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Rights + Justice

'We Are the World' Could Be about Canada

We could make global history, if enough of us stop our divisive fretting about immigration.

Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow 16 Dec

This is an edited excerpt from Great Multicultural North -- A Canadian Primer for Hosers, Immigrants and Socialists available from Fernwood Books. Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow occasionally inhabits the brain of Gary Engler, a long-time journalist at one of Canada's largest media outlets. See sidebar for more on Engler's split personality. And visit The Tyee the next three Thursdays to read more views from Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow.

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Everyone's DNA within our borders?

[Editor's note: The following is an edited excerpt from Great Multicultural North -- A Canadian Primer for Hosers, Immigrants and Socialists available from Fernwood Books. The Tyee will be running more of the views of 'Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow' on each of the next three Thursdays.]

Many of us avoid discussing immigration because the conversation invites the screamers among us to shout insults from the standing room areas at the top of the arena. But, unlike the crazies at the hockey rink, these ones can do real damage with their racism, xenophobia and just plain meanness.

Still, it's not necessarily racist or anti-immigrant to ask: Who is coming to our country? Why should we accept levels of immigration that change the cultural and ethnic makeup of our country? We're giving up part of our identity and what's in it for us in return? Is immigration good for ordinary Canadians or just for our economic elites? Why should ordinary Canadians think mass immigration is a good idea? For every argument that newcomers are good for the economy there is another that says workers should worry about immigrants competing for jobs and driving wages down, especially with the economy in recession. For every 10 people who like the changing ethnic landscape there are three who want things to remain the way they remember it used to be.

The truth is, it's still remarkably easy to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria in many quarters. Some of us feel like victims of change. We had no input into the process that decided all these strange-looking people from around the world could come to our country, province, city, town and neighbourhood.

If we simply look to the past for what it means to be Canadian then we have good reason to be fearful of these newcomers. We see our world changing and that makes us uncomfortable. Strangers seem a threat. Why? Because there is no vision of where these changes are taking us. And when we ask "what's in it for us?" no one answers, except the voices of negativity, the racists and those who are stuck in the past. The best the defenders of immigration usually come up with is "it's good for the economy," which was fine until the economic crisis came along and unemployment rose. What's in it for us under these circumstances?

There is a good answer. It should have been obvious, but no one has spoken up about it before. Perhaps, because of our tendency towards conservative solutions, we have overlooked the readily apparent, groundbreaking project available to us: Canada has acquired the potential, through immigration over the past 40 years, to become the first nation to have a population representative of the entire world.

Everyone's DNA right here

Stop and think about that for a moment. Canada could be the first place ever to have a single government that is a representative sample of the entire planet's population. Remember the song "We Are the World"? It could be about us.

In fact, we are well on our way. According to the last census, Canada attracts new citizens from every ethnic group and all corners of the world. Of the 1.2 million immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006, 58 per cent came from Asia, including the Middle East; 16 per cent from Europe; 11 per cent from the Caribbean, Central and South America; 10.5 per cent from Africa; and 3.5 per cent from the United States. Compare that to a planet where about 61 per cent of the population is Asian, 12 per cent is European, 13 per cent African, nine per cent from South America and the Caribbean, and five per cent North American. We are almost the world and becoming more and more like it every year.

Where is this leading us? To put it in genetic terms, we could be the first place on Earth to have a representative sample of the entire diversity of human DNA. To put it in anthropological terms, when we have a truly representative sample of all the world's peoples, we will have no choice but to figure out ways of getting along and interacting with each other, which will make Canada humanity's first real melting pot. This country could be truly international, truly human and a beacon for the planet...

If we continue to attract immigrants from every corner of the planet eventually Canada's "ethnicity" will become "human" rather than English, or French, or European. Multiculturalism will still allow individuals to value their hyphenated identity, if they so choose, but as our country becomes more and more diverse "Canadian" will transcend all current notions of ethnicity.

Showing other nations it can be done

The cultural, intellectual and economic result of becoming the planet's first country whose ethnicity was "human" would certainly put us in the world spotlight. Canada would have the opportunity to lead our planet past old ethnic and "racial" divisions, to a planetary culture, an ideology of common humanity and an international economy that serves the entire Earth and all the creatures on it.

What might such a Canada look like? How would its people and government act? What might an ideology of common humanity be like?

We can get a glimpse of this new Canada at St. Clair and Bathurst in Toronto or the Metrotown Mall in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby or dozens of other locations in our biggest cities. When the children of people who were born in India, Uganda, Romania, China, the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, Ireland, Nigeria, Lebanon, Germany, Bolivia, Russia, El Salvador, Pakistan, Indonesia and Canada interact they see neighbours, co-workers, fellow Canadians and friends. The other kids in their schools were from all those countries and more. It's the people they are used to. They see us, rather than them. Their circle includes the whole world. Their sense of being Canadian includes people whose ethnic origins are everywhere in the world.

With a population that is more and more representative of the entire planet, Canada has the opportunity to develop a nationalism that is post-ethnic, democratic and internationalist. That would certainly make us a beacon to the world. In fact, post-ethnic, democratic, internationalist nationalism is exactly what the world needs, and soon...

Could we all get along?

Of course an ideology of common humanity would not automatically arise from a Canada that contained a representative sample of all the world's people. We would have established the possibility, perhaps even the necessity, for this ideology, but its creation would not be guaranteed. Enough of us must still want to believe in such a worldview and consciously convince others that it makes sense.

There is another possible result of having people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds living in the same cities and regions. They can form ghettos and develop ideologies of us and them, of being better than others, of ethnic and religious rivalries. These divisions can lead to dysfunctional and weak governments. These divisions can be manipulated by elites, here or abroad, to divide and conquer Canadians, to keep us fighting with each other, rather than building a great country. This is nothing new. In fact, this is how most empires have kept economic, military and political power in the hands of powerful minorities.

So, as we continue along our path of mass immigration from every part of the planet, these are two ends of the spectrum of possible outcomes: a weak, unimportant society divided into ethnic and religious ghettoes that fight each other for power in which a small elite (foreign or domestic) uses those divisions as a form of divide and conquer; or a self-confident society that develops a pan-ethnic, pan-national, democratic "nationalism" that is a beacon to all those who seek to build a better world.

I know which way my vote will be cast and that will be for the Canadian way...

Call me Mongrel

The seed of this future Canada was planted long ago. Many Canadians are already post-ethnic and proud of it. This book is dedicated to them.

People like my great-great-grandfather Walter Chow, who was born in Barkerville in 1869, the son of a Chinese gold miner from California and a Metis whorehouse owner from Fort St. James deserve special recognition for instilling pride of background into all of his children. Walter was a believer in multiculturalism long before it became fashionable. In 1889 he married the daughter of a freed American slave, who immigrated to Salt Spring Island in the 1850s, and a Hawaiian man, whose family had been brought to North America as indentured servants in the 1840s by the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1910 their first-born son, John Chow, married the daughter of Russian-Finnish anarchists whose son was my grandfather Leo Peshkov-Chow. In 1931 he married Surinder Ghopal and two months later my father Raj was born. Leo was an aircraft mechanic and during World War II joined the RCAF and moved to Moose Jaw where after the war he became a shop teacher. My dad Raj met my mother Julietta Martinez in Moose Jaw in 1949. She was traveling across the country with her father, a Spanish Civil War veteran married to an Arab-Berber born in Morocco, who spoke about Franco and the Canadians who fought in the Mackenzie-Papineau Brigade. And then I came along a few years later.

As a kid I tried to do some mathematical calculation about my ethnicity but gave up because it was too complicated. I decided instead to call myself a Mongrel-Canadian and be proud of it. There are millions like me -- the Mongrel Horde -- the sons and daughters of all those who were neither English nor French and so were told the bullshit lie that they were not part of Canada's founding people. This book is dedicated to them.

This book is also dedicated to another sort of ancestor -- these ones political rather than genetic -- all those women and men who believed themselves to be human beings with rights equal to all others, rather than members of some special racial, ethnic, national, religious or political group, and fought for the kind of democracy that reflected this belief. We are not an extinct species. We live on in every corner of the world, despite the temporary triumph of one dollar one vote as the world’s dominant governing principle.  [Tyee]

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