Diversity and Identity

By Frideres, James; Rasporich, Anthony | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Diversity and Identity


Frideres, James, Rasporich, Anthony, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


These papers selected for publication are from a conference, "Ethnocultural, Racial, Religious and Linguistic Diversity and Identity Seminar." held in Halifax on November 1-2, 2001. The seminar was organized by the Association of Canadian Studies in partnership with the Multiculturalism Program (Department of Canadian Heritage). The Canadian Ethnic Studies Association and the Metropolis Project (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) helped in the gathering of experts in the area of identity for the purpose of developing a long term research framework to guide current and future research in the area. The papers address the complex issue of the constitution and construction of ethnic identity in Canada, approaching the issue from various disciplinary perspectives, ultimately leading to a multidisciplinary prism or lens through which we might see more clearly the way in which identity is formed and shaped. The papers also developed a link between research and policy that is a fundamental policy goal of the Multicu lturalism Program, along with the goals of civic participation and social justice.

The lead article by Jack Jedwab explores the complex interrelationships between leadership and governance and the formation of communities and ethnic identities. Drawing upon a wide range of studies, the author explores the historical development of leadership in ethnic communities, from the clerics and community leaders of the first wave of immigrants prior to the 1960s, to the secular professional leaders and business leaders who followed. The rise of visible minority immigrant population in the recent past has also resulted in the proliferation of hundreds of ethnic organizations by the mid-eighties, the rise of Black community organizations in Montreal and Toronto, and the rapid increase of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian organizations and Islamic institutions across Canada. Seeking a model to explain the leadership and its relation to the governed among these groups in such studies as Breton and Waller, Jedwab skillfully places these communities within their civic, provincial, and national framework of ins titutions to provide a comprehensive understanding of their evolving identities. Finally, he grasps the difficult nettle of the compromises necessary to accommodate the interests of "identity politics" and the demands of an overarching and unifying citizenship, a dilemma articulated by Alan Cairns, among other scholars.

The second article by Brian Osborne is informed by years of his scholarship addressing the place of space in the construction of historical memory and national identity. Canadian historians have recently come to the study of the construction of national myths with some fine studies by H.V. Nelles (2000) on the Art of Nation-Building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec's Tercentenary and Alan Gordon (2001) Making Public Pasts: The Contested Terrain of Montreal's Public Memories. Among European scholars this kind of exploration of myths and their place in historical memory has been around for at least two decades beginning with the classic study by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger on the Invention of Tradition (1983). Osborne takes the reader through the complex process whereby national identities are constructed, in particular, the several roles played by landscapes, narratives, monuments, capital/capitols, public celebrations and spectacles, and historical pageants. Lastly, he explores the difficult issue of f uture constructions of meta-narratives appropriate to a pluralistic civil/nationalism in Canada, which has been described by Richard Gwyn as the "first post-modern state."

A related theme is explored in the next article by Paul Bramadat on ethnic identity as revealed in cultural spectacles, in his case the Winnipeg Folklorama Festival, the longest standing and largest ethno-cultural festival in the world, entertaining nearly a half a million visitors annually. As he puts it, "regular performances of identity are crucial means of perpetuating or recreating a particular identity in many communities," He notes that such festivals serve broadly public educational roles, such as: fighting general prejudice, reducing religious illiteracy, and providing a context for women to reaffirm cultural identity through dance, food, and clothing. …

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