article states that, “The greater Toronto area is now the most diverse city on the planet, with half its residents born outside the country.” So with half of the people from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), born outside of Canada, there is no defining identity like some other nations that pride themselves on being French or British or American, for example.

Why does multiculturalism work in Canada?

canadian-flag-mosaic-by-tim-van-horn-2010Multiculturalism in Canada works for a variety of reasons, one of which being the stable immigration policies that have helped to shape the very fabric of our nation. Canada has been a well-accepted destination historically for immigration since the early twentieth century. Authors Stephen Castles and Mark Miller in their book, The Age of Migration -International Population Movements in the Modern World, say that: “Canada remains one of the few countries in the world with an active and expansive permanent immigration policy, which aims to admit the equivalent of 1 per cent of its total population of about 30 million each year.” Therefore since a steady and increase wave of immigration started in Canada after World War II, people from around the world, from all different backgrounds have settled in Canada and have called it home.

Benefits of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism works in Canada because it’s preserved in our laws and the very fabric that makes up this nation. Here is why multiculturalism is a good thing and benefits multiculturalism-2012.pnga country who adopts it: Not only does multiculturalism allow different cultures to experience one another’s native foods, music, clothing, stories, but it allows people to be exposed and learn from different cultures, thus broadening the minds of the citizens who live in multicultural societies. Foran’s article also adds that, “There are practical reasons for keeping the doors open…The economic benefits are also self-evident, especially if full citizenship is the agreed goal.[…] Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity.”

How YOU can get involved…

Keep reading, because this is the important bit!! Whether or not you live in a country that fully practices or accepts multiculturalism, there are ways for you to embrace multiculturalism in your own life. 

The trouble arises when we are not spreading love or understanding for people in our own neighborhoods who are different from us. They might be of different backgrounds, identities or faiths. Practicing love and understanding should be a norm for everyone. The dream to travel and see the world starts in our own towns.

Becoming culturally competent, diverse and inclusive involves knowledge, attitudes, and skills that may seem overwhelming for any individual or agency to achieve. It is important to remain aware that cultural groups are not homogeneous in beliefs and practices

  1. Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures.
  2. Invite a family or people in the neighborhood from another culture or religion to share a meal with you and exchange views on life.
  3. Rent a movie or read a book from another country or religion than your own.
  4. Invite people from a different culture to share your customs.
  5. Read about the great thinkers of other cultures than yours (e.g. Confucius, Socrates, Avicenna, Ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Ganesh, Rumi).
  6. Go next week-end to visit a place of worship different than yours and participate in the celebration.
  7. Play the “stereotypes game.” Stick a post-it on your forehead with the name of a country. Ask people to tell you stereotypes associated with people from that country. You win if you find out where you are from. 
  8. Learn about traditional celebrations from other cultures; learn more about Hanukkah or Ramadan or about amazing celebrations of New Year’s Eve in Spain or Qingming festival in China.
  9. Spread your own culture around the world through our Facebook page and learn about other cultures.
  10. Explore music of a different culture.

People want to learn, and when they come together to share the experience of knowledge, social divisions often dissolve. When spaces are programmed to celebrate diverse cultures and histories, there is an even greater impact. The power of learning and exploring should not be underemphasized.

Multicultural education is more than celebrating Cinco de Mayo with tacos and piñatas or reading the latest biography of Martin Luther King Jr. It is an educational movement built on basic American values such as freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality.

For more information…

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