From time to time I’ll have a conversation with an American and although I can’t directly tell that they are American, they will eventually reveal their identity in passing. Sometimes, because I’m a Canadian, I’ll hear them reveal how they believe that things are better in Canada. For instance, I might hear them describe how there are still race problems in the states, unlike the progress of we, the rainbow-nation neighbour of the North. I politely listen to that person even though I disagree as it’s not an unreasonable belief. Many Canadians believe that we’ve moved ahead of lots of our racial issues and often tote our national identity as one which values multiculturalism, as a proud tapestry or mosaic. But I don’t really buy that.
In middle school we used to have this thing called “multicultural day.” This day was set up to celebrate the different ethnicities that comprised our schools and as a custom, we were encouraged to bring our ethnic cuisine to share. We would have wide aluminum pans steaming with fried rice, tasty and fragrant curries, pita and hummus, cheesy and potato-ey perogies, and sometimes delicious, sweet baklava. This was usually a good day for lunch as I could skip the ordinary sandwich or burdensome thermos for some hot, fresh, spicy, and savoury food. Come lunch hour, we enjoyed our food and then went on to do usual adolescent kid stuff: talk to friends, play a game of soccer or tag, trade snacks. Later, we might have had a block of the day – usually in social studies – where we had a quick discussion about issues of multiculturalism, none of it I can remember now.
All of that seemed really cool, and even as I went to a very privileged school (upper “middle” class) I bought into the idea of how great multiculturalism is in our country. I ate the superficial assumptions, like racism isn’t really a Canadian issue, as easily as I scarfed down lunch. Really, I had no idea what multiculturalism was about, aside from some generic assumptions.
If Canada really were a multicultural country, why do we need to have a “multicultural day?” Is it a day where everybody can remember that they’re racially different or oblivious to their ancestral traditions? What if my Canadian parents – sorry, Chinese-Canadian parents – want to bring homemade fried chicken?
A multicultural nation would celebrate and accept and recognize our differences everyday. Instead of simply coloured folk making dishes for white folk, maybe white folk would make some dishes to bring for everyone to enjoy, too. Maybe I would have some tasty indigenous cuisine with my samosa, because parents brought food everyday or the cafeteria made them. Maybe we would not just learn to cook yaki soba in cooking class, but also learn to carve Russian dolls and read fantastic myths of Old Arabia.
Schools are more than the students, they’re the community.