Toronto’s cultural diversity doesn’t always result in interaction—this week presents an opportunity to break down those barriers.
The defining cognitive dissonance of Toronto can be summed up like this: While the city is one of the world’s most diverse, and while more than 200 “ethnic origins” are represented within our municipal borders, and more than 140 languages are spoken, it remains, in many ways, socially and culturally segregated. Ethnic segregation, in particular, has been a red-hot political issue in the city over the past few years, especially with the Africentric-schools debate and the wide-ranging, politically hazardous arguments about how geographical enclaves in Toronto and its suburbs discourage multicultural downtowns, encourage cultural isolation, and foster limited economic opportunity. In Toronto, it seems true that while you’re very likely to share a sidewalk, streetcar, classroom, office, and restaurant with a true multiplicity of people, you’re far less likely to socialize in the same way. And that makes living here a lot different than in other centres of diversity, like New York and London.
There have been some concerted attempts to bring together disparate cultural and artistic scenes in Toronto—like the Wavelength music series, which has sought to broaden the scope of downtown Toronto’s indie-rock consciousness, and has inspired genuine social cohesion through collaborations with local Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. This Saturday (Feb. 16) at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Chinese New Year Carnival attempts to do something like that, by bringing the “non-Chinese community” to a “multi-disciplinary” (read: acrobats; dancers; a 42-piece orchestra playing traditional and modern instruments; magic; “breath-taking daredevil feats”) celebration of the Lunar New Year, also known as “Spring Festival,” a.k.a. the most important Chinese holiday. (Chinese New Year lasts for two weeks, and ends with a Lantern Festival.)
Jon Campbell, one of the event’s organizers, lived in Beijing for 10 years, and came to Chinese culture via rock ‘n’ roll. (His book on the subject is called Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll.) He says of Carnival: “The equivalent would be the TSO combined with something like Zero Gravity Circus. It’s really interesting for people to see what China looks like to a lot of Chinese people, and how they experience it”—especially those with no direct access to the traditions and art of the country. The members of the Carnival are visiting from China, and touring seven Canadian cities. Campbell says that the event “is a good window into that community, which is a growing community, a sprawling community.”
The fact that the Chinese New Year Carnival takes place far from downtown will make it harder for curious culture-goers who live, work, and hang out below Bloor to attend. And that’s precisely what is often wrong with ethnically diverse entertainment and events in Toronto: very often, they’re held in parts of the city or in venues that don’t advertise to or take advantage of an interested, invested multiplicity of Torontonians. Considering how many Chinese people live in this city—they comprise 11 per cent of Torontonians, and Chinese is our most popular home language after English and French—it would seem that non-Chinese people would be and should be more aware of what that culture can include. Especially when it sometimes includes fireworks.
The Chinese New Year Carnival happens Feb. 16 (two shows: 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge St.). For more information, visit legendofchina.net.