Exploring cultures within a culture

During a long flight I opened my eyes and peeked out of the airplane window. There it was, a green stretch of mountainous land, surrounded by sea and arctic, seemingly wild and pure. I was on my way to Vancouver, the city where people talk in elevators, where yoga pants are for everyday use and where you can find a bear in your backyard.

My immigration to Canada happened in the blink of an eye. I was on holiday in Vietnam, met a Persian-Canadian guy, and before I knew it, I found myself immigrating to Vancouver. In my first few months, I had to deal with double culture shock. A huge cultural exchange took place in my head and with the people around me. Surprised by the high buildings and big cars, by the beautiful mountain views and by the socialness of the people, I took my first steps into Canadian society.

At the same time, I was surrounded by many Persian immigrants who had partly kept their own ways while living in Vancouver. Shyly, I made my first Persian dance moves, ate some kebabs, became vegetarian and started yoga. My culture became an undefined mix of Dutch, Persian and Canadian customs, and just like a lot of other Canadians, I started to identify myself as a “global” citizen. Everyone seemed to be an immigrant in Canada, and soon I found myself celebrating the Persian, Chinese and Canadian new years with my friends from all over the world.

In sociological terms, this kind of society is called a cultural mosaic. This is a society where various ethnicities, all with their own cultural customs and celebrations, live together and form a homogenous culture. The Canadian mosaic seems to work out, while in Europe, this kind of society became highly controversial in the eyes of some people, especially after the refugee crisis. Even in the Netherlands, a country famous for its tolerance towards minorities, the nationalist voices took over and hardened the attitude towards immigrants.

How could Canada let its people blend together in such a controlled way? It can mostly be attributed to a stricter immigration policy. It seems that you must be either wealthy, smart or a refugee to come into Canada, without too much paperwork, while in the Netherlands everyone can just walk in. Moroccans and Turks were even encouraged in the eighties to come to Holland to fill up the lower paid, low-status jobs. The difference between Canadian and Dutch immigrants is that the Canadian ones are of a higher class, including cosmopolitan businessmen, doctors and engineers, while the Dutch immigrants are people from the lower economic classes, working hard to improve their place in society.

Although I am not a fan of strict immigration policies that only gain access to the ones who pay, it does help create a more homogenous culture in which everyone already comes from a more cosmopolitan background. And because almost everyone is an immigrant, people tolerate each other’s customs and celebrations. In Canada, it is accepted that people have days off during important cultural or religious celebrations. In the Netherlands, this would nowadays evoke controversy, because it is believed that people should integrate into the “Dutch” culture, whatever that culture is. People don’t accept each other’s’ “otherness” anymore. This is growing into a dangerous segregation between the minority and majority population, which is definitely something we should prevent.

Undoubtedly, Canada has its own problematic societal history. In a gondola, at 300 metres above sea level, somebody told me, “Canada is a country without history. A clean sheet. Built up from scratch.” Right away this statement seemed terribly wrong to me, especially amidst all the natural beauty that we found ourselves in. This idea totally ignored the existence of the original inhabitants of Canada, as if they had never been there. It made me think. How inclusive is this Canadian mosaic, when one group of people is still standing
beside it?

I am honoured to be able to live in Canada and share the Vancouver city lights with so many different people. Thousands of human beings in the same city, reading a book, loving, fighting, laughing, living. All these units on top of each other. All these emotions in one apartment building. It is fascinating. If we could see the energy, there would be colourful radiances dancing above the building, lighting up the Vancouver sky.