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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Xenophobia still alive in Canada?

It seems that for as far as we've come as a modern society, some Canadian attitudes are still really backward... like about a century behind the times.

Take this recent article about immigration and language.

Calgary Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz praises multiculturalism minister Jason Kenny for wading into the "politically correct minefield" of multiculturalism and being determined to weed out any government-funded programs that promote cultural diversity.

…[T]he government has sensibly ceased funding programs such as heritage language classes. Why should the federal government pay for children to learn the language of the country their parents and grandparents come from? …

"I think it's really neat that a fifth-generation Ukrainian Canadian can speak Ukrainian-- but pay for it yourself," Kenney says. Kenney's right--it is neat. If you can speak your family's mother tongue, your life is just that much more enriched. But such immersion in heritage shouldn't come at the expense of you identifying yourself as a Canadian first --and it certainly shouldn't come at Canadian taxpayers' expense.

Now let me see if I read this right.

Cross-cultural education is "neat and enriching" for the kids of immigrants who are fortunate enough to grow up immersed in the heritage language and culture of whence they came. But an intimate knowledge of one's heritage culture can actually be harmful to Canadian self-identity. So it behooves our government to ensure that kids born in Canada are denied such enrichment.

Then the government turns around and digs deep into the pockets of these unenriched Canadians to provide programs that give culturally enriched newcomers a leg up?

It sure looks like native-born Canadians are getting the short end of the stick here.

Why shouldn't we get the benefit of learning non-official languages in our schools, so that we are on an equal cultural footing with newcomers to our country, many of whom speak more than two languages?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t welcome newcomers and help them adjust to life in Canada. (I’m of Ukrainian descent, and Ukrainians are known as some of the most hospitable and helpful people in the world. I recall reading in an old magazine (circa 1919) I found in the local Ivan Franko library about some Canadian travelers who were lost in the wilds of Saskatchewan and were amazed at the willingness of a Ukrainian settler to take time away from tending her desperately ill child to help them get their bearings.) Helping newcomers integrate is the right thing to do. Obviously.

I'm not saying I disagree with Ms. Lakritz that ... "Part of the integration process means you leave your old hatreds and animosities at home and adopt enlightened Canadian attitudes of respect for other people's race, religion and basic human rights."

Nor am I saying that newcomers shouldn’t be required to learn our official language(s). When my grandparents and great-grandparents came to Canada they learned English, paid for it themselves, and didn’t complain about it.

Unfortunately for me my parents (like so many immigrants’ kids) didn’t pass on the Ukrainian language and culture to their children. After Canada’s hysterical xenophobia during the WWI internment operations, most Ukrainian immigrants and their kids took it to heart when they were told to “Speak English, or else go back where you came from” (which was all too often). They didn't want anyone saying that to their kids, so English was all we ever spoke.

For awhile there, tho, it looked like as a society we finally were starting to make some progress. In 1971 the Multiculturalism Act was introduced, and progressive-minded people succeeded in getting heritage language programs into the public schools so that future generations would be more culturally literate than mine. (Altho if some of today's short-sighted national leaders and media elites have their way, they won’t be for much longer.)

No. What I am saying is that it's detrimental to all Canadians that our collective attitudes still aren't enlightened enough to grasp the benefits of knowing more than one language. Given the medical studies cited in this CTV article and on American TV news, just imagine the cost-savings to our health-care system! (Never mind the cultural enrichment.)

It would benefit all Canadians, native-born and newly-arrived alike, if heritage language programs got more respect than lip service from government, media, and in fact many mainstream Canadians.

Actually, if heritage language programs got anywhere near as much respect as they do lip service, it would be a vast improvement for all Canadians … including those who have to be dragged kicking and screaming into truly enlightened times.


Orest said...

It really seems like Canada has lost its way...

Just to give you an example. My wife came to Canada 11 years ago, established herself with a reasonable job, paid her taxes every year , was never on any social assistance programs, etc. only to have her application for citizenship denied.

WTF Canada...sometimes I'm ashamed to say that I am Canadian.

Pawlina said...

I'm sure yours is not an isolated example, either, Orest.

It really defies comprehension that our government so often gives the shaft to people who contribute to the public coffers, yet bends over backwards for people who don't, and who even abuse the system.

Canada needs to encourage and reward people like your wife, not give them what amounts to a jab in the eye with a sharp stick.

Sadly, tho, it's been thus for a long time. Perhaps in our lifetime, if we are lucky, we'll see the situation improve.

Anonymous said...

Since moving here in 2005 I've been divorced by a Canadian wife, wrongfully/constructively dismissed by a Canadian corporation, and received racial abuse from the VP of a downtown Toronto PR firm.

Not bad for a white 39 year-old.

As a result of all the above I became severely ill and came close to killing myself. I am on the mend now, yet only last week a Stephen Harper commercial on TV insisted that Canada does not need to change. Apparently everything here is perfect - I guess I didn't get that memo.

Pawlina said...

Oh dear... thank goodness you're on the mend and have the strength to overcome such adversities!

Not all Canadians are so mean, tho, and I hope you're encountering kinder, gentler folks these days.

All the best in your recovery, and thanks so much for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I'm from South Africa and have been living in Quebec for a bit more than a year. I find it sad to see how xenophobic people are here. There's a lot of mentality (especially regarding language) that we've worked so hard to get rid of in South African and it's sad to see that people still think that way anywhere in the world.

It's a hard choice for me to make but I'll probably move back to South Africa permanently end of next year. I want to have children one day but I definitely don't want them to be exposed to the Quebecois mentality and have them go to the schools here where they'll just be brainwashed to be like the others here.

Pawlina said...

Not sure what exactly it is you're unhappy with, but I'm sad that you feel Canada is not a good place to raise a family.

For all its faults, it is a country where people can express their feelings openly and are free to attempt to better our society, which is ever-evolving.

I have not been to South Africa but hope to visit someday. It sounds fascinating.

Anonymous said...

I have lived here for 29 years and have citizenship and still have people asking me whether or not I am Canadian.

Xenophobia exits in this country and until Canadians really admit it, it will never go, it is sad that Canadians would prefer to put their heads in the sand.

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