"Cultural mosaic" (French: "la mosaïque culturelle") is the mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures that co-exist within society. The idea of a cultural mosaic is intended to champion an ideal of multiculturalism, differently from other systems like the melting pot, which is often used to describe the United States' supposed ideal of assimilation.
An ethnocultural profile of Canada prepared by Statistics Canada describes a nation that, at the outset of the 21st Century, has become progressively more and more multi-ethnic and multicultural. The introduction to the report stated that:
Immigration to Canada over the past 100 years has shaped Canada, with each new wave of immigrants adding to the nation’s ethnic and cultural composition. Half a century ago, most immigrants came from Europe. Now most newcomers are from Asia.
As a result, the number of visible minorities in Canada is growing. And, Canadians listed more than 200 ethnic groups in answering the 2001 Census question on ethnic ancestry, reflecting a varied, rich cultural mosaic as the nation started the new millennium.
Origin and use of the term
The first use of the term mosaic to refer to Canadian society was by John Murray Gibbon, in his 1938 book Canadian Mosaic. Gibbon clearly disapproved of the American melting-pot concept. He saw the melting pot as a process by which immigrants and their descendants were encouraged to cut off ties with their countries and cultures of origin so as to assimilate into the American way of life.
In 1965, John Porter published his influential sociological study, Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada. Porter's book showed that some groups (e.g., those of British origin) were better off with respect to measures of income, education and health than others. For example, groups of eastern and southern European origin tended to fare less well by these measures. The worst off were the First Nations and Inuit. Porter saw this vertical arrangement as being related to power and influence in decision-making. Thus those of British origin tended to be overrepresented among the elites in government, economic and political spheres.
Porter’s findings have been tested in several studies since 1965 and have been modified slightly. For example, the economic disparity between ethnic groups has narrowed somewhat and Francophones are better represented in politics and government. However, the socio-economic elites in Canada remain dominated by people of British origin.
Influence on multiculturalism policy
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Canada has been one of the world's major immigrant-receiving societies. Until the 1960s immigrants were expected to assimilate into the mainstream society. Arriving as it did at during a time of social upheaval, Porter's work had a marked influence on Canadian social policy. The view of Canada as a mosaic of cultures became the basis for the Trudeau government's multiculturalism policies in the early 1970s.
The Canadian government established the Official Multiculturalism Act in 1971 and appointed a minister responsible for multiculturalism in 1972. In 1973 a Canadian Multiculturalism Council was established, along with a Multiculturalism Branch within the Department of the Secretary of State.
The "cultural mosaic" theory is not without critics. Some pundits, such as the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson, and Carleton University journalism professor, Andrew Cohen have argued that the entire Melting Pot / Mosaic dynamic is largely an imagined concept, and that there remains little measurable evidence that American or Canadian immigrants as collective groups can be proven to be more or less "assimilated" and a "multicultural" than each other. Many conservative activists in Canada have likewise remained critical of multiculturalism as an "official" government policy. In April 2005 Michaëlle Jean (later named the Governor General) openly criticized the concept herself, accusing it of leading to the "ghettoizing" of Canadians.
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- Statistics Canada Canada’s ethnocultural portrait: The changing mosaic
- "Vertical Mosaic" The Canadian Encyclopedia online
- Multicultural Canada