Canadians can “own” multiculturalism by personally investing in it

In our increasingly connected world where cultures and languages intersect, saying even a few words in someone else's language can completely change your relationships. The great strength of Vancouver is its plurality, and we're proud that so many of the world's cultures are represented in its diverse mix. However, this diversity creates communications challenges, and for many of our citizens language is a real barrier. It's my view that we can turn language into a bridge instead. By learning only a few phrases in the languages of our neighbours we show them a profound respect and connect with them at a fundamental level of their identity.

This Vancouver experience is what drove me to build upon the idea of "greeting fluency". The Greeting Fluency Initiative, established by the Global Civic Policy Society I lead, seeks to encourage citizens to make a small effort to learn a few words in other languages. My own experience is that the greatest personal rewards come from learning the first few words.

I believe we will never truly "own" multiculturalism until we have personally invested in it. Greeting Fluency is one simple way to do this.

Lynn and I are organizing a special event and we invite all of you to join us. On Saturday, March 31 from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM the Greeting Fluency Day will take place in the Woodwards building. Starting with Chinook which was spoken by native people along the West Coast of North America, citizens will learn a few words in French, Mandarin, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Japanese, Tagalog and Punjabi. They will also hear interesting stories and insights from some wonderful people who speak those languages. There will be a few short musical presentations and a break at lunch to sample food from many different cultures.

Since we launched the Greeting Fluency Initiative last year it has taken on many new dimensions. It has started to develop Greeting Fluency videos to help assist people explore new languages. It will also soon launch its Greeting Fluency Aid, a user-friendly app for smart phones. Make an effort to show your neighbours that Vancouver is an inclusive city that values all of its citizens. Reach out and ask them to teach you a word from their language. My suspicion is that you will get just as much or more out of it than they will.

For more information on Greeting Fluency Day go to www.greetingfluency.org. If you would like to register to attend Greeting Fluency Day you can do this through lynnzanatta@gmail.com.

For those who speak another language, I invite you to submit a few phrases via YouTube to the Vancouver Sun. See the Sun's "Fluency" page here.

– post by Sam Sullivan


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  • Bobh

    Sam Sullivan is a good man with sincere objectives.But, I don't view the original objectives of multiculturism as having been met.Not nearly so. I would expect new arrivals to learn the customs of their new country,and do their best to blend in with their neighbors. What i had not considered was that each new ethnic group would tend to buy homes very near to each other.The result that we see is a concentration of Chinese in Richmond, and South Vancouver. Iranians have mostly settled in North Vancouver or West Vancouver.The Sikhs dominate North Delta and North and central Surrey.The expected melting pot has had little success. They continue to converse in their homeland languages and most associate only with people of the same culture.No, there is little "melting", just islands of strangers.

    • Max

      BobH:
      I agree with you.  But, we have politicians that push and support the 'segregation' in order to gain votes.  Locally, Vision has opened up how many 'towns'? This is not mulit-culturalism.  This is people coming to Canada and not needing to blend in, not needing to learn the language, not needing to socialize outside of their own ethinic boundries. 
      My personal opinion, this type of segregation leads to other social issues.

  • The melting pot is an American metaphor. Canada's multi-cultural ambitions AFAIK have employed the image of the mosaic as a guiding principle.
    Of course people will settle near others of like mind/culture language. It's writ large in our countries and reflected in our neighbourhoods. Can't imagine how this would come as a shock. It's the same in most any place and perfectly understandable and reasonable. Especially when representatives of the dominant culture start intimating you have to speak a certain way to be welcomed. 

  • Seriously? Your going on about groups of immigrants tending to settle near each other?
    That's been standard fare for the history of the world.
    Ever hear of Little Italy? China Town? Greek Town? This is hardly a new phenomenom and its hardly a crisis.  When my Mother's family came to Canada from Hungary, they settled in the same area as all the other Hungarians.  Why? That's where all their friends were, the people they could socialize with in their first language, the shops that provided familiar services.
    The idea behind multiculturalism was that new immigrants could retain their culture and traditions (within reasonable bounds) and that largely happens for successive generations.
    People threatened by new immigrants clustering together say a lot more about themselves then they do about the policy of multiculturalism.

    • Max

      @Jack Hope:
      Oddly, no one mentioned feeling threatened by new immigrants clustering together.
      My grandparents came here back in the early 1900's.  Didn't speak a stitch of English, but they made the effort to learn.  As did their kids – and without the help of government programs.  When they went into 'town' they only spoke English, not their 'native' language.
      One of my closet friend's little mother (may she rest in peace) had been in Canada, Vancouver, for roughly 60 years before her passing.  She spoke little to no Engish. (Chinese)  I find it facinating that after that amount of time, there was little grasp of English – but we have set things up as such.
      I would like to think that multiculturalism means people blending together.  Perhpas future generations will – but right now, we have 'towns' within communities, and that doesn't necissarly promote blending.