Cultural Thoughts….

As we prepare to celebrate Canada Day this week, I find myself thinking about cultural identity and how it is perceived by immigrants and their Canadian-born or Canadian-raised children.

In Canada, a model nation of multiculturalism with one of the largest populations of immigrants in the world, the notion of culture becomes quite complex. Where things get really complicated is in the relationship between the immigrant parent and the Canadian-born/raised child.
Many immigrant parents argue that the need to integrate in the new country should not override the richness or value of their culture, and that the values they will pass down to their children are non-negotiable. Still, many children born to immigrant parents accept that cultural identity is a multidimensional thing in Canada, and there is more than one way of looking at the world.
I should know. As the immigrant parent of a child born in Canada, our life is about building bridges: ethnically and in terms of cultural tradition. Add to the mix a set of live-in grandparents who recently moved to Canada, and you suddenly wake up to a full plate of one rich and saucy cultural salad.
If you ask my 7-year old daughter, she would say that at home she is very much Romanian, although at school she is as Canadian as anyone else.
Although the passing down of culture should be a question of give and take, a process where “children blend what they inherit,” many admit that fitting into the mainstream is often a necessary survival tactic to succeed in Canada. In other words, the experience of migration across borders means a necessary redrawing of cultural lines.

Many new immigrants point out there is a risk involved in this: alienation. In Canada, there is a new culture and in many cases, a new race to assimilate — to get rid of our Old World baggage as we come here and become Canadian, and make sure our kids are fully Canadian.
The notion of integration leading to alienation is on the minds of many youth born or raised in Canada to immigrant parents.
Some of my friends feel neither Romanian nor Canadian. The kids feel more security than their parents do in joining Canadian society since they are not displaced, per se. However, the complexities of having to choose between embracing Canadian mainstream culture and their parents’ values and traditions could be overwhelming.

Being pulled between two cultures means that conflict is a daily reality for children of immigrants. They can start feeling like they don’t fully belong in either culture. Meanwhile, parents who bear the more immediate challenges of economic stability are often unable to attend to their children’s resulting emotional needs. Unfortunately, there are few resources out there to assist in dealing with such cultural conflicts.

With multiculturalism literally enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a new definition of culture may be necessary. Perhaps “culture” in Canada is a metaphor — literally, in the sense that it means more than one thing, and, figuratively, because its meaning is a bridge or balancing act between the old and new.
After all, culture in the multicultural Canadian context can never be a single expression — it is the amalgamation of various expressions, lifestyles, ideologies, values and traditions. We are a nation where diversity and integration can function hand in hand. It’s all about finding that balance.

As you are preparing for the fireworks party and wondering where in the closet are those bright red 2010 Olympics T-shirts, have yourselves a Happy Canada Week!


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