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The purpose of this essay is to explore a Canadian Immigrant’s personal experience with multiculturalism in Canada. This was conducted through a one-hour interview in which I sat down with a Canadian immigrant and posed a number of questions that gave me insight into their life experiences, opinions and unique perspectives in order to gain some knowledge about multiculturalism in Canada.
The person I interviewed is Dina Ocean, she is a Muslim woman who was born and raised in North Africa. There she completed her post-secondary education, attended medical school and worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist for 11 years before migrating to Canada in the early 2000s. She is a mother of three. She is a trilingual (she speaks Arabic, French, and English). During her first years of living in Canada, she worked a few jobs as a bilingual customer service agent. She then a completed degree in social work and worked in that field for a few years before she was hired as a French teacher at a private school where she still works present day.
The reason why I chose to interview her is because I believe that she is the perfect person to participate in this interview due to her background and rich life experiences. She has lived in many different low-income and middle-class neighborhoods in Toronto which consisted of people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. During these transitions, she experienced different living conditions and had the opportunity to interact with individuals from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Each transition came with its own unique life experiences and challenges. She has experience in social work and is also an educator who has worked with different age groups as well as individuals from various backgrounds.
During the interview, we discussed a number of topics and social issues. Some of the topics we discussed were immigration, race/ethnicity, employment, and Nationalism as well as social issues such as poverty, identity, discrimination and inequality to name a few. She shared with me her personal life experiences and identified key moments in her life that related to these topics and social issues. This interview has been very insightful, it gave me the opportunity to understand another individual’s experience with Canadian multiculturalism and how it has shaped their view of a multicultural society as well as their general world view. For instance, I learned about some of the negative and positive aspects of living in a multicultural country. Through what Dina shared with me about her employment experience I have concluded that if immigration policies (Canadian Multiculturalism Act) are administered properly and laws put are put in place to protect racial, ethnic and religious diversity multiculturalism can be of great value to society. It has the potential to foster racial and ethnic accord and unite people regardless of their ethnic and religious background thus creating a unified society where everyone can thrive and their potential is equally recognized. Dina credits being bilingual for many of the job opportunities she has had. She believes that these opportunities allowed her to have a much easier immigration transition, however, she points out that a lot of the newcomers she has met when she first immigrated to Canada had a hard time finding employment due to language proficiency, lack of Canadian job experience, etc. which brought on many challenges and prevented them from fully integrating into the Canadian society and establishing a feeling of belongingness.
I had some concerns when it came to asking questions regarding her experience with racism and discrimination due to sensitivity of these topics however, I was surprised to learn that Dina’s experiences with racism and discrimination not only strengthened her as a person but also inspired her to become involved in volunteer projects outside of her community in an effort shatter the stereotypes society had about individuals of her ethnic/religious background (Arab/ Muslim). I did not encounter any ethical dilemmas during this interview process. Dina shared a very interesting point with me. Dina has two sons that are 3 years apart, John has fair skin, dark brown eyes, and dark brown hair while Jason has fair skin, light brown eyes, and dirty blonde hair. She recounts that growing up many people thought that Jason was Caucasian and during many instances, people were very surprised when they learned of his ethnicity/religion because they assumed he was “White”. She says that during numerous situations the advantage of his skin color was very evident especially in comparison to John. When she recently asked her two sons about their experience with racism and discrimination she says that John shared that he has experienced racism and discrimination a few times while Jason said that he has not experienced any racism and discrimination and in fact pointed out that he was aware of the privilege “white people” received but never really reflected about the connection between his skin tone/facial features and the opportunities, treatment, and advantage he has had because of it.
Due to the fact that certain privilege (white privilege, male privilege, etc.) is hidden in our society when we think of stratification based on ethnicity (skin color) we tend to only think about the disadvantages it brings and not the privilege it provides. For example, Jason never experienced racism and discrimination due to his skin color, therefore, has never been put at disadvantage due to it and at the same time he has also never really thought about the privilege and opportunities his skin color has provided him with. Jason’s experience is very similar to the experience Peggy McIntosh shared in her “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” article. She recounts, “In proportion as my racial group was made confident, comfortable and oblivious, other groups we likely made unconfident, uncomfortable and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence which I was made subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of color”. This reality greatly reflects Jason and John’s experiences with privilege and disadvantage due to skin color.
In his book “Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age” Guest asserts that each society has its own patterns of stratification that groups people into categories based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and such categories result in unequal access to resources, wealth, power, privilege, and status. These differences create a divide between the rich and poor and the inequality that exists within such societies prevents those who are put at a disadvantage from progressing. John’s experience with discrimination and racism due to his ethnicity/religion is the perfect example of how such categorizations puts people at a disadvantage and takes away potential opportunities that allow them to advance as individuals. This inequality prevents individuals from having their potential equally recognized. This was very interesting to note because despite the facts that these two young men are not that many years apart, are of the same ethnic/religious background and grew up in the same household they have had an extremely different life experience in regards to racism and discrimination simply due to superficial features, the difference in their skin color and physical traits.
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