Well it’s a week since Canada Day on the 1st of July, sorry for the delay posting, been busy! Held exactly a week after Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Canada Day had some similarity, I mean the same Chinese community marching band was there for both, and it’s always good to see a line of French Horns approaching down the road. But really the Canada Day parade had quite a different tone. Quebec National Day was all about pride in Quebec – history, liberty, fraternity – we are Quebec. Everyone celebrated their joy, their freedom and unity as Quebecois. This was a positive, alive nationalism. Canada Day instead celebrated the migrant communities who are Montreal, who are the tapestry of Canada today. That may not sound like much of a difference, a subtle change of emphasis, but it led to a totally transformed experience.
You see Canada Day celebrates the migrant communities, no matter how big or small, who bring to their Canadian identity a connection, a continuity from their tradition, a wild, proud and empowered diversity of colour, vibrant pulsing sounds, long standing cultural traditions, dancing, drumming, costumes. And every group waved Canadian flags, had Canadian flags transferred on their cheeks, called “Happy Canada Day” and was proud to celebrate in their own way their new shared cultural heritage as Canadians. You see these communities are proud to be Canadian AND Sikh, Iranian, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mongolian, Caribbean, African, Bolivian, Indian, Indonesian, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Scottish, Irish and more. And Canada encourages that pride and empowers the celebration of holding fluid, multiple identities. Even the Comicon characters brought their virtual community identity and marched.
The Filipino nurse on the footpath beside me enthusiastically welcomed and cheered every single group. She would have embraced every marcher if she could have. Hugging, shaking hands, yelling a thousand times “Happy Canada Day!” She filmed the whole parade on her phone to show her family in the Philippines. She became quite indignant when one group of brightly festooned ladies went past talking to each other, taking selfies, offering no response to her “Happy Canada Day!” “They are not nice” she declared to me, pointing her flag angrily. “They are only there for themselves, not for Canada.”
At night, at Cafe Olimpico, there is football on the big screen. Each night a different national challenge. I seem to have seen a lot of Portugal in Europe, Chile in the Americas. Everywhere good natured national allegiances. And so today: the séance is again in French, my coffee guy is from Kerala so I ordered my coffee in a mix of Hindi and Malayalam with many laughs. I greeted the PhD student from Barcelona in Spanish. Have to find myself some sushi or sauerkraut for dinner! I should confess I can now introduce myself in French so I’m getting better.
Look I’ve changed my mind on Brexit since my Quebec National Day post – racism is alive and fear spreads, and I know a parade is idealised while daily life is racist and discriminatory, but to see the smiles, to hear members of communities call from the road-side in their home languages to marching friends, it gave you hope to believe in true multiculturalism rather than a blancmange of integration. To imagine a world of respect which can celebrate difference without terrorism and intolerance. To be unafraid of people celebrating their heritage even if it is different to yours, in fact because it is different to yours and you respect that. And, one where the class can laugh in good nature at my attempts to expand the French component of my introduction.