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Why Do Canadians Differentiate Themselves From Americans?

The topic of multiculturalism came up in my sociology class- Diversity in Canada. I learned a simple but mind blowing (to me) concept.

My prof proposed the question: When it comes to Canadians, why do we tend to differentiate ourselves from the US?

After some thoughts and comments, as a class, we came to the conclusion that multiculturalism is a key identity to Canadians. It is what we are known for, and many take pride in the privileges of being THE first official multicultural country in the world (Canada implemented an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971). America is a multicultural country too, but following a different model.

This is where the differentiation happens between Canadian and American beliefs.

In Canada, we follow a mosaic model of multiculturalism. We cheer on the idea of newcomers maintaining their culture and traditions alongside Canadians with other distinct cultures. While in America, they follow a melting pot model. This means newcomers are expected to assimilate to the dominant culture like 'everyone else'.

I know there are professionals out there that have probably spent their whole careers dissecting these concepts, but here are my own simplified thoughts and feelings of these differences:

If you were to ask me which model I think is 'better', I'd say Canada's mosaic model, but that does not mean I believe in its exact definition. I believe everyone has the right to practice their morals, values and traditions to the extent it does not harm others. If a practice does not align with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I believe that it is reasonable to ask said action to assimilate, to a degree. An example of this overall concept: A woman being able to wear a head-scarf because she wants to and takes pride in wearing it, not because of patriarchal pressures within her community and not because external influences telling her her belief is wrong and oppressive, turning her freedom into oppression. I support emphasizing the importance of independent wants, needs and freedoms that in turn, will help us all live collectively with out individual identities.

With the melting pot model, although it can bring people together, I think it can also be a slippery slope. To me, the expectation for assimilation turns into a taken-for-granted presumption. With the words 'expected to' assimilate, comes a sense of entitlement from citizens that I believe we see in not just the US, but in Canada too. What I am trying to hint to is the intentional or unintentional bigotry we have tolerated in North America in relation to newcomers and indigenous groups. The "get on the train or get off" mentality.

Although I am not writing with intentions of a well-rounded conclusion, I think it is essential to realize the differences between what multiculturalism looks like, and to whom. I think why Canadians differ from Americans in this context is the fact many want to maintain and continue to be perceived as inclusive and empathetic to all humans. Canadians want to continue the legacy of being a place where people can live in harmony. Again, as mentioned before, this may be a mirage, but to me it beats the pride and ego associated with cultural assimilation Americans are renowned for.

Although at times I may not be proud to be Canadian, given our colonial history, I still have faith that the intentions of some citizens will keep us fighting for multiculturalism beyond tokenism.

Kamp Kujichagulia, 2014

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