Canada’s official model for integrating newcomers, the cultural mosaic, is based on false assumptions and fails to meet immigrants’ new social and cultural needs.
Canada’s government delivered its official policy on multiculturalism in 1971, adopting a model called the cultural mosaic. While on the surface the policy and model seemed benign, they were based on false assumptions. The Mosaic Myth deconstructs the theory of the cultural mosaic to expose those flaws and warn how its implementation will be at best useless and at worst harmful.
Author Domenic Diamante, himself an immigrant from Italy, was skeptical from the start. After studying the evidence, he drafted this book, now forty years ago. Today, with the mosaic model having failed, Diamante brings his work to the public stage in its original form to show what was wrong with the mosaic and why it matters.
About the author
Domenic Diamante arrived in Canada from Italy as a teenager. After Diamante earned a BA from McMaster University, an MA from the University of Toronto, and a teaching certificate from OISE, he and his wife Belma raised two children while establishing a successful business in real-estate development. The couple, now grandparents, live in Burlington.
Excerpt: The Mosaic Myth: The Social Integration of Newcomers to Canada (by (author) Domenic Diamante)
Chapter 1 The Social Integration of Newcomers to Canada
Immigration is an integral part of Canada’s history. More than one third of Canada’s population derives from a non-French or a non-British ancestry, whether this is viewed positively or not. Canada has pursued immigration policies that have brought people from all corners of the world. Canada’s forests and lakes which, until a few hundred years ago, had known only Native populations—have since witnessed people from almost all the world’s nationalities and races, all coming — at least metaphorically — to hew their wood and draw their water.
Still, the policies that have drawn millions of immigrants to the country have not been met with unanimous approval. They have sparked heated debates and more than once been the focus of election campaigns. Of the myriad views regarding immigration, two opposing ideas came to dominate, each seeking to influence the number and quality of people entering Canadian territory.
On one side were those promoting a large influx of people needed to build the economy and populate the largely uninhabited land. The newcomers would provide a reservoir of workers to take jobs that Canadian workers did not want. Political and economic elites in Canada demanded a larger, cheaper workforce. As Donald Avery points out in his book a Dangerous Foreigners, “Only the European workers seemed prepared to face the irregular pay, high accident rates, crude living conditions and isolation that characterized the workforce in the expanding parts of the Dominion’s economy.”
On the other side were those who wanted to curtail immigration, fearing that a great influx of people from different cultural backgrounds would diminish Canada’s culture and erode its character. In September 1906, an editorial in Saturday Night stated openly that “this is a white man’s country and white man will keep it so. The slanted eye Asiatic, with his yellowskin, his unmanly humility, his cheap wants would destroy the whole equilibrium of industry. He would slave like a Nubian, scheme like a Yankee, hoard like the proverbial Jew.”2 By 1924, the mood had not changed. In an article appearing in The Toronto Telegram of that year, the same racist ideas were expressed regarding keeping those who were different out of the country: “An influx of Jews puts a worm next to the kernel of every fair city where they get a hold. These people have no national tradition.…They engage in the wars of no country, but flit from one country to another under passports changed with chameleon swiftness, following up the wind to the smell of a lucre.”
The Canadian government found itself in the awkward position of reconciling these two conflicting views. The pressures from those seeking to expand the Canadian economy with the help of immigrants could not be dismissed. At the same time, political parties wanting to gain or remain in office could not disregard the significant portion of voters who wanted to restrain immigration. Placed between these seemingly irreconcilable views, governments generally served the interests of the first by adopting, with some interruptions, policies of massive immigration. At the same time, they made efforts to reassure the public that the immigrants would abandon their ways and be absorbed into the Canadian way of life. As political realities pushed politicians to meet the needs of a growing economy while also placating anti-immigration views, the goal and model of assimilation came to the rescue.
The Theory of Assimilation
Assimilation provided reassurances that immigrants would lose their “strange ways,” shed their foreign coats, and adopt the customs of the majority population. From the nineteenth century, when mass immigration began, until the official declaration of multiculturalism in 1971, the Canadian government sought to assimilate immigrants into Canada’s cultural and linguistic traditions.
This was meant to render innocuous the effect that mass immigration could have on Canadian culture and its institutions. It was hoped it would curb the anti-immigrant views of the host population toward newcomers who displayed different traits and neutralize the distaste for political groups and economic lobbyists pushing for more immigration.
In fact, in 1919, as reported in The Lethbridge Herald, the Daughters of the Empire passed resolutions for a Canadian campaign “to propagate British ideas and institutions,” “to banish old-world points of view, old-world prejudices, old-world rivalries, and suspicion and to make new Canadians 100 percent British in language, thoughts, feelings, and impulse.”4 In other words, they wanted whatever cultural baggage the immigrants might be carrying to be emptied and filled with Anglo-Canadian cultural goodies. Government policies with an assimilationist perspective were expected to fulfill this task.
Pressures on the immigrant to conform to Anglo-Canadian cultural norms were relentless and psychologically devastating for those who faced them. Assimilation presented a conflict for the individual immigrant who wanted to establish himself firmly in Canadian society without relinquishing his cultural background. It created divisions between immigrant parents, for whom total acceptance of new cultural norms was difficult, and their children, who underwent a socializing process in Canadian schools and other institutions of the land. Furthermore, it generated conflict within the children themselves, who wanted to be like other Canadian children but also wanted to respect their parents and their ways.