Last April I was privileged to be invited to the Minister's Forum on Diversity and Culture, a two-day affair organized by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The event brought together heritage department functionaries and representatives of the so-called ethnic media, ostensibly with the purpose of initiating a dialogue between the two parties.
In plenary sessions and in smaller discussion groups, a microcosm of the "new" Canada was easily observable. Afro-Canadians, Asian Canadians, South Asian Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and others - essentially the "visible" minorities which increasingly make up this country - met face to face with each other and with the "top brass" of the ministry in charge of looking after them to discuss ways of making the ethnic media more present on the airwaves, on magazine stands and elsewhere.
But what about the "non-visible" minorities such as the Italian Canadians? From a quick glance at the list of participants in the program, almost 300 (not including the civil servants), I discerned only five Italian names (including my own). Granted, some participants might have been the offspring of an Italian mother and a non-Italian father, and others might have adopted their non-Italian husband's family name. Even so ... From the look of things, the "non-visible" minorities present were definitely in a minority situation!
This state of affairs raises some interesting questions for Italian Canadians. How do we see ourselves - and how we are seen by others - within the Great Canadian Mosaic? Are we still an "ethnic minority"? Were we an ethnic minority until recently, and then somehow stopped being one? Are we a quasi-ethnic minority, assuming the role when it suits us? As second and third generation Italian Canadians increasingly demarcate themselves from their parents' generation by their level of education, their social mobility and their professional achievements and as they adopt a different value system, are these questions even relevant? I wonder if this is why so few of us participated in the Minister's Forum.
Still, the existence and vibrancy of numerous Italian Canadian social, cultural and business organizations right across the country (and readers' reactions to the existence of this magazine) suggest that large numbers of Italian Canadians still identify very strongly with their Italian heritage. (In the 2001 Canadian census more than 1.2 million Canadians declared Italian as their ethnic origin.)
As a non-visible (but at times "audible" minority), I wonder if we are still unsure about how we fit in.