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Cultural identity and ethnic representation in arts education : case studies of Taiwanese festivals in Canada Lin, Patricia Yuen-Wan

Abstract

This study is about why and how Taiwanese immigrants construct their cultural identity through public festivals within Canadian multicultural society. The study stems from intrigue with prevailing practices in art education, both those characterizing Chinese as a homogeneous ethnic group and those viewing Chinese culture as a static tradition. Analyzing cultural representation organized by the Taiwanese community, I argue that ethnic cultural festivals are not only a site where immigrants inquire into cultural identity, but also a creative response to the receiving society's social context. This study does not ask what Taiwanese culture is, but how it is constructed in Canada. The Taiwanese studied are immigrants who came with a colonial history and a particular political experience. Two of their cultural festivals demonstrate how the selectivity of cultural production reveals the immigrants' view of themselves, and how they wish to be seen. The Taiwanese Cultural Festival and the Lunar New Year Festival reflect identity construction achieved through the dynamics of choosing and naming cultural elements which are important to them. Interview data provided by the festivals' organizers and participants suggest that cultural identity is a creative response to the multicultural context. In order to justify their place in the Canadian mosaic, the Taiwanese emphasize their differences from other Chinese descendants. Difference is a signifier for Taiwanese to select from a variety of ethnic markers and to interpret their colonial past. The Taiwanese Cultural Festival asserts Taiwanese particularity, congruent with a socio-political consciousness of the native land. The traditional Lunar New Year Festival is a cultural statement that reflects immigrant parents and children reaching out to other Canadians. Both festivals intend to promote cross-cultural understanding among the general public and the festivals' end products are a showcase of ethnic representations. For the immigrants themselves, I find that education happens during the process of constructing the festivals, thereby interpreting cultural heritage through inquiring into their past. In a multicultural society, festivals are intensive sites raising questions about cultural identity and social place. Canada, largely composed of immigrants, is a place where ethnic groups from different parts of the world coexist. It is a global village in miniature, where ethnic and cultural identities are becoming a heated topic. The case of Taiwanese festivals in Canada demonstrates the selective process establishing cultural traditions and the complexities of identity formation. Particularity is emphasized in order to become a member of a multicultural society. The assertion of differences allows post-colonial subjects to find their past and search for means to live in the present. For North American multicultural educators, this suggests a range of post-colonial issues and the need for an awareness amongst educators of the evolving nature of cultural tradition at the nexus of Western cultural impact and irnmigration experiences.

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