Time to bring all cultural festivals into the mainstream

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Pradip Rodrigues

Carrassauga in Mississauga and Carabram in Brampton are two festivals that promoters of multicultural Canada love to believe celebrates cultures and cuisines. White politicians and other beneficiaries of that policy really revel in voicing support for these festivals in a bid to entertain and make these immigrants happy, otherwise who knows, they may get grumpy come election time if they take a good hard look at themselves and find they’ve really been duped. They may dismally come to the realization that they occupy a marginal space in Canadian society. Holding and encouraging such separate festivals outside of the mainstream serves its purpose. After all politicians find it easier to throw money at these ethnic festivals rather than to work toward bringing ethnic groups into the mainstream. I would liken it to a big house party you know your village cousins would not fit in, so you have a separate party for them saying you value them and want to spend quality time with them. This is why ethnic festivals are where ethnic people go to enjoy themselves and mainstream Canada, mostly white ends up enjoying their own festivals and events without having to integrate the immigrants.

I visited Carrassauga for the first time a few years ago and was decidedly underwhelmed, I am told Carabram is much the same in most respects. At that time I recall thinking that these festivals were just harmless, meaningless events designed to appeal to new immigrants and give them a sense of identity and pride. All around me were mostly immigrant families tucking into food in the pavilions that showcased their culture and tradition. Those of Indian background could predictably be found in the India Pavilion, the Chinese could be found at the Chinese pavilion and so on. Most immigrants seemed to dutifully make their way to the pavilion representing their home country and didn’t really patronize stalls or cultural song and dance from other ethnic groups, but visited other pavilions to get their Carrassauga passport stamped. The only non-Indians I saw at the India pavilion was a few whites who sportingly wore Indian outfits and were enjoying the food.

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But in recent times these festivals seem to have lost their relevance and appeal to the broader public, the second generation ethnic Canadian adult wouldn’t waste his or her time going to these festivals, they would much rather go to some cool mainstream event. And with the profusion ethnic food restaurants all across the Peel Region, there is even less reason to visit these festivals for the food. I guess foodies and those yearning for food items from the old country were draws to these festivals when ethnic immigrants were really small in number and there were few if any good ethnic restaurants other than the standard “Chinese” food joint. Had that been the case in the Peel Region today, I suspect mainstream Canadians would come by the hundreds to sample the food and culture.

So such festivals may today be more relevant in places like Saskatoon and Halifax rather than in Brampton and Mississauga where ethnic immigrants seem to outnumber whites by ever growing margins.

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And in recent times these festivals seem to be causing international relations to fray. Some years ago, many Sri Lankans were upset when the organizers permitted a Eelam pavilion at the Carabram and last year many in the Indian community took issue with the Punjab pavilion which blew up into a diplomatic issue last week with our foreign minister chiding Indian diplomats for interfering with a Canadian festival. Yes, Carabram and Carrasauga are 100 percent Canadian!

If this continues much longer you may soon be seeing other ethnic groups insisting that their culture, tradition and cuisine is markedly different from their home country. If they all made a big deal about it, there would be demands for a dozen more pavilions representing the culture and traditions of other Indian states. I know the Assamese and Goan communities as well as those from other smaller states don’t feel represented as such at such festivals. The general consensus is that these festivals are dominated by north Indian cultural traditions, but most don’t really care because they are in any case doing their own thing. Furthermore better adjusted South Asians are likely to identify with mainstream Canada rather than seek out their identity at an India or Punjab or Pakistan pavilion.

I suspect many foreign students of South Asian origin who miss home may be drawn to Carabram, so too will the thousands of refugees and new immigrants who visit these festivals in order to seek out friends, sample foods from back home and stock up on some trinklets. With free bus rides to these venues, why not?

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What is happening at festivals like Carabram and Carrassauga is more or less what happens in ethnic Canada where all the ethnic groups co-exist in cultural silos.

The fact that hyphenated-Canadians are identifying with culture and politics imported wholesale from their home countries points to a sobering reality- it is taking immigrants longer to integrate into the Canadian mainstream than it used to be in the pre-internet era. And these differences and lack of integration is showing up at these festivals.

While these cultural festivals supposedly show off cultures and traditions of a people, it is also exposing deep fissures and feelings ranging from mild animosity to deep-seated hatreds that exists within many ethnic communities that date back centuries.

Perhaps that was an unintended consequence of having these festivals. If these festivals are going to cause divisions between ethnic groups, it can’t be good for Canada or the home countries either. But the cynical side of me believes that this is just another exercise in divide and rule politics that has historically worked like a charm in the colonies. Except now the colonies are being re-created in parts of Canada which may soon resemble ethnic reserves. – CINEWS

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