The Cake Example (diversity trilogy 2 of 3)

When I went to cover the above-menioned “cultural diversity festival”, my editor accepted the proposal with the words, “Poromoting mulitculturalism. Sounds like fun.”

Not quite.

There are two different ways of looking at the ideal position of cultural diversity in Canada. One (favoured in Ontario and BC) is called multiculturalism. In multiculturalism, there’s not that much pressure (at least not from the state) for newcomers to integrate. The host culture, in the majority though it may be, is one culture among many. The other is called interculturalism. Newcomers are encouraged by the state to learn the language and to think and dress like the majority, but they’re also actively encouraged to contribute to society in their own way. In Quebec, which sees itself as an island in an anglo sea, there is a constant, pressing fear of losing the French language and other distinguishing marks if their culture is allowed to become one among many, so they push hard–some are saying too hard with the Charter business– to make immigrants part of the core francophone secular left-leaning society.

A true “multicultural festival” would have the host culture presented as one among many, but this “intercultural” event had several activities directed toward immigrants…a “discover Quebec” scavenger hunt, a team game based on Québécois French idioms, and a “quiz” that was dismissed as patronizing and ideological by some Quebecers I showed it to (Sample questions: “What is meant by separation of church and state?” “True or false: To solve a difference of opinion with a neighbour you need to go to court.” “When learning French in Quebec, is it necessary to adopt the Québécois accent?” and the most patronizing of them all, “True or false: It is appropriate to have an outdoor party with loud music until the early hours of the morning.”).

Just because this particular “quiz” was ill-conceived, doesn’t mean interculturalism is “bad” (or that the other Quebec-centred activities were ill-conceived). I’ll use a food metaphor to explain the difference between the two.

Imagine two bakeries, each with one baker making only one type of cake. One day, the two bakers each hire five other bakers, each with a different national origin, and then keep hiring new people at a steady rate.

In the multicultural bake shop, each new baker would be asked to bake his or her own smaller cake, a totally distinct variety, to be sold alongside the original cake.

In the intercultural bake shop, the new arrivals would not be allowed to bake their own varieties of cake or even to mess around with the proportions of the original cake recipe. However, each baker would be allowed– even actively encouraged– to add his or her own *ingredient* to the standard recipe, and the cake would ideally end up having dozens of different little flourishes– a tablespoon of spices here, a squirt of fruit juice there– in the same cake.

Two mathods, same result: chaotic if done wrong, delicious if done right.

About msmarguerite

Young Quebec City-based freelance journalist. once and future nomad. I blog about life, about travel, about things I notice and every so often about work. I enjoy language learning, singing, swing dancing, skating and...other stuff, sometimes. My heart is somewhere in East Africa, Haiti or Eastern Europe. English, français, русский, malo slovensko, un poco de espanol, um pouco de português ndiga ikirundi, mwen ap aprann kreyòl...
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