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by Daniela Ciubotariu, “Miron Costin” High School, Iași

Keywords: multiculturalism, biculturalism, interculturalism, transculturalism, history of Canada, history of the USA

The aim of this paper is to focus on the concept of multiculturalism (definitions, origins, official documents) in the two countries where it came into being, and on its derivatives: biculturalism, interculturalism and transculturalism. The concepts can be introduced into the English lessons to make our students aware of these phenomena that have been taking place especially in some English speaking countries and originated in the North American continent. The subject is suitable for high-school level and could be integrated into the optional or CLIL classes.

What does multiculturality mean? The word is of Latin origin: multi<multus = many and culture<cultura; therefore, multicultural ity can be defined as the co-existence of several different cultures within one and the same area. The first attestation of the word multicultural was in June 1959 when the Montreal “Times” described the city of Montreal as “this multi-cultural, multi-lingual society.” According to The Longer Oxford English Dictionary, the term multiculturalism derived from the word multicultural, and it was first mentioned in The Preliminary Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism which was published in 1965.
Starting from the given text, several tasks can be created to stir the students’ interest in the matter. Moreover, the written part should also be accompanied by some short videos on this subject.
Origins and definitions
In what concerns the definition of the word multiculturalism, we cannot appeal to just one straight and complete one, as, up to now, the opinions vary on this point. Therefore, we will quote a set of definitions given by different authors and consequently, we will stop on the one that we consider to encompass the most features:
1. Stratton and Ang: “Viewed historically, multiculturalism could be understood as the consequence of the failure of the modern project of the nation-state, which emphasized unity and sameness –a trope of identity –over difference and diversity.”

2. Gagnon: “Multiculturalism is constructed as a doctrine that provides a political framework for the official promotion of social equality and cultural differences as an integral component of social order.”

3. Heller: “Multiculturalism in the broadest sense is the utopia of equal life chances for all communities in a direct sense, and eventually also for individuals in an indirect sense.”

4. Fleras and Elliott: “Multiculturalism is an official doctrine and corresponding set of policies and practices in which ethnoracial differences are formally promoted and incorporated as an integral component of the political, social, and symbolic order.”

The conclusion is that all definitions have a common core (unity in diversity, equality among people), none of them is fully complete, and in the end, they could complete one another. We cannot look upon multiculturalism only from a political point of view (def. 2) or from a historical point of view (def. 1) and we also cannot reduce it just to a state of utopia (def. 3), we have to look upon it in a more complex way as it is a complex process. Therefore, the more plausible one remains the last one. The authors themselves came with a detailed explanation of it:
“First, multiculturalism is viewed as a philosophy and a set of policies and programs that allow racial and ethnic minorities to preserve selected aspects of their cultural heritage. […] Second, multiculturalism serves to mediate the process of reworking the relationship between central authorities and ethnoracial minority sectors. […] Lastly, this definition draws our attention to the intrinsic value of diversity in defining a new moral authority around which to organize and evaluate society. Racial and ethnic differences are accepted as positive qualities that not only enhance the collective well-being of the population, but also promote the unity, identity, and prosperity of the country as a whole.”

But multiculturalism is not the only such concept, there are other similar ones: biculturalism, interculturalism, transculturalism. And it is not difficult to imagine the meaning of these related concepts. Obviously, they relate to one another both metaphorically: they look upon culture, but each in its own way; and physically: they have the same root –cultural and suffix -ism but different prefixes –bi = two, inter = mutually, reciprocally, and trans = across, beyond, through (implies mobility).
Briefly, biculturalism could be defined as a socio-cultural phenomenon which consists in the mixing up of two cultures, civilizations, ethnicities, etc. It appeared in Canada towards the end of the 17th century when both the English and French colonists were disputing their supremacy on that territory. Officially, the term was implemented in 1963 by a group of ethnic immigrants (“The Third Force”) who founded The Royal Commision of Biculturalism and Bilingualism (B&B) . We cannot speak about biculturalism nowadays. Its place was taken by multiculturalism, a social construct which the Quebecois rejected preferring to create their own construct to define the situation within their region: interculturalism. Just like multiculturalism, it is concerned with the ethnoracial minorities’ integration in the Quebecois society but only within the framework that establishes the superiority of French as the culture and language of Quebec:
“In Quebec, […] the French language is presented as a “centre of convergence” for diverse groups which can nevertheless maintain and let flourish their specificity. While the Canadian policy privileges an individualist approach to culture, Quebec’s policy states clearly the need to recognize French as a collective good which requires protection and encouragement.”

Therefore, this model is neither assimilatory as that of the United States nor does it fall into fragmentation thus leading to pluralism. It looks for equilibrium between the requirement of unity and the recognition of the minority cultures.
The last concept, transculturalism, was first mentioned by the Ukrainian-Canadian writer Janice Kulyk Keefer in her article “Writing, Reading, Teaching Transcultural in Canada”. It is her own creation and she justifies:
“Those cultural products of a multicultural society which assert, explore, or allude to their creators’ liminal position between two or more different countries, communities, cultures, I would call “transcultural”. […] Perhaps the term “transcultural” should simply be taken as a signifier of all that is inherently, inescapably problematic in multiculturalism. Yet it also has a positive value in its being such a promiscuous or umbrella term, comprehending the work of writers born in Canada into families which possess a vital connection to the history, traditions, values, and in some cases language of their country of origin. More contentiously, “transculturalism” can also embrace works by writers like Thomas King and George Elliott Clarke, for whom the term “country of origin” becomes palimpsestic […] the “old country” lies, even breathes beneath the inscriptions and constructions of the new nation state.”

Multiculturalism in Canada
Multiculturality is a social fact that is present in almost every country but we cannot assert that all these countries where many cultures co-exist are necessarily characterized by multiculturalism. The only one that has acknowledged this phenomenon and has also adopted it politically is Canada. It became officially multicultural in 1971, even if before this, it was neither monocultural nor bicultural. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was issued on the 8th of October 1971. Actually, it was not the first act that dealt with the rights of the ethnominorities, there were some others issued before but they did not take into account the problem at a large scale: The Proclamation Act of 1763 (accorded special status to the Aboriginal peoples), The Indian Act of 1876, Citizenship Act in 1947 (concerned immigrants), Official Language Act in 1969 (gave French the same status as English). However, with all these issued acts in the background, the situation in Canada was still confused. As a consequence of the situation, the Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, outlined the Government’s position on multiculturalism:
“We believe that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity. Every ethnic group has the right to preserve and develop its own culture and values within the Canadian identity. A policy of multiculturalism must be a policy for all Canadians.”

Accordingly, Canada was the only country that issued a policy of multiculturalism in law through an act of Parliament. This opened a door to the expansion of all sorts of organizations and institutions for the benefit of the ethnominorities: a Multicultural Directorate within the Department of the Secretary of State was approved in 1972, a Ministry of Multiculturalism was created in 1973, Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism in 1973, The Canadian Multicultural Advisory Committee in 1990.
Politically speaking, multiculturalism appeared as a negative reaction to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Biculturalism and Bilingualism (B&B) from a group represented by ethnic immigrants that called themselves “the Third Force”. The Royal Commission on Biculturalism and Bilingualism was created in 1963 and its main target was to put an end to the critical situation in Quebec. Through this Act both the French and the English were recognized as founding nations and the French language acquired the same status as English: it became the second official language of Canada. Anyway, this did not discredit the other nations as Trudeau said in his speech delivered on this occasion:
“We cannot have a cultural policy for Canadians of French and British origin, another for aboriginals, and still another for the others. Although we will have two official languages, there will be no official culture, and no ethnic group will have priority. No citizen or group of citizens is other than Canadian, and all should be treated fairly […]. All men will see their liberty hindered if they are continually enclosed in a cultural compartment determined uniquely by birth or language. It is thus essential that all Canadians, regardless of their ethnic origins, be required to learn at least two languages in which the country conducts its public affairs.”

On the whole, the implementation through law of a multiculturalist act played an important role for the Canadian society. Not only did it put an end to all the conflicts within its nation but it also offered its entire people the same rights and placed them on the same level regardless of race, culture, religion, or origin. According to Huguette Labelle , this multicultural policy had four major objectives: 1) to permit cultural groups to retain and foster their identity; 2) to assist cultural groups to overcome barriers to their full participation in Canadian society; 3) to promote creative exchanges and interchanges among all Canadian cultural groups; 4) to help newcomers acquire at least one of the official languages.
From a theoretical point of view, everything seems to be as it should be (there are laws, organizations, programs). Yet, several questions appear: is the minorities’ life so “en rose” at this moment? Do they all benefit from these programs, etc.? Aren’t there still conflicts, at least small ones? What about the visible-minorities? The right answers can be provided only by those who live in Canada and belong to one ethnicity or another.
Multiculturalism in USA
Some decades ago, the USA was not viewed as a multicultural society for the simple reason that it had implemented the policy of the melting pot metaphor to which all immigrants had to adhere. Nevertheless, being also regarded as a land of immigrants, it has acquired the position of one of the most diverse societies, consequently the American slogan becoming: unity through diversity. Some minorities (Hispanics, Blacks, Natives) resisted the process of assimilation and managed to preserve their own culture. This constituted a first step towards the form of multiculturalism that was to be found in the USA. But it could not be compared to the Canadian multiculturalism. The gap was quite significant. It is true that, at least theoretically, the discrimination was eliminated, there were equal rights and opportunities for everybody, and they could maintain their culture and traditions. But the melting pot metaphor still remained the symbol of the American nation. In the end they had to stick to the mainstream.
The main difference lay in the political approach of this phenomenon. Even if there was a Civil Rights Act which led to the creation of three agencies that dealt with discrimination –The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Civil Rights Commission, and The Community Relation Service –minorities were not offered enough protection and equal opportunities. And here we will cite a remarkable example offered by Fleras and Elliott:

“In 1968, the Bilingual Education Act was designed to remedy the poor performance of ethnic children, especially Hispanic children, in schools. The act allowed schools to use a native language until their English skills were sufficient to permit integration into the regular stream. […] The act was not intended to promote language diversity. It was passed as an interim measure to capitalize on a child’s native tongue for the acquisition of English and absorption into the melting-pot mainstream.”

Nowadays, we can easily say that the American society is a multilingual one in which almost 28 million (1/8) people speak, as their mother tongue, other language than English. The largest number is of Hispanics, followed by Italians, Germans, French, and Polish. Given the situation, American English still has not lost its supremacy. It is claimed that bilingualism (or multilingualism) would be disloyal and unpatriotic, would destroy the national unity, and would be the cause of “language wars”. Therefore, a common language keeps everything under control and most important, holds the nation together.
The Canadian multiculturalism would represent a real example to all the countries that face such a problem. Although it also comprises some weak points, these are not so visible in a context in which the scales tips at the heavier strong points, the heaviest being the fact that this cultural phenomenon was officially recognized and that there is a “Canadian Multiculturalism Act” which put an end to the intrastate conflicts. The first nation that followed the Canadian pattern were the USA, which, finally, accepted to give up the much-desired Melting Pot in favour of the Salad Bowl.

1. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, eleventh edition, 2004;
2. Fleras, Augie, Jean L. Elliot, Multiculturalism in Canada. The Challenge of Diversity, Nelson Canada, Ontario, 1992;
3. Gagnon, Alain-G., Problems and Limits of Multiculturalism: A View from Quebec, in Multiculturalism in Contemporary Societies: Perspectives on Difference and Transdifference, edited by H. Breining, J. Gebhardt, K. Lösch, Universitätbund Erlagen, Nürnberg, 2002;
4. Heller, Agnes, The Many Faces of Multiculturalism, in The Challenge of Diversity. Integration and Pluralism in Societies of Immigration, by R. Banböck, A. Heller, A. R. Zolberg, Vienna. 1996;
5. Keefer, Janice Kulyk, Writing, Reading, Teaching Transcultural in Canada, in Multiculturalism in North America and Europe, edited by Hans Braun and Wolfgang Klooss, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1995;
6. Labelle, Huguette, Multiculturalism and Government, in Multiculturalism and Intergroup Relations, edited by James S. Frideres, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1989;
7. Stratton, Jon, Ien Ang, Multicultural Imagined Communities, in Multicultural States: Rethinking Difference and Identity, edited by David Bennet, London, 1988.

Daniela Ciubotariu has been a teacher of English for 21 years and graduated the “Al.I.Cuza” University of Iași. She holds an MA degree in American Cultural Studies issued by the same university. She was the beneficiary of a Socrates-Erasmus scholarship and attended the courses of Konstanz University, Germany where she mostly studied Canadian culture and literature. As a consequence, her dissertation paper focused on Multiculturalism in Canada and the USA and was published in 2010 by StudIS Publishing House, Iasi. She also translated John Loughlin’s work Subnational Government. The French Experience (Regiunile si guvernul subnațional. Experiența franceză) published by Institutul European Iași (2009).