Happy “Canadian Multiculturalism Day!” How many of you knew, that on November 13, 2002, the Government of Canada, by Royal Proclamation, designated June 27 as a special day celebrating multiculturalism, which on the official website is described as “an opportunity to celebrate our diversity and our commitment to democracy, equality and mutual respect and to appreciate the contributions of the various multicultural groups and communities to Canadian society.”
There are 34 different ethnic groups in Canada with at least 100,000 people, and people have reported more than 200 different ethnic origins in the census. B.C. is the most ethnically diverse province in Canada, and welcomes nearly 40,000 new immigrants each year. Almost 30 % of the people in B.C. have emigrated from another country in their lifetime.
We here in Vancouver know a lot about multiculturalism. In Vancouver there is a 68% chance that 2 randomly chosen people will be of a different ethnicity. And another fact – 9.6 % of married and common-law couples are interracial – the highest in Canada A couple of years ago, we reached the point where no ethnic group constituted an absolute majority — Euro-Caucasians are still the largest ethnic group, but make up something like 46% of the population,; and more than 50% of the city’s residents identify a language other than English as their mother tongue. The next largest ethnic group is Chinese, followed by South Asian, and then a host of other nationalities, including Filipino, SE Asian, Korean, Japanese, and Latin American. (have you ever tried to count the different languages you will hear when walking on the seawall?)
Aboriginal people make up 2% of Vancouver’s population — and as we talk about multiculturalism, we need to recognize that Indigenous people have been here for 10,000 years, and we more recent arrivals have a lot of work to come to a just and true reconciliation with the First Peoples of this land.
It seems to me that Vancouver, well, that Canada, is engaged in an amazing experiment, trying to create a pluralistic, respectful and accepting mixture of races and ethnicities that is cause for celebration. For sure, we haven’t always got it right – hence the many apologies for past intolerance and prejudice, and the pain and destruction these have caused. And there is so much still to do. But we’re an experiment, a work in progress.
There are those who praise our multicultural experiment, and others who point to problems and concerns. I would love to come back in a hundred years to see if we succeed. And I am brash enough to believe that God would be pleased if we did indeed succeed. I am reminded of that first day of Pentecost, exploding with spirit and speaking, where the crowd that gathered “was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the language of each.” The challenge of the early church… indeed for all churches… is how to bring together people of different races, nationalities and ethnicities, knowing that all are beloved children of God. There is a natural human tendency to “homophily,” a term meaning individuals tend to associate with people who are similar to them. I believe that God wants us to go beyond that, to draw the circle wide, and then wider still. Remember how many times in Scripture we are admonished to welcome the stranger, to offer hospitality to the newcomer!
Interestingly, our United Church talks about striving to be an “intercultural” church rather than simply being multicultural, recognizing that as different cultures come together we learn from each other and something new emerges. It believes that the intercultural vision is about more than inclusion – it’s about a radical welcoming that calls all of us to change. (https://www.united-church.ca/community-faith/being-community/vision-becoming-intercultural-church
I like seeing this new creation through the metaphor of our learning to sing together, to sing in harmony, each person or group contributing something unique and special, and when all are properly brought together…. oh then, what beautiful music. Listen to these lines from the poem, “Learning to Sing in Parts” by Jean Janzen (especially the bolded parts):
After the quarrelling at recess
my father teaches his students
to listen, to hold a pitch and hum it,
his head close to the small child.
The child listens and seeks
for the tone, sliding into a float
of singing, the whole room of children
riding out now on one note.
But then two, three, or even four tones
at once, my father sorting and joining
their varied voices into a rich and layered
flow. How to hold against the other pitches?
This is the world’s secret, he confides,
how to enter and be close, yet separate.
That room, musty with chalk and sweat, closed
door, and still the harmony slips out,
Escaping like most secrets do. Alone
At the end of the day the school house empty
And shadowed, my father wonders, can it
be taught? He seeks it too. How patiently
his own father taught him, held him close,
his voice vibrating light and low under
the wavering melody, a duet
that hovers over the stony fields.
A Happy Canada Day to you all.