Sunday was Chinese New Year, the most important traditional Chinese holiday of the year. Gung Hei Fat Choy and welcome to the Year of the Snake.
I grew up in a mixed-race family. My mother is Chinese and my father is Caucasian. Our family life reinforced the heritage, history and traditions from both of my parents.
My grandmother gave my brother and me a Chinese name to ensure that we were connected to our Chinese ancestry and I have continued this tradition.
I am proud of my cultural roots. But it was not easy growing up as a mixed-race child. My brother and I were subject to racial taunts, name-calling and bullying. I remember vividly when my Grade 3 teacher told me - in front of the class - that I should "go back to China".
As a proud Chinese-Canadian, I look forward to celebrating Chinese New Year. I remember it fondly as a time for our large extended family to come together, eat special food, spend time in Chinatown, and watch my great-grandmother hold court.
It is with immense pride that I have observed our Chinese New Year celebrations become part of Canada's social fabric, part of our national psyche and part of our shared cultural experience. In turn, I am pleased to see how generously the Chinese community across the country has shared its traditions and welcomed other ethnic communities to share in their celebration.
This is not just the Chinese experience. Diwali, the most important Hindu holiday, is an occasion for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists to celebrate the victory of good over evil. It has also become part of Canada's annual celebrations.
Something has happened in Canada and it is a good thing.
Since 1948 when Canada agreed to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have been embarking on a path to cross-cultural understanding, social and economic integration of all Canadians, and removing discrimination barriers.
In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, affirming the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, language, or religious affiliation. Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal.
Multiculturalism, however, is not without its critics. Fearing that it promotes separation, this serves to intensify misunderstanding and hostility and pits one group against another. Detractors have argued that it sacrifices and denies any sense of Canadian culture or unity.
But it is my sense that sharing celebrations, such as Chinese New Year, has transcended showcasing cultural symbols to instilling understanding, genuine curiosity and acceptance.
Cultural communities do not have to choose between preserving and sharing cultural heritage. They can fully participate in Canadian society without giving up on their commitment to Canada, while keeping their identities and taking pride in their ancestry.
More than 200 different ethnic origins were reported in the 2006 Canada census. They are all living together in peace. How many other nations can make this claim? In a world filled with violence, strife and dictators, Canada stands apart.
Throughout the year, cultural groups in the Okanagan share their traditions, histories, and cultures. This offers each of us opportunities to learn and experience something new. It is through these personal connections and interactions that understanding emerges.
It is our personal responsibility to choose if and how we will participate and contribute to strengthening Canada's multicultural fabric.
My Canadian-born Chinese grandfather volunteered to fight for Canada during the Second World War, when his country didn't recognize him as a citizen.
Before he died, I asked him why he volunteered. His response was simple - "Because I love Canada - it is my country."
Chris Gorman is a school trustee. Email:
. Twitter: @Chris_Gorman.