The prism effect

I still remember that one of my favourite childhood toys was a kaleidoscope. It is a tube that contains loose fragments of coloured glass that produce, through an interaction of light and mirrors, symmetrical and geometric patterns, which vary with each rotation. The whole image consists of segments reflected in mirrors. If we compare Vancouver’s cultural plurality to these multicolour glass prisms, each person perceives it in a different way through their own kaleidoscope, according to their own mirrors, their own culture and its original value systems. Richness, complexity or chaos – its beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

In Vancouver diversity is omnipresent in all its forms, be it in the realm of cuisine, goods, accents, skin colour, etc. It is a multicultural city where populations of diverse origins are brought together. The strength of this Pacific metropolis lies in its ability to allow everyone to find their place while keeping their own cultural identity and provide them with the tools and the opportunities to make those choices. This plurality inspires and sustains me day to day, after having lived half my life in Asia, the other half in Europe and later in America. I am of Vietnamese origin, a graduate of a Paris grande école, but my life has been deeply rooted in Canadian soil for years.

In Vancouver, as in most of Canada, we honour the concept of the cultural mosaic, introduced by the Pierre Elliot Trudeau government in the 1970s. Having once spent several months in New York for an internship, I was surprised by the contrasting approaches taken by the two North American countries in matters of diversity and immigrant integration. The United States uses the famous melting pot model to assimilate immigrants of diverse origins into the American culture, whereas Canada favours multiculturalism, encouraging immigrants to maintain their cultural connections. For those who might wonder, in France, the immigration policy is based on the assimilation model. It goes without saying that each model has its advantages and inconveniences and, in these times of globalization, we can only question one model over another.

Seeing life through a prism

In Vancouver it seems that to be different is neither a threat nor a handicap, but a source of strength and a wealth to be treasured. The whole city has made great efforts to take into account the diverse cultures and recognise multiple identities. It has succeeded in showing tolerance, openness to differences and in fostering mutual respect for the many cultures that exist here side by side. As former UN secretary Kofi Annan once said: “Tolerance is a virtue which makes peace possible.” However, it is important for individuals to have a sense of identity, but also one of belonging, in order to build a Canadian identity. This is why the government and local organisations have set up many initiatives to welcome immigrants and favour the integration of newcomers, always stressing the value of plurality in the whole process.

In short, the culture of the city of Vancouver endorses diversity. Each individual, each culture and each religion is a piece of a prism that blends and transforms itself into different combinations in a dynamic of serenity, reflecting reality, a reality that above all makes the differences sparkle.

Translation by Louise Dawson