Monday, June 3, 2013

E Pluribus Unum

All nations seem to have a founding myth.  Sometimes that myth is captured in a national motto. For example, for nations assembled from many tribes, 'Out of many, one people' does for Jamaica and its Latin version 'E pluribus unum', for the US of A. 

Today's Canada has a fairly recently formed national mythology, one created largely by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when in office. It is that we are a multicultural society. Multiculturalism can be defined as: 'The characteristics of a society, city etc. which has many different ethnic or national cultures mingling freely' or as 'political or social policies which support or encourage such coexistence'. A key phrase here is "mingling freely"

In pioneer times, each incoming religious and national group tended to congregate with others of their cohort to clear and farm the wilderness. They wanted to be near a church and later a school that they shared with others of like mind. Each new township contained pockets of one or more of these religious or nationality groups. In the hill country where I live today, it was Presbyterian Scottish Highlanders and Catholic Irish. Today's community names and church denominations often tell us which group settled where. Since these pioneer settlers came mostly from the British Isles or the USA, lifestyle expectations were similar, and, over several generations, formerly important differences in speech, dress and attitude disappeared enough that each group could feel comfortable in the others neighbourhoods. Indeed, they began to 'mingle freely'.
A generation ago it was folk from the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Portugal and Greece, who formed new communities in many of our larger urban centres. Their religion was Christian and, as is typical, these migrants most often came from humble backgrounds. Those that did well emulated the rich back home by building large houses in communities of their own kind. It could take them a lifetime to build and fully furnish their dream. Although their kids may have continued to live at home as grown-ups, as soon as they were married they left the family home, often to live in mainstream society.

In contrast, in our urban areas today most immigration comes from the developing world, especially South and East Asia. The gap between the cultural and religious beliefs of these newcomers and those of the faiths that are already here is much wider than in the settlement period and much of the 20th Century. Those fresh from South Asia usually like to live in multifamily dwellings, for both traditional and economic reasons. What differs from the past is that they often remain that way even when their incomes push them up into the middle-class. In many cases they are buying the over-large houses when the Mediterranean owners sell off, but in large visible minority areas like Brampton down the slope from here, developers are starting to build in multifamily occupancy size and features from the get-go. 

That, and the preference for cultural and religious reasons for these incomers to build and live near a temple of their faith, works against integration and multicultural intermingling with others, especially in non-working hours. Customs differ in more ways than has ever been the case before. Tolerance for littering and noise, differences in recreational and holiday preferences, definitions of what is neighbourly or not, tastes in house and garden decorating, clothing expectations and modes of interpersonal address are just a few. 

Significant cultural difference that endures past the first generation usually changes the surrounding retail environment to serve a customer base that can have needs markedly different from when European immigration was the norm. While Governments today spend a lot of money on integration programmes fostering understanding of Canadian life, at the same time they fund cultural meeting places and ethnic language classes for our many new nationalities. Because it is a relatively recent social policy approach, multiculturalism's success in creating 'one nation out of many' is still moot. We could eventually see 'one nation, many ghettos' where folk in general are not engaging in that intermingling and common viewpoint that would seem essential to the creation of E pluribus unum.

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