What does diversity mean?

My conscious life essentially began when I moved to Saskatchewan, just in time to begin kindergarten. There it seemed that cultural diversity didn’t mean quite as much as it does here in British Columbia. In Saskatchewan, I lived almost exclusively among working – or middle-class white families, many of Ukrainian descent, many more being Catholics like myself. The few exceptions to this trend that I knew personally were a Senegalese boy, a Filipino girl and my aunt (my father’s sister-in-law) who is Cree. It’s worth noting that even then I came to know little about First Nations people in Saskatchewan aside from an exceptional case (by Saskatchewanian standards) of having learned about residential schools around grade five. This, at the time, was my definition of “diversity.”

Cultural diversity in Saskatchewan. | Photo by Chad Gibson

Cultural diversity in Saskatchewan. | Photo by Chad Gibson

Such was the case until the summer after grade six, when I moved back to Langley. This move was much to my chagrin at the time, but eventually I came to define British Columbia as my home.

In Vancouver, one of the most multicultural cities in Canada, and even the world, diversity looks like, to me and many others, a cultural “mosaic” of different foods, stories, dance, music, histories and backgrounds, with many cultures influencing one another while keeping key characteristics of their own. Compared to Saskatchewan, I believe Vancouver has a much broader definition of what it means to have “diversity.”

Recently, however, there have been challenges to what was to be my final interpretation of “diversity.” Complex and divisive debates have arisen over the wearing of certain kinds of cultural garb, among other things, and freedom, religion, secularism, rights, equality, privacy and openness have come into conflict with each other, challenging Canada in how it defines its core value of “multiculturalism.” As many conflicting and nuanced opinions arose out of these debates, I, once again, found myself coming to question what it means to have “diversity.”

Or if that’s even the right question to be asking.

What I’ve realized is that it isn’t in fact a matter of “having” diversity. With a country like Canada, it’s actually very difficult to debate whether or not we “have” diversity, especially in Vancouver: we simply do, it’s all around us. For me, what the question really becomes is what do we decide to “do” with the diversity that surrounds us?

What I’ve learned this year in my introductory sociology course is that every group relates itself to the “other” that they’ve decided does not “belong,” thus defining themselves. On any scale, we take pride in what we believe we stand for, as groups, communities, cities, provinces and countries. Living in Canada, I often see a national comparison to our southerly counterparts in America. Compared to Canada’s “cultural mosaic” diversity metaphor, America’s form of diversity is more commonly described as a “melting pot,” which is more about embracing the monolithic “American identity” than embracing all different kinds of cultures.

So when it comes to diversity, some may choose not to acknowledge any of it, while others may seek to embrace every ounce with open arms.

What’s worked best for me, however, time after time, before I make a decision in any debate, especially one so divided as this one, is taking it upon myself to listen and learn about other cultures, perspectives and ideas around me.

And while some might achieve different results, I’ll note that for me, time and time again, when I take time to truly understand the ways in which we differ, I come to realize all the ways that we are the same.