‘Doing’ Multiculturalism

This entry is in a sense a practical extension of my previous entry on being cultured. Multiculturalism is a difficult concept for those who work and study immigration and the impact of immigration on receiving societies, but attempting to convey some of this complexity to students is certainly a challenge. We are faced with concepts of a society which strives towards assimilation such as the US and France, while other societies such as Canada and the UK have pitched a policy of multiculturalism.

The distinction between these two concepts is one that has plagued my own academic career and research projects I have been involved in.  If the ultimate goal is cultural homogenisation and can “Can liberal pluralism be exported?” (Kymlicka 2001) . Berry captures this in an image in an online article from 2011.

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Two approaches to a pluralist society

I would suggest that Berry’s Melting Pot visual is equated to that of an assimilation model, there is one dominant society, while immigrant groups or other minorities remain on the margin because there is not process in place for communication. The circle on the right represents a model of multiculturalism where there is a national framework of institutions which accommodate the needs of all groups in society. The premise being that there is no dominant group but that all groups are ethnocultural with equal cultural rights in the society.

Both models have several drawbacks, for the assimilation model cultural differences are largely ignored except possibly through a acknowledgment of increased diversity in terms of food or music – tokenistic gestures towards a country’s different cultural groups. This in my opinion is the case in Germany, France and the US. For the multiculturalism model there is a shift almost to the other extreme of the spectrum where a hyper-awareness of cultural differences and an attempt to accommodate all of these means that a country as a whole loses a sense of identity and creates extremely segregated groups who are all tolerant of each other, such is the case in Canada.

The task for my international students was to illustrate to me their understanding of multiculturalism in the city of Vancouver. Vancouver is often refereed to as a cosmopolitan city by visitors, by the media, and by academics (see chapter by Dan Heibert).  If we define cosmopolitan as “including people of many different countries,” Metro Vancouver is the fourth most cosmopolitan major city on the planet.

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More than 45 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents are foreign born, according to the 2011 census. The infographic above indicates that there are only three major cities on the globe that have a higher percentage of foreign born residents, they are Dubai, Brussels and Toronto. However, if we look to the bottom graph we see that Vancouver does not even feature in the top 10 as a city with a ‘cosmopolitan’ reputation; nor do Dubai, Brussels or Toronto. So simply have a large percentage of foreign born does not maketh the city ‘cosmopolitan’ or multicultural despite what it might say on paper.

I asked my students to create a walking tour for me in the city which should take me one hour and provide me with an understanding of how multicultural they see Vancouver, or indeed what aspects of the city made them see a diversity of cultural in the city which was not their own. I provided them with the instructions on how to build using Google Tour Builder and encouraged them to think beyond the socio-romantic categories of food, art or music, or at least to use their imagination beyond the norm. The results really astounded me and gave me a new understanding of the different perspectives groups of students have on the city. I include the best four below with the students’ permission. I would strongly encourage the application of the assignment in different cities – who knows maybe we can set up a website of comparisons (contact me if you think so).

Tour 1 Digging Back Through Time – A Multicultural Religious Blast from the Past

Tour 2 Stanley Park

Tour 3 Multiculturalism in Vancouver: A Walking Tour in Mountain View Cemetery

Tour 4 The Discovery of Multiculturalism in Gastown through a four course meal

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