From far away, from right here

The scope and interests of this site are less local than international, but experience is lived in the here and now. Down the hill from my apartment in Montreal, you can find superb Quebec cheeses, breads, pies, meats, fruits, vegetables, and handmade chocolates at the Atwater Market.

The range of what’s available has benefited from arrivals from other countries, as well. It used to be that you could get better Hungarian sausages in Montreal than you could in Budapest. So many of the Hungarians have left, taking with them their flourless cakes and their cafés, so I’m not sure that’s still true, but others have arrived to take their place. Ingredients are now available here to make dishes from across the globe, and there are now Iranian, Russian, Georgian, Polish, Italian, Tamil, Vietnamese, Peruvian, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Lebanese, and Ethiopian restaurants all within walking distance.

I love Quebec produce and products and I love so much else we can get here, as well. I love this place, the particular mix of what is from here and what comes from far away. There is much more today that comes from afar, both the number of immigrants and their variety having increased. All this is true not only of Montreal. It’s true of Toronto and Edinburgh, Paris and Berlin, New York and Shanghai.

And yes, we have to look after what makes this particular place different from every other place. We don’t want Montreal to be just like Edinburgh, say, and that is true no matter how much we might have reason to love Edinburgh. So yes, there are challenges in looking after Montreal, in preserving what it is. These pale in comparison with the challenges faced by new arrivals.

These issues of how those of us from different cultures manage, or might better manage, to share the same place are issues that preoccupy people across the globe. Unsurprising, therefore, to find myself reading that Quebec historian and sociologist Gérard Bouchard has announced a symposium on “interculturalism” (http://www.symposium-interculturalisme.com/11/english/fr). He and his associates distinguish the Quebec “interculturalism” from English-Canadian “multiculturalism,” on grounds I might take issue with another time, but one thing is evidently indisputable: “There is little need to emphasize how the future of democratic societies depends on whether they will successfully address the cultural, social and economic challenges raised by ethnocultural diversity.”

That was yesterday, just before I received essays on exile and on immigration from a friend in Italy. The exodus of refugees from Libya is the leading news story today. It won’t be long before one of those refugees moves into my building, and it won’t be long after that before a Libyan restaurant opens up nearby. 

Linda Leith

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Q&A with Bharati Mukherjee

LL: You have been writing about the culture shock experienced by immigrants from India in the United States for 40 years or more. Do you see yourself as being a pioneer in this exploration of the immigrant experience?M

BM: My short and emphatic answer: Yes.

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