Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
While Canadian politicians wrestle with a proposed Quebec “secular charter” aimed, in part, at restricting the display of religious differences, a small art centre in New Brunswick plans more ways to let it all hang out.
The artist-run Gallery Connexion in Fredericton organized a hugely popular Carnevale community dance party last February, blending Samba, Afro-beats, Latin music and live Punjabi dhol drums into a giant celebration of cultures. A similarly themed Dia de los muertos party is set for Nov. 2.
The events are based on the premise that exposure to different cultures breaks down divisive stereotypes and prejudice, and brings a diverse community together.
“These are dance parties organized around cultural hybridity,” Connexion board member Matthew Hayes told us. “We focus on how cultures mix and borrow from one another, rather than on ideas of cultural purity or boundaries.”
We know intuitively that contact with people from different backgrounds and experiences than our own fosters understanding and friendship across cultural barriers. So how do we help strengthen Canada’s cultural mosaic by increasing intercultural interaction?
This week’s question is: How can we encourage Canadians – especially young people – to experience our country’s rich cultural diversity and get to know each other’s religions and cultures?
Brian Carwana, director of Encounter World Religions Centre in Guelph, Ont.
“We should teach religion in schools, not confessionally, but factually so as to promote religiously literate citizens (as is done in Britain). However, there is simply no substitute for actually visiting houses of worship and meeting community leaders. Once you have been inside a temple, a mosque, a synagogue, maybe shared a meal and had a conversation or two, the stereotyping recedes very fast.”
Françoise Gagnon, executive director of the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC) in Ottawa
“Encourage your children and students to participate in a reciprocal exchange, which will open the doors and windows to many other places in Canada, and help break down barriers among youth from different cultures, backgrounds and parts of the country. Exchanges are an unparalleled way to provide youth with a broader understanding of their Canadian identity, which is critical to our social fabric.”
Theresa Anzovino, professor of sociology at Niagara College in Niagara Falls, Ont.
“Hear others’ stories. In our classroom, we bring in former students to share their personal narratives – as a gay teen, first-generation immigrant or homeless person, for example. The audience learns that while the speakers’ experiences may be different, there is much about their lives that are also the ‘same’ as theirs. They have made contact, and the ‘other’ is now another student just like them.”