In just two short years, it will be Canada’s 150th anniversary. We’re a comparatively young country to many other nations of the world, but one and a half centuries is an immense legacy and history of which Canadians can be proud. Even after 150 years, the Canadian cultural experience doesn’t seem to be set in stone — but instead, a fluid space of diffusion.
Racism as well as a lack of toleration for those of different ethnicities, races and cultures even in the post-Obama world, is very much present in North America. It is a history that has found new life at Brock this year following the Blackface scandal that spread to news sites and publications throughout Canada and beyond.
It is not so much the treatment of minorities and immigrants that I’m concerned with however, rather the integration of diverse cultural customs within a Canadian experience. Cultural integration, segregation and assimilation: all of these options are problematic, some more so than others. So what is the ideal model for Canadian society in bringing together such distinct cultural identities, while both preserving Canadian identity and retaining the value of those groups?
Without delving too deep into the politics and advanced economics of a superstore, Target, the U.S. mega department store, closed after having launched in Canada only two years ago. Although this example is more economic than social, it’s one occurrence in which American values, economic and consumeristic models don’t always work in a Canadian context.
Considering we share the world’s largest unguarded border with the U.S., and are often compared for social, economic and cultural similarities, how much more challenging might it be to integrate far more distinct cultures and groups into Canadian society and culture?
As a result of these similarities between Canada and the United States however, distinctly Canadian public institutions like the CBC and the CRTC both present and protect a very specific vision of Canadian society, defined in opposition to the U.S. Ultimately, this prevents the steam roller of American popular culture from overshadowing the Canadian media’s accomplishments, which is seemingly important for Canadians to preserve their culture.
How can Canada be seen as a cultural mosaic if we reject and limit the influence of our largest trading partner and ally?
An American example of socio-cultural integration within the media is an unexpected source, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They may just be common New York City turtles, who enjoy pizza and catch phrases, but this American style and energy is strongly mixed with orientalist expectations. The turtles, through the guidance of Master Splinter, train in the martial arts and learn to adopt a foreign system of honour and mentorship.
This merging of two distinct cultural authorities that mix into a single cross-cultural conception ultimately seems to favour the North American biases. While this is understandable in order to make the characters more relatable for the widely homogenous population of viewers, it also reduces the practice of racial integration to mere tokenism.
There’s a recognition of a culture and there’s certainly allusions and references being made based on the related cultural assumptions, but is there any true understanding, equality or unity between them? Furthermore, from looking specifically at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, can there be any real value to the implemented cultural force other than an entertainment, voyeuristic value?
When cultural integration occurs but doesn’t succeed in giving the minority groups a voice, then there is an evident problem. In a society so concerned with broad standards of acceptance, representation must be for more than simple amusement. If the only idea behind the integration of Asian-inspired culture in TMNT is that ‘they look so cool as samurai warriors’, then that attempt at racial connectedness is frivolous at best.
To engage in cultural acceptance almost in a tourist capacity, it is not establishing foreign and minority groups within a highly patriarchal, democratic citizen, it degrades those cultures, and demeans them as a mine for entertainment and marketing spins.
This superfluous fusion of different cultures is not recognizing the cultures as valuable, it’s tokenism. Having a shawarma place on every corner does not mean Canada is a cultural mosaic. Canada seems to integrate culture through this touristy design; there are pockets of geography that become specific pockets of a single culture — and more often than not becomes a tourist area. We all know to go to “China town” for the food, markets, and to ironically, ‘get a real experience of what China is like’.
Unfortunately, this is an explorative acceptance. Canadians like sushi, they like to try new things, they like to explore new places, but don’t pretend like the facets of Canadian society present North American and European values as equal to Asian and other orientalized cultures.
Many Canadians have a food court style idea of what cultural integration should look like that is not only superfluous, but doesn’t allow these distinct cultures to be adequately valued, recognized or understood.