By Jessica Kirby –
We know Canada has a rich cultural fabric; in fact, most of us pride ourselves on it. As a country we welcome around 300,000 new Canadians each year, and as individuals most of us help keep our communities united with welcoming attitudes and open hearts. We stitch Canadian flags to our packs when we travel because we know the world has us pegged as easy going, friendly, and overly polite northerners with a penchant for cold and a passion for hockey—there are worse stereotypes, that is for certain.
Canada’s multicultural history is as old as time, with 636 Indigenous groups speaking 52 distinct languages first inhabiting this vast land. Over the years, settlers have immigrated from every corner of the world, helping create the cultural patchwork that makes Canada amazing.
In 2002, the Canadian government designated June 27 of each year Canadian Multiculturalism Day and marked it as an opportunity to celebrate diversity and our commitment to democracy, equality, and mutual respect and to appreciate the contributions multicultural groups make to Canadian society.
If ever there were a special day designated for a cause that should be celebrated every day, this is it. Like any issue requiring rectification, racism and inequality will only be eradicated when society adjusts to change its bigger picture definition and social paradigm to include all people. We all have parts to play in getting our communities closer to that day—here are some ideas.
Explore multiculturalism while expanding your sense of community and get your friends, neighbours, or co-workers in on the fun. Host a summer party or potluck and ask everyone to bring a dish from their country of origin, or that represents their ancestry. This is a light and friendly way to recognize and celebrate our diverse histories. Bring stories, legends, and cultural objects and make time to show these off and celebrate your roots.
One of the most important things we can do to celebrate multiculturalism is educate ourselves. We can read up on things like residential school, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, hijaab, Chinese New Year, international history and politics, and world travel. We can commit to trying food and music from a different country each month and sharing our experiences with our children and families. We can read books, watch movies, and visit theatre produced to represent cultures other than our own so we can learn, understand, and desensitize our sense of “other-ness”. The more we know, the more we understand and the less foreign things outside of our own cultures will feel.
Our worlds are greatly shaped by the media we consume. When we hear the CNN version of international events, we can take a moment to consult other media sources before committing to our opinions. We can chat with others and keep a bird’s eye view of political activity—virtually no action or event is free of historical or political context. Most importantly, consider the global community and wonder how we can reach out to ask “why” before placing blame or making assumptions.
Make multiculturalism a part of every day life. Families with children can make a point of having books representing a rainbow of individuals, and of stocking the toy bin with items from all around the world. We can stop identifying our friends and loved ones by their ethnicity when it is irrelevant to the conversation (ie; “I’m going to the movies with Sandy, my Indian friend.”) And we can keep our language in check, ensuring we are not holding our own culture on a pedestal of “normalcy” (ie; Arabic texts read “backwards” or Inuit “take forever” to answer a question.)
Above all else, be kind. The bottom line is kindness will show us the way. While most of us know to behave with empathy, generosity, and joy for others, it never hurts to remind us how far acts of kindness can go. Reach out to everyone, regardless of culture, race, or gender, and watch out for one another. If you see someone being treated unfairly, be brave enough to stand with that person, even if you stand alone. There really is strength in numbers and when we stand together for injustice, we weaken its hold in all respects.