Every summer, from the time I was four until I was about sixteen years old, I dressed, danced, dined, and fashioned ethnicity, quite literally, on stage. Among other performances, my friends and I participated in Heritage Days, one of the largest outdoor festivals in the world. It is held the first weekend in August, back home in Edmonton, Western Canada. Heritage Days was a family event. In its very early days, my father was Master of Ceremonies on stage for the India pavilion, and my mother helped backstage. At various points, friends and family helped bring together the India pavilion.
A few years after I had last been on stage, I was a research assistant at the University of Alberta, Department of Anthropology. The project we worked on looked at ethnicity, and I accompanied the professor to meet Horst Schmidt, whose brain child was Heritage Days. He told us that he was suspicious of multiculturalism's connotations and proposed instead something that everyone could relate to, so that everyone could be proud of contributing to Canada. His work helped to achieve a specific sense of multiculturalism, one that emphasized commonalities in difference that made a strong nation. Only later did I realize that this official holiday with a very specific meaning of multicultural and heritage happened only in Alberta, Canada. Heritage Days—I had no idea just how local this sense of the global was.
Heritage Days, as staged in Alberta, includes everyone. It is an overt celebration of heritage. Of course, it was 3-D multiculturalism: Dining, Dancing, and Dressing. During it all, the forth “D” of multiculturalism—