As the lone Canadian of the group here at 8Asians, I sit back and read with great fascination the many issues that go on in Asian America. Many of us in the Asian Arts Community up north have worked with, met, spoken to, got drunk with many other Asian-American activists and we all seem to agree that us up north, have a different set of issues than you all down there. This isn’t to say, we don’t understand issues, but certainly we have a different way of dealing with and looking at it. So, it has been a long time request that I write a post that sort of explains my theory as to why there is such a difference between Asian America and Asian Canada (yes! there is a difference!).
I believe it rests in how the society is set up. Up here, right from kindergarten – we’re taught that Canada is a mosaic – Pieces of different stones put together to create a nation. Not the melting pot (re: assimilation) of America. Also we’re officially a bilingual country where just about everything you buy is labeled in both English and French – the national languages. Not so much the case in America despite the country having a rather large Hispanic population. I think this is the base in how Canada is more apt and welcoming to other cultures and America either you’re American or you’re not – despite ancestral heritage.
America is already founded on numerous other cultures that made the nation in the first place – and by not acknowledging the efforts made by other cultures further creates this delusion that America is created by Americans for Americans. In Canada, many politicians acknowledge that approx. 52% of Canadian residents and citizens were not born in Canada and that Canada is a nation of immigrants.
In Toronto, arguably the most multicultural city in North America, there are numerous events to celebrate the diversity of the city. Our most recent was Caribana – a week long annual event that celebrates the Caribbean and West Indian culture with a huge-ass parade/ party. The Ontario Health Minister and Toronto city councillors propose opening up the street food menu to include street food from around the world. (I’m salivating at the thought of ramen kiosks and Korean BBQ tents.) Richmond, BC has Night Market – similar to those seen in Asia – which comes alive on summer weekends with 3 rows of Asian food vendors and 3 rows of random flea market-type knick knacks you can buy for cheap. (I left broke.)
North America is separated by ocean on both sides of the coast. America tends to be very insular where Canada tends to reach out. Canada tends to import a lot of products – America tries to use their natural resources to create products from within. Canada is strongly affected by world news – most of America hasn’t walked outside the 5 block radius of where they live and work. (course, I’m generalizing here – but I got lost in both Astoria and the Bronx and while the people were friendly, they couldn’t tell me where the major intersection was.) In schools, children in America pledge their allegiance to the flag. Children in Canada are lucky if they can remember the national anthem in French and English. (It’s a running joke in the country, but I still have trouble sometimes.) Also, there is no specific trait of being Canadian other than being stereotypically polite, drinking good beer and being rather apologetic.
So in an environment where we are rather encouraged to take pride in our ancestral heritage and engage in other cultures, we Asian-Canadians are fairly laid back doing the representation thing our own way – mainly through art and media. We’re proud to be Canadian, but we also don’t take ourselves so seriously, realize the nations shortcomings and even poke fun at it.
This isn’t to say Canada is a bed of roses because there are still lots of things wrong with the country as racism, prejudice and hate crimes still occur. The Chinese Canadian National Council exists because of irresponsible journalism and is one of the councils responsible for the Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The province of Quebec is a different culture onto itself being primarily French (or more specifically) Quebecois and where everything is French first and English second. Last year, an 8 year-old boy was suspended from school in Montreal because students around him were disgusted by his habit of using a fork and spoon to eat – an eating style practiced by Filipinos. And earlier this year Bloc Quebecois Leader Andre Bouclair refused to acknowledge that his comment “Yeux Brides” (slanted eyes) relating to his surprise of seeing about a third of undergraduates being of Asian descent was offensive. (He lost by a landslide in the election.)