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Musings on Multiculturalism: A Tale of Two Customers

May 22, 2009

Since I moved to Milton, Ontario 15 years ago, I’ve watched this small, largely WASP town transform into an increasingly diverse, small suburban city.  As a former Torontonian this has been a sort of normalization for me, but for others it’s been… a bit of an adjustment.

This was made clear to me recently when I was signing up a new customer at the video store where I work. I noted the Mississauga address, and he mentioned that he had moved recently because it was getting “really bad there”. At first I thought he was talking about the ugly subdivisions, but then he said `You know, I hate to say it, but with all these new people moving in…”

And I promptly changed the subject, because the boss doesn’t like it when we hit the customers.  Unfortunately he continued, complaining about all the crime in Mississauga (which has the lowest crime rate of any city in Canada), and how there are hardly any “Canadians” there any more.

I was still fuming over this encounter when, about an hour later, a woman came in looking for Spanish language films. We got chatting.  She was apparently born in Mexico, but moved to Milton many years ago and decided to start teaching Spanish and ESL because she was constantly running into anti-immigrant sentiment in town and she wanted to help both old and new Miltonians get over their ignorance and distrust of one another.

As I was checking her out, I noticed a familiar last name on her account. “Oh,” I said, “Your husband must be related to my former next-door neighbour”. I told her the name and she said, “Of course, she was my mother-in-law!”

It turns out this lovely woman from Mexico was in fact a member of one of the founding families of Milton. I immediately contrasted that with my previous customer on his flight westward in search of a place with ‘real’ Canadians, and thought of roots, and who was contributing more to the country and the community.

I also thought about something John Ralston Saul pointed out in “A Fair Country”: that when waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean first came to this country, they were not only discriminated against – they were not even considered to be of the same race as those who had come earlier.

I wonder where that guy’s family was from.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2009 6:36 pm

    Celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism is another name of integration. For any sort of integration, first you have to acknowledge that cultural diversity exist and this is not a bad thing at all. I would say a official sponsorship of individual cultures may not be practical or economical but a Multicultural recognition is more affordable and practical where we share individual cultures with others and learn from each other and develop the better understanding. I rather communicate with other cultures and socialize with them while at home i may teach my kids about my heritage and culture at my own cost. If we stop funding hyphenated communities like “Indo-Canadian” and “Chines-Canadian” then we can divert our funding to Multiculturalism where Indian, Chinese, Greek, Spanish, English and French celebrate together their heritage and understand the differences and similarities of cultures.

    Multiculturalism is Effective Integration.

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    May 24, 2009 12:38 pm

    I think any fair-minded person would agree that large-scale immigration has disadvantages as well as benefits, from the point of view of those already here. If nothing else, dealing with people across linguistic and cultural barriers can require a fair bit of effort even when considerable goodwill and flexibility exist on both sides.

    The first customer in your Tale apparently took the view that the disadvantages outweighed the benefits, at least in Mississauga. Perhaps his opinion was the result of unreasonable prejudice, but then, that’s true of many peoples’ opinions on all kinds of topics. I don’t blame you for disagreeing, but did you really have to choke down an impulse to hit the guy and then spend the next hour fuming? If that wasn’t just poetic license, it sounds like the kind of attitude that really puts the “cult” in multiculturalism.

    • May 24, 2009 12:55 pm

      He said a couple of other things that pissed me off, but it was mostly his use of the term “Canadians” to describe people like him but not, apparently, his new neighbours – regardless of their immigration status. That, and the not so subtle connection he drew between the increasing immigrant population of Mississauga and his imaginary increase in crime.

      And no, I didn’t really want to hit him. I don’t hit people. I just wanted to tell him what I really thought of him.

      • corsullivan permalink*
        May 25, 2009 1:04 pm

        And no, I didn’t really want to hit him. I don’t hit people. I just wanted to tell him what I really thought of him.

        Well, with luck, he’ll read this post and find out on his own!

        Thanks for the further explanation of your viewpoint. It’s amazing, and psychologically interesting, that so many people are determined to believe that crime is getting worse, all the time, no matter what the evidence may say.

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    May 23, 2009 9:18 pm

    Thanks for a great post, Greenjenny…say, you might know my cousind who runs a pharmacy in Milton, Zak’s…if so, plz say hi. R

  4. May 22, 2009 10:36 pm

    One of the few things my own country still gets right these days is tolerance of ethnicites. My wife is from Thailand and we live in a semi-rural area, and nobody bats an eye. The sort of comments that video store customer made would gain him a very chilly reception from anyone I know; that sort of attitude just can’t find any footing in America.

    What we get wrong is we beat ourselves up over “intolerance” anyway, and we over-compensate with a bunch of multi-culturalism. Being welcoming to people is one thing (and it’s a good thing), adopting their ways at the expense of ours is another matter. My daughter’s kindergarten wanted to teach her Spanish and have her participate in some sort of Mexican culture day once a week so that she’d be “culturally aware.” My daughter already speaks fluent Thai and spends some 20% of her life in Bangkok; I’m pretty sure she knows there are different cultures out there.

    The worst part of the whole multiculturalism movement is that in practice, it tends to diminish the achievements of western civilization. This is done out of an ignorance just as great as the ignorance of the bigot you described. I’ve had a LOT of cultural immersion in my life, backed up by considerable formal study, and I believe any objective analysis, sufficiently informed, will conclude that western civilization is perhaps the greatest thing mankind has ever developed. I like other cultures, and there are things we can learn from them, but the plain fact is there is a lot more that they can learn from us. We should have enough confidence in ourselves to recognize this.

    Before we can do that, we have to recognize other people as people, and not simply label them as “Mexican” or “Canadian” or “Chinese” or what have you. Those labels are how the bigot operates, and they are also how the multiculturalist operates. Neither person is willing to accept a foreigner as-is.

  5. May 22, 2009 9:09 pm

    Why not hit the customer? … okay, okay, in all seriousness, it would probably make no difference to his biased world view anyway. Unfortunately, in the past few years here in Winnipeg I have experienced similar episodes.

    Though most of the bigotry I usually encounter seems to be part of a latent undercurrent, of a “you know” quality.

    A couple we see occasionally at school and sporting functions are the best example. Seemingly sane on the surface, when our elementary school last year introduced we parents to the new principal, one of them, the wife, leaned over to me and said “Thank God!” upon laying eyes on the principal.

    I said, “Oh you know this lady, is she a good principal?”

    “No” came the whispered reply, “I was just worried. I heard she was ethnic and I was worried she was going to be…. you know … Chinese.”

    At which point I gazed upon the pleasant looking Indo-Canadian lady in front of us who had just been introduced as the kids new principal and proceeded to bite my tongue for the next 20 minutes while I debated punching the other parent in the head… I did not, of course, cause it wouldn’t have made a difference.

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