About the potential cultural diversity offers society
Friday, 10. June 2011

On 9 June, a group of listeners, though small in number but still highly interested in the topic, came to the Politforum Käfigturm in Bern to attend the plenary discussion organized by CAUX-Initiatives of Change on the topic of cultural diversity and the potential that it offers a society and to listen to the personal stories and opinions of three representatives of different Diaspora communities.

Emine Sariaslan, Nina Frei, Alagipody Gunaseelan, Anna Mastrocola Wasserfallen (f.r.t.l.). Photo: Adriana Borra

Emine Sariaslan, president of the Forum for the Integration of Migrants in Switzerland (FIMM), started the evening with a definition of the term ’culture’ which has become a kind of magic word in the context of migration and is subject to different definitions and interpretations depending on social, political, and economic interests. As culture is not homogeneous but heterogeneous and person-, class-, and group-specific in all societies, there is no one Swiss or Turkish culture either. In fact, culture is subject to constant change/is in constant change.

Alagipody Gunaseelan, born in Sri Lanka, an economist and nurse by profession as well as member of the Federal Commission on Migration Issues (EKM), emphasized the particular importance of allowing enough time and having easily accessible information for successful integration. However, active integration requires a lot of courage and self-confidence on the part of migrants for them not to perceive certain adjustments to the host society’s culture as a loss or giving up of their own culture.

Anna Mastrocola Wasserfallen, Board member of Second@s-Plus Bern and former member of the local council of the small town of Wohlen, considers it her main task to encourage young people to ’stay themselves’ and be true to who they are; and this should never happen at the expense of others or future generations.

While all speakers saw a lot of potential in cultural diversity and consider it an important part of their own identities, their rather different personal stories showed very well that each individual’s own culture, that is what we carry in our ’cultural backpacks‘, can also be a ’burden‘ as Gunaseelan described it, be it a conscious burden, as in his case, or a more unconscious one as in the case of Sariaslan and Wasserfallen.

(Photo: Adriana Borra)
(Photo: Adriana Borra)

Humorous anecdotes, such as Mastrocola’s story about her difficulties learning a poem by heart when she was in school – which she can still recite – and her still prevailing fear of being late and of not satisfying expectations of Swiss punctuality as well as Gunaseelans example of one of his countrymen’s shocked statements about how he was served ’cow food‘ when his first dinner in Switzerland contained nothing cooked, as it is customary in Sri Lanka, but only bread and salad, made it very clear to the audience that it is not least those ’small‘ every-day issues that can turn cultural diversity into a challenge.

Sariaslan concluded with the important message that societies characterized by cultural diversity are more capable and more creative than culturally monochrome societies, as they represent a broad-minded approach. Combined with the courage to integrate, self-confidence in one’s own identity that consists of numerous different elements, time and patience for change processes and easily accessible information, this will allow us to move away from parallel societies towards culturally diverse, integrated societies.

>> Do you want to take part in this ongoing discussion? Participate in the conference 'Learning to live in a multicultural world: Diaspoa and peacemaking in Europe', from 26-31 July in Caux. Further information in the conference programme (PDF)