Research Blog 6: The “Multiculturalism” Word

It has been some time since I’ve posted an entry on this research blog – not because I haven’t been working on the project, but because I have   – and mulling over the complex set of intersecting cultures that is Canada.

When I was originally formulating the research question for the website, I spent some time trying to arrive at an easy, shorthand way to describe what it was all about.  The notion of multiculturalism becoming middle-aged and reflecting on its life to date had the merit of making the subject more personal.  However, I also knew that using the world “multiculturalism” would have its challenges.  The term tends to direct the focus to the newly arrived, or to people of non-European origin. My intent with this site is to explore the idea that the experience of multiculturalism is one in which we all share – albeit from different perspectives – and regardless of origin.

Then there was the challenge of using a term that does not specifically reference the cultural intersections of, and with, people of Aboriginal origin, nor the intersection of Francophone and Anglophone culture in Canada – even though the intent is to encourage story contributions that speak to all these cultural intersections.

That, in turn, raised the issue of language.  While translation software made the site a little more accessible to people whose first language is not English, installing it created an unintended nuance.  French is not just another language in Canada. The site was written and conceived in English because that is my first language, but I wanted to acknowledge French as an official language as much as possible.  So I used a professional translation service to translate the home page and submission form and then to keep costs low, Francophone friends pitched in to review. (My thanks to A.M.P., P.N. and A.S)  Still I wonder whether this limited translation will be enough for the project to be at all embraced by those whose mother tongue is French?

As I spend time thinking about the acknowledgement and inclusion of Aboriginal peoples within Canadian society generally, I have felt uneasy that the framing of this project may not be sufficiently inclusive. The specificity of the term  “multiculturalism” may exclude, or appear to exclude, stories of these cultural intersections – when, by contrast, it seems so important to include them.

At the same time, I have not wanted to presume, or define, too much with this site. It is, after all nothing more than an open invitation to individuals who see themselves as belonging to any number of communities – and who connect in some way with the question that is being asked.

There doesn’t seem to be any way of saying all that easily. And I haven’t even touched on the discussion being waged in academic and other circles, about interculturalism vs. multiculturalism.  I find it interesting that in Canada, of all places, we don’t have ready-made language to discuss this broad definition of all our cultural intersections.  Still, I hope the spirit of the site speaks for itself, if language has failed to do so.

One thought on “Research Blog 6: The “Multiculturalism” Word

  1. T Letourneau

    I think your concerns are well founded. I believe multiculturalism was intended to extend to all cultures who make up the fabric of Canada and the cultural diversity of Canadians, but what of our First Nations people, who pre-dated Canada and may or may not consider themselves to be “Canadian”?

    I am sometimes weary of hearing of Canada’s “multiculturalism” – as though it is a large seamless patchwork quilt, very elegantly stitched together. It so easily seems to gloss over the many tensions, anachronisms, dualisms and contradictions inherent in our complex social interactions. Indeed, the rhetoric of multiculturalism as a national dialogue seems to skim right over the lack of recognition that this country treads very heavily on the Nations who predated it – implying in its language that people of all cultures are given equal opportunity and respect, which I might argue is far from the case.

    However, at the level of micro-intersections there is absolutely no doubt that interactions between myself and my First Nations friends and colleagues is “multicultural”. This shift to the micro-view may in fact be a brilliant opportunity to reveal how different it is to be First Nation than any other immigrant culture to this beautiful land, and to build some compassion for the distinction.

    Thank you both for your awareness and for sparking the conversation.


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