No place like home by NeilBissoondath

Table of Content

No Place like Home

Neil Bissoondath exposes the flaws in Canada’s multicultural mosaic.

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In the next three to four years of the new millennium, Toronto, Canada’s largest city, will achieve an unprecedented milestone. With a population of three million, there will be a reversal in the terms ‘minorities’ and ‘majority’, with the former becoming the latter. Toronto is renowned as the most ethnically diverse city worldwide due to immigration, which has fundamentally changed Canada through multiculturalism over the past 25 years.

The Multiculturalism Act of Canada was established in 1971 to recognize communities with shared origins and their historical contributions to Canadian society. This act promises to support their growth and encourage understanding and innovation that arise from interactions between individuals and diverse communities. However, those responsible for implementing this policy under former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government failed to acknowledge two fundamental flaws: firstly, they believed that ‘culture’, broadly defined, could be transplanted without issue. Secondly, it was assumed that individuals who willingly sought a new life in Canada would want to preserve their original cultures.

Culture is a complex entity; however, this text emphasizes that multiculturalism is central to people’s identity. Despite this complexity, it has been simplified into a basic form of theater for promoting multiculturalism. Canadians, whether labeled as “ethnic” or not, primarily experience each other’s ethnic traditions at festivals.The festivals exhibit inexpensive traditional music, dancing, and food but in a way that departs from their original context. Although they provide amusement, these interactions are superficial and resemble a folkloric representation of Disneyland. Nonetheless, these festivals demonstrate Canada’s inclusivity and acceptance of diversity, enabling us to find enjoyment in them.

It is often overlooked how none of our ethnic cultures have produced noteworthy poetry, literature, or philosophy. This tendency to stereotype Greeks as Zorbas and Ukrainians as Cossacks perpetuates reinforced stereotypes. These differences not only emphasize individuality but also define individuals based on those differences. Some people enjoy adhering to these stereotypes, embracing their ethnicity as they age. However, playing into the role of an ethnic stereotype means relinquishing one’s full humanity in favor of exotic characteristics. Accepting this role also means accepting a subtle marginalization, always feeling slightly separate from the larger landscape and never fully belonging. By exoticizing and trivializing ancient cultures, we have inadvertently created mental ghettos for various communities. One’s connection to the broader Canadian landscape is tempered by loyalty to a different cultural or racial heritage. For example, during the war between Croatia and Serbia, a member of the Ontario legislature of Croatian descent felt justified in declaring their inability to live next to a Serb, disregarding the fact that both were fellow Canadians. In this case, loyalty to their cultural group took precedence over loyalty to their home country.It is ironic that a country, which proudly asserted its responsibility in combating apartheid, is now faced with this situation.

Often, one looks in vain for the quality that Canadians value above all – tolerance. Canada prides itself on being a tolerant country, unlike the United States, which demands a submission to American mythology from its immigrants. However, in our pursuit of this ideal, we have surrendered parts of our culture — Christmas pageants have been replaced with ‘Winterfests’, and the anti-racist Writers Union of Canada held a 1994 conference that excluded white individuals. Tolerance itself may be an overrated and flawed ideal, as novelist Robertson Davies noted that it is inferior to acceptance. Tolerating someone means merely putting up with them, adopting an indifferent stance. Acceptance, on the other hand, requires engagement, understanding, and an appreciation for the commonalities between individuals despite their apparent differences. Tolerance becomes superficial and perhaps represents the highest goal for Canadian multiculturalism. Another negative consequence of this approach is a sense of temporary citizenship. When sprinter Ben Johnson won a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, he was hailed as the great Canadian star in the media.

Days later, Johnson faced a blow to his reputation when he tested positive for drugs and had his medal revoked. He was initially seen as a Jamaican immigrant but conveniently presented himself as Canadian when it suited him, only to be regarded as a foreigner when it did not. Despite being tolerated, he never truly felt accepted and his distinctiveness always set him apart, creating an unsettled social fabric. This unfortunate situation has contributed to uncertainty surrounding Canada’s national identity, which is deeply rooted in British and French traditions. The introduction of the “mosaic” approach, where individuals are separate yet connected by a unifying element like cement, has added to this sense of uncertainty. Even after more than 130 years as a country, Canada still struggles with defining its true essence. A comprehensive study conducted in 1993 found that 72 percent of the population desired blending together under the mosaic concept. However, the study also revealed that Canadians were becoming less tolerant towards ethnic groups seeking special treatment. For instance, there was opposition towards a Chinese group advocating for publicly funded schools taught in Chinese by Chinese teachers or a Muslim group aiming to follow Islamic law over the Canadian judicial system. Both Canadians and immigrants believed that adopting Canadian values and way of life was essential.According to Claude Corbo, a former rector at Université du Québec à Montréal and a descendant of Italian immigrants, multiculturalism has led to the exoticization and marginalization of individuals, making it more difficult for them to achieve their goals. He believes that multiculturalism is hindering the integration of immigrants into Canadian and Quebec society by instructing them to preserve their cultural heritage and values, even if they conflict with those of the wider society. However, Corbo points out that migrants have both the capability and desire to maintain their original identities.

The act of emigration has a significant impact on all those involved. When someone takes a one-way plane to a new country, it initiates a subtle and rapid psychological transformation. Personally, as an 18-year-old with dreams but limited worldly experience, I arrived in Toronto from Trinidad in 1973. However, upon returning to Trinidad just one year later to visit my parents, I realized the extent of change that had occurred. Even within such a short period, old friends had become strangers and familiar places lost their meaning. Trinidad gradually faded into distant memory while my new home took its place in my heart. This process may vary in speed and observability for some individuals; however, it remains inevitable. Our personalities are not fixed; they evolve alongside our experiences.

Multiculturalism required me to bring my Trinidadian way of life with me to Canada, which initially surprised me because I had sought a fresh start in a country that would provide such an opportunity. Moving to Toronto did not mean pretending I was still in Trinidad; otherwise, why would I have chosen to emigrate? This sentiment is shared by others as well. Professor Rias Khan from the University of Winnipeg affirms that immigrants do not come solely to preserve their culture or nurture their ethnic distinctiveness; instead, they aim to integrate into the new society and contribute towards its growth and development.The decision to maintain one’s cultural heritage and ethnicity is a personal choice, with no interference from the government. The immigrant dream revolves around achieving financial and social success, as well as finding one’s place in society. This aspiration knows no bounds and requires bravery. The pursuit of freedom and fairness may even involve implementing anti-discrimination laws to reach full potential.

A vital aspect of this freedom is the ability to embrace both societal and personal change that accompanies migration. It is possible to value a private identity rooted in family history while also striving for integration into society for wider accomplishments. Being compelled to either erase or glorify the past unnecessarily impedes personal development.

The passage concludes with an anecdote about a teacher questioning first-grade students regarding their familial backgrounds. In Quebec City, most children come from francophone families deeply connected to the region. However, my daughter has a unique situation – her father was born in Trinidad to an East Indian family but has resided in Canada for many years, considering himself Canadian; whereas her mother was born in Quebec City and speaks French as her native language.

My daughter was born in Montreal, and her teacher immediately assumed she belonged to a West Indian family. This caused confusion for my six-year-old daughter, as it gave her an identity crisis with good intentions. Thankfully, we were able to help her understand her mixed heritage.

However, if we had been living in Toronto or Vancouver, where ethnic identity is highly emphasized, she would have faced even more complexities. To accurately represent her inherited ethnicities, she would have to identify herself as Franco-Québécoise-First Nations-Indian-Trinidadian-West Indian-Canadian. Merely calling herself “Canadian” without any hyphenation would be viewed as confrontational.

Feminist writer Laura Sabia recognizes the significance of this hyphen and expresses frustration with the forced division along ethnic lines: ‘Above all else, I consider myself Canadian… Why do we need to acquire a hyphen? We’ve allowed ourselves to become divided based on our ethnic origins under the guise of the “Great Mosaic”. Politicians adhere to a “divide and rule” motto… I am first and foremost Canadian – don’t hyphenate me.’

This sentiment applies not only to Sabia but also future generations.

Canadian multiculturalism, with its emphasis on diversity, has impeded the integration of immigrants into the Canadian mainstream and had a negative impact on Canada’s national identity. Despite Canada’s commendable efforts in combating racism and maintaining a largely harmonious society, multiculturalism has further divided us. This is especially problematic considering existing issues such as separatism in Quebec and east-west tensions – our multicultural “mosaic” exacerbates these divisions. Official multiculturalism has lost popularity and status but Canada remains dedicated to welcoming immigrants and fighting discrimination.

Moving forward, we should prioritize programs that emphasize our shared experiences, values, and aspirations as Canadians regardless of our backgrounds. Our goal should be acceptance rather than mere tolerance. It is crucial for any future policy to promote a new vision of national identity where no one feels alienated or hyphenated. In this diverse nation, each individual represents a unique cultural blend while still embodying the collective identity of being Canadian. This eliminates the need for repetitive conversations about nationality.


‘No, I mean, what nationality are you really?’

The ultimate goal should be a unified and harmonious society enriched by diverse cultures, capable of understanding its role in the global community. By attaining this, the Ontario legislator and his neighbor would no longer perceive each other solely as Serb and Croat, but rather as Canadians who share more similarities than their narrow-mindedness allows them to acknowledge. Ultimately, immigration is a personal journey that is followed by the challenge of integration. This struggle takes place within a societal framework, which can either facilitate or hinder the process. Multiculturalism in Canada has the latter effect, but its significance may be insignificant because integration – the act of creating a new identity within a new society while preserving one’s cultural heritage – ultimately happens within one’s soul.

Canadians, including myself, have embraced multiculturalism and integrated into our new society while still honoring our family histories. I will always remember the summer evening when I returned to Toronto after a trip to Europe. Standing on my apartment balcony, I was captivated by the Toronto skyline and the shimmering light reflecting off Lake Ontario and beyond. Breathing in the cool evening air, I felt a deep sense of belonging and knew that this was home.

Neil Bissoondath, an author of four fictional books such as Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, is currently working on a new book set for release later this year.

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No place like home by NeilBissoondath. (2016, Dec 30). Retrieved from

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