Hyphenated Canadians?

A Gung Haggis Fat Choy poetry reading held at the Vancouver Public Library, 2011 (courtesy Novus TV).

In discussions of national "identity," eventually the "hyphen" comes into the debate. Should it be there, or not? Are we Japanese or Japanese-Canadian, Indian or Indo-Canadian? Or, are we just Canadian? Or, are we all of the above? In the 2001 census, people were asked to identify their ethnic origins; 39% of the respondents chose "Canadian" as their first, and sometimes only, choice.

Of historical resonance is the distinction of English-Canadian and French-Canadian. But in 1958, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker made the "unhyphenated" Canadian an issue, when he said, "I am the first prime minister of this country of neither altogether English nor French origin. So I (am) determined to bring about a Canadian citizenship that knew no hyphenated consideration."

Some argue that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's policy of multiculturalism created hyphenated identities, perhaps even distorting Canadian identity. Skeptics questioned what multiculturalism means for public funding, including whether its goal should be to preserve distinct ethnic heritages and traditions. The debate has evolved to what it means for Canadian arts and culture, which relies on public funding support, to be "diverse."

Future generations of Canadians will give new meaning to multiculturalism. Consider this statistic from the 2006 census: there were 289 420 married and common-law mixed-race couples, an increase of 33% from the 2001 census. Interracial couples represent 4% of the couples in Canada, showing that mixed unions are forming in Canada at an unprecedented rate.

Perhaps, in the ever more globalized world, where cultures meet in everyday life, debate about the "hyphen" is less relevant. Indeed, the usage of say, Chinese or Canadian, or Trinidadian or Canadian, may depend on what sensitivities are being brought into play.

As a sign of the times, since 1998 one of the events to ring in the Chinese New Year in Vancouver is a "Gung Haggis Fat Choy" celebration, honouring Scottish poet Robbie Burns and the Chinese New Year's greeting, "Gung Hay Fat Choy."

Learn more:
Canada: Multicultural Model or Cautionary Tale?
Interrogating the Hyphen-Nation: Canadian Multicultural Policy and ‘Mixed Race’ Identities