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Athabasca University

Let Us Compare Anthologies: Harmonizing the Founding African-Canadian and Italian-Canadian Literary Collectionsi

by George Elliott Clarke

If this essay is a tapestry, it is one threaded with the flamboyant gilt of mea culpa and caveat lector. Ignorant of the subtle, delicate, and intricate lineaments of Italian-Canadian literature and culture, I am foolhardy in hazarding any opinions about the ways in which the first anthology of Italian-Canadian literature, Roman Candles: An Anthology of Poems by Seventeen Italo-Canadian Poets (1978), edited by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, may be alleged to share certain affinities with the first widely circulated African-Canadianii literary anthology in English, Canada In Us Now: The First Anthology of Black Poetry and Prose in Canada (1976)iii, edited by Harold Head. However, while I cannot legislate the history, politics, and institutions of Italian-Canadian literature, I may acknowledge its apparent similarities with its African-Canadian counterpart, for their foundational anthologies address equivalent issues. The comparison is neither illicit nor illogical, for, despite their contrasting temporal, cultural, and linguistic origins, both of these minority-group-fostered Canadian literatures first achieved ‘critical mass’ in the 1970s. Moreover, their mutual ‘coming-to-voice,’ so to speak, coincided with increased immigration from homelands and the announcement, by the Canadian state, on October 8, 1971, of an official policy to promote the development of a multicultural society within superstructure of official bilingualism. Indeed, in its response to the report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1971, the twenty-eighth Parliament of Canada, led by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, forecasted the basic social environment in which the Head and Di Cicco anthologies would appear:

Canadian identity will not be undermined by multiculturalism. Indeed we believe that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity.... To say that we have two official languages is not to say we have two official cultures, and no particular culture is more "official" than another. Multiculturalism is for all Canadians. (qtd. in Tepper 197-8)

Too, both Di Cicco and Head—and their various contributors—had similar social agendas: 1) to articulate a group identity; 2) to reject both segregation and assimilation; 3) to create a dialogue with other ‘ethnic’ Canadians. Consequently, Di Cicco’s Roman Candles and its predecessor, Head’s Canada In Us Now, advance their socio-political interests in complementary ways. This accidental, near-coalition offers an implicit defence of bureaucratized Multiculturalismiv, while also underscoring the unity-within-diversity of distinct, but parallel, literary cultures.

Crucially, both Roman Candles and Canada In Us Now appeared in the wake of the promulgation of a federal Multiculturalism policy. Prompted by concerns for national unity, the program sought to improve Canadian national identity by promoting, said Prime Minister Trudeau, "confidence in one’s own identity; out of this can grow respect for others and a willingness to share ideas, attitudes and assumptions" (qtd. in Tepper 197). Trudeau believed that "A vigorous policy of multiculturalism will help create this initial confidence. It can form the basis of a society which is based on fair play for all" (qtd. in Tepper 197). Though Trudeau’s rhetoric is lacklustre and vague, the policy itself was revolutionary. York University history professor Irving Abella confirms that "Multiculturalism is innovative; it has enhanced our self-image; it has proven a life-saver to many communities; it has created pride where there had once only been pain; comfort where there was once only contempt... (72). For Abella, Multiculturalism "came into being in order to open minds that for too long had been closed" and "to right a terrible historical wrong and to write [minorities] back into Canadian history" (78). For Hedy Fry, a former Secretary of State for Multiculturalism (1996-2000), the program is "the polar opposite of apartheid" (36). According to Emilio S. Binavince, a constitutional lawyer, Multiculturalism makes it possible for Canadian minorities to pursue "equal access to government power and the institutions of government" (91). Its supporters understand that Multiculturalism extends, to non-Anglo-Saxon and non-Gallic Canadian citizens, official recognition of their existence as minority groups within the state. This recognition was radical, for it detracted from the prevailing view of Canada as a white Franco-British state, where only Canadians of these heritages, espousing Protestant and Catholic versions of Christianity, could be considered complete citizens. Through official Bilingualism (established in 1969), the federal state argued that it was now responsive to Francophone (as well as Anglophone) Canadians; through Multiculturalism, it now portrayed itself as representing all Canadians, without distinguishing among different heritages. Whatever the ‘radical’ implications of this re-positioning of the Canadian state, federal Liberal politicians were quick to attempt to reap the usual electoral benefits.

By 1976 and 1978 then, when the Head and Di Cicco anthologies appear, song-and-dance multicultural festivals and celebrations were commonplacev. True: Di Cicco’s anthology was funded by The Canada Council arts funding agency [9] and Head’s was published by the Marxism-infused, New Canada Press. Neither book received funding from the Multiculturalism Secretariat. Nevertheless, both entered an environment where state Multiculturalism was being instrumentalized as an opportunistic means of cementing ‘ethnic’ allegiances to the governing Liberals, while also serving as a propaganda bulwark against the independence-minded, Quebec provincial governmentvi. In other words, while eschewing any imbrication with state Multiculturalism in the 1970s, both Head and Di Cicco produced works engaging inevitably with its principal discourses: pro-immigration, pro-‘Canadian’ identity, pro-diversity, and pro-national unity (or anti-separatism). Such an engagement was inevitable because Multiculturalism seemed en-route, in the 1970s, to forging Canada into a "truly global and metropolitan community" (Kinsella 54) or "a multi-ethnic mosaic within which multiple allegiances are fostered" (Stanford 177). Head and Di Cicco participate in a discussion then that was heralding what Fo Niemi calls the "age of ‘mosaic democracies’"(172). However, neither editor could articulate, in 1976 or 1978, a truly catholic multiculturalism, for both were pursuing, in occasionally clashing terms, culturally (ethnic) nationalist aesthetics and agendas.

In "We have come," his introduction to Canada In Us Now, Head, in fealty to the black liberation ethos then-popular among black intellectuals in urban Canada, voices an ars poetica of black power: "This anthology is representative of the collective consciousness of people in the act of liberating themselves (and us) from a legacy which denied their humanity and heaped scorn on the culture of colonial peoples"(7)vii. For Head, a South African native, the writers canvassed in his anthology "reaffirm the spirit of all mankind striving to be free" (7). Thus, he disparages ‘petty’ work mandating "simply the pretty arrangement of words for the edification of a ‘cultured’ minority" (9). Head’s dismissal of supposedly dismally bourgeois art dovetails with his publisher’s sworn interest in publishing "books and pamphlets that will be of assistance to the Canadian People’s struggle for national liberation" [4]. Head’s guiding principles are both Marxist and Pan-Africanist, representing an alliance between Anglo-Canadian nationalists anxious about US influence in Canada and black community activists anxious for greater influence within Canadian society.

In his preface, Di Cicco is briefer than Head and less directly ‘political.’ His impetus for assembling Roman Candles is purely cultural, not socialist. Feeling ‘isolated’ from other Italian-Canadian writers, as well as self-conscious about his dual culture and heritage, he wants to found a conversation. Di Cicco offers no palaver of "liberation," no gestures toward a "collective consciousness." Instead, he organizes a conference of poets, more-or-less, who express a "bicultural sensibility" [9]—Italian and Anglo-Canadian.

Another difference also separates the two anthologists. Introducing his anthology, Head centralizes the black immigrant experience. The politics of dislocation and relocation are his writers’ focus:

The majority of the contributors to this anthology are new Canadians. Some have been here only four years, two have lived here for the past twenty years and three are fourth generation Canadians. (10)

Di Cicco applies an opposing emphasis:

All the poets included have one sure thing in common—they are not emigrants. They were brought here by their families at an early age, and three were born in North America. [9]

Head feels that his set of mainly immigrant authors has made a political choice to realize black world liberation, in concert with Canadian aspirations to achieve a socialist society. Di Cicco classes his authors, in contrast, as practically native North Americans or Canadians; their usage of English cancels, Di Cicco believes, their putatively alien origins.

Indeed, unlike Head, Di Cicco claims an explicit Canadian identity for his contributors. By denying émigré status to children, Di Cicco suggests they are Canadian by birth. Yet, the authors’ bios discredit this assumption. For instance, John Melfi, born in Italy in 1947, arrived in Canada in 1956; Joseph Ranallo, born in Italy in 1940, landed in Canada in 1952; Filippo Salvatore, born in Italy in 1948, was sixteen when his family removed to Canada (Biographical Notes 84-85)viii. The idea of a common "North America" [9] shared by Italian immigrants enables Di Cicco to count the US-born Mike Zizis as Canadian (Biographical Notes 85). Thus, the editor defines, strategically, his "Italo-Canadian" writers as Canadianix.

The contrasting emphases of Head and Di Cicco are underscored by Di Cicco’s seeming riposte to Head’s title, Canada In Us Now: The First Anthology of Black Poetry and Prose in Canada: "I decided to limit the work to that written in English, largely to avoid an anthology the title of which would be The Italian Poets Writing in Canada..." [9]. Di Cicco wishes to explore "what, if anything, these poets could bring to Anglo-Canadian poetry" [9], to accent their "fortunate and tragic position of having to live with two cultures, one more exterior than the other" [9-10]. Di Cicco’s "Italo-Canadian" poets interest him for the ways in which they manifest Italianness within the dominant discourse of English, or, specifically, Anglo-Canadian literature.

For his part, Head ignores Canadian literature. The potential existence and availability of a dual "Black" and "Canadian" sensibility is irrelevant. His desire is to unify ‘blacks,’ those who happen to be "in Canada," not to promote integration with Canadians—who are pictured, implicitly, as white. Yes, Head recognizes that his contributors share with Anglo-Canadians a British heritage. They "were schooled in Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Browning" and are from "Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincent, South Africa, Nigeria and Canada—all former British colonies" [7]. Still, Head’s poets and prose writers hail from, fundamentally, "the Black World" (9), and their compositions "return, in spirit, to origins, to Africa where the work of the artist is even today at one with his [sic] community..." (8).

While Di Cicco seeks to identify the Italo-Canadian "displaced sensibility" [9] or "bicultural sensibility" [9] and its contribution—realized or potential—to English-Canadian poetry, Head is obsessed, strikingly, with how his authors replicate "Africa" in their subjects and rhetoric, for they belong to "the Third World" (10)—a purportedly primary allegiance. Head’s writers are, he believes, building a Pan-Africanist, not a Canadian, literature. He sees, then, only the possibility of a ‘Black’ and ‘Canadian’—i.e. white workers—liberation movement uniting to oppose American and European imperialist capitalism (11-12). There are "Blacks" and there are "Canadians"—no hyphenation necessary. The only ‘hyphenated’ Canadiansx. Head discusses, the so-called "Afro-Canadian" (10)—or multi-generational African-Canadian—people are flawed: they bear the stigma of "historical and psychological castration" (10)xi. Their "bicultural sensibility"—as Di Cicco would term it—is, here, a terrible liability.

In sum, in his anthology preface, Head craves a unified black collectivity, within Canada, whose writings participate in a global, Pan-African, black empowerment movement, but whose politics leave room for opportune, leftist alliances with white Canadians: "You share our colonial heritage; your (our) liberation is not yet done. Your future lies with us every bit as much as our present lies with you" (12). Turning to Di Cicco, one notes that he disparages "Canadianism" [9], that is, Anglo-Canadian nationalism, to foreground "Italo-Canadian experience" [9]—that is, writers who "belong and do not belong" (10). Although Di Cicco rejects the Canuck nationalism Head supports, tacitly (to offset British and American nationalism), Di Cicco’s emphasis on the dual cultural status of his writers is as contradictory as Head’s description of black immigrants as "new Canadians" [10] who are, nevertheless, scribes of a black ‘Socialist International.’ Even though Head and Di Cicco strike contrasting attitudes toward Canada and immigrant populations, both oppose any model of monocultural white / ‘Anglo’ Canadianness.

Head expresses his dissent by collapsing Canadian identity into Pan-Africanism. Therefore, he writes that, following a "yesterday" when "we were separated from Africa into Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana; Mandingo from Ashanti; Ashanti from Benin..."; and when "Canadians could count on one hand the black faces around Bathurst and Bloor Streets in Toronto"; we will "tomorrow ... be marching down the streets of Pretoria on our way to celebrate life in Soweto" (11). African-Canadians are imagined as displaced and divided Africans who will re-unite in the triumphant celebration of a liberated Africa. This vision is pseudo-Garveyite. Likewise Di Cicco resents "the sheer force of Canadianism" [9], that is to say, Anglo-Canadian cultural nationalism, which stifles "Italo-Canadian" expression. He prefers writers who will re-make English- (and French-) Canadian literature and culture in a new, Italian-Canadian image.

Despite their like tactical challenges to a Canadian ‘culture’ dominated by, says Head, whites, and, says Di Cicco, Anglos, the editors differ on strategy. Head considers blacks who happen now to live in Canada; Di Cicco is concerned with Italian-Canadians who feel stranded between an Italy where they are not remembered and a Canada that (super)imposes an Anglo (or Franco) culture upon their own. Head views Canada implicitly as a ‘white’ country that is a nearly irrelevant host for a black/African population in provisional exile. For Di Cicco, the Italian immigrant quarrel with English (and French) Canada is a battle among Europeans-in-exile, with ‘Italians’ protesting the tendency of Anglo-Saxons and Gauls to hog Canada for themselves. In other words, Head constructs, from ‘Black’ Canada, a Pan-African Union established within the blank, waste space of semi-colonial Canada; Di Cicco seeks, in contrast, a concordat with English-Canadian culture and literature.

Despite their clashing, philosophical ‘anthems,’ Head and Di Cicco compose anthologies that harmonize remarkably. Both editors include seventeen poets. (Head also enlists three fiction writers.) Head’s ‘crew’ hails from all corners of the African Diaspora, but also number a "Coloured" South African and two Caribbean-born, South Asians, all assembled under the rubric "Black," a sign protean and cosmopolitan here. Di Cicco selects writers from Italy, Canada, and the United States. However, his approach also approximates multiculturalism, for the writers from these three locales matured in vastly different societies. Head ‘imports’ the "black world" to Canada; Di Cicco introduces Canadians to a multifarious, ‘Italian’ identity and experiencexii.

Di Cicco closes his Preface with a poem, "My Genealogy," by John Robert Colombo, that speaks to a family lineage of incessant cultural fusion and transfusion. Its last four stanzas merit recitation here:

Blood flows through my veins
at different speeds:
Italian, German,
Greek, French-Canadian.
Sometimes it mixes.

At times I feel close
to the Aegean,
the Cote d’Azure,
the Lombard Plain,
and the Black Forest.

I seldom feel close
to the Rocky Mountains,
the Prairies,
the Great Lakes,
or the cold St. Lawrence.
What am I doing in Toronto?

If this means being Canadian,
I am a Canadian. (11-12)

Di Cicco sounds Colombo so as to flesh out his own precept, "that the true [Canadian] citizen remains a foreigner if only to remain a citizen of the world" (10). Head backs a similar internationalism; his Caribbean-born contributors are, he feels, "a new adjunct to the Black and Canadian communities" (11), and that all blacks "offer other Canadians a unique opportunity—a window—and a tangible link—with the Third World" (11). Head urges, to recast Di Cicco, that ‘the true Black Canadian remains a foreigner if only to remain a citizen of the larger black world.’

The poem that best articulates Head’s aims in Canada In Us Now is Liz Cromwell’s "We have come," whose title also brands Head’s introduction. Here is its opening stanza:

To Toronto we have come as men
Seeking shapes in a long lost dream
Across the green seas.
We who dried our blackness in the sun
Have come as bondsmen without shame or home
To seek a loaf of fame, redeem our pride
Imbibe the juice of pain
To do what we as creatures of past dreams
Of smoke have made us. (60)

These ‘bondsmen’ of Cromwell—and Head—face a major peril: to forget their original, Caribbean heritages and thus become "white-washed Negroes / of the much-touted sad mosaic"—of multiculturalism (60). To avoid this danger, Head’s anthology seeks to reconstitute a coherent black community within the forbidding, ‘white’ vastness of Canada. Similarly, Di Cicco wishes to save "Italo-Canadians" from the "isolationism" created by Anglo-Canadian nationalism [9] as well as from "the convenience of a melting-pot"–or assimilationism (10). Thus, he engineers an anthology. Italian-Canadian scholar Joseph Pivato recognizes the importance of such cultural work:

The publication of ethnic anthologies ... creates an identity for the group or generation, ... stimulates reader interest in the writers as a group, ... encourages the writers to publish their own work, ... begins to create critical and academic interest in the writers. Pier Giorgio Di Cicco’s 1978 anthology of Italian-Canadian poets, Roman Candles, did all of these things and more.... (67)

To revise Head, then, Di Cicco sallies against a future of utterly Gallicized or Saxonized Italians.

Crucially, both Head and Di Cicco defend the maintenance of distinctive, cultural heritages in an officially Multicultural society. By pursuing a definite policy of ‘hyphenated Canadianism,’ a concept verified in his use of the term "Italo-Canadian," Di Cicco rejects the rightist liberal view that "the ‘hyphenated’ concept can undermine Canadian identity" (Cardozo & Musto 9). By showcasing poets who voice a "bicultural sensibility" [9], Di Cicco flouts such critics as US liberal, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who deems multiculturalism "dangerously divisive. It encourages government to segregate citizens along racial, ethnic, and linguistic fault-lines" (qtd. in Jan Brown 68). Di Cicco’s practice also counters the vision of Japanese-Canadian cultural activist R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi, who alleges the hyphen is "that tiny splash of ink uniting words but distancing worlds" (112). By compiling Roman Candles, Di Cicco offers an eloquent riposte to those who, in the name of advancing Canadian (or Québécois) unity, request the erasure of minority cultural specificityxiii.

Although Head rues the only ‘hyphenated’ Canadian group he discusses, i.e. the "Afro-Canadian" (10); he does not rue multiculturalism. His chief passion is the unification of intellectual black and "Third World" émigrés and exiles here. His totalizing interpretation of "Black" nixes a hyphen. The rhetoric of black consciousness and anti-imperialism is the rallying point for black—and brown (Asian) —intellectuals displaced in(to) Canada. From this perspective, Canada In Us Now is an inversion of its more ‘natural’ title: "Us In Canada Now." Certainly, Head’s interest is not Canadian citizenship, but the raising of a phalanx of African-heritage intellectuals to continue to agitate, from a ‘Canadian’ vantage point, for anti-racism in Canada and anti-apartheid and anti-colonialism abroad.

Di Cicco accents the "bicultural," Italo-Canadian identity of his writers, but his anthology affirms multiculturalism by appearing in English. But the apparent influence of Jewish-Canadian writers upon at least three of the Roman Candle poets presents another glimpse of multiculturalism at work (or play). Di Cicco dedicates a poem to Tom Wayman ("The Poem Becomes Canadian" 38). Filippo Salvatore’s poem, "Three Poems for Giovanni Caboto" (1978), replicates the spirit of an Irving Layton poem addressing the statues of Hebrew prophets in a Québécois, Catholic cathedral, "On Seeing the Statuettes of Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the Church of Notre Dame" (1956). Like Layton, Salvatore features a speaker who comments ironically on the appropriation of a great, ancestral compatriot by an alien culture. His persona engages in a monologue addressing a statue of so-called John Cabot, the Italian explorer who claimed the ‘New World’ for Britain:

Giovanni, they erected you a monument,
but they changed your name; here
they call you John. And you
look at them from your stony
pedestal with a hardly perceivable
grin on your bronze lips. (14)

Layton’s persona sounds much like Salvatore’s speaker:

They have given you French names
and made you captive, my rugged
troublesome compatriots;
your splendid beards, here, are epicene,
plaster white
and your angers
unclothed with Palestinian hills quite lost
in this immense and ugly edifice. (19)

Len Gasparini’s poem, "The Photograph of My Grandfather Reading Dante" (1967?), echoes A.M. Klein’s lyric, "Heirloom" (1940). In the case of both poets, the speaker bonds with a patriarch by recalling, wistfully, the latter’s dedication to text—poetic or scriptural. Klein’s poem forges the connection between paternal ancestry and literal, cultural literacy with nostalgic, Romantic rhetoric:

My father bequeathed me no wide estates;
No keys and ledgers were my heritage;
Only some holy books with yahrzeit dates
Writ mournfully upon a blank front page—

Books of the Baal Shem Tov, and of his wonders;
Pamplets upon the devil and his crew;
Prayers against road demons, witches, thunders;
And sundry other tomes for a good Jew.


These are my coat of arms, and these unfold
My noble lineage, my proud ancestry! (157-8)

Gasparini’s lyric memorializes a two-generations-back, paternal reader:

Every evening
he would sit for hours
in his favorite old rocking chair,
holding a glass of homemade wine,
with the Divina Commedia in his lap
and a snuff box on the table beside him.

Under a plain parchment lampshade
that haloed his venerable head,
my mother’s father, Luigi, would
immerse himself in profundities.

And while the rest of our family played
cards or listened to Italian music,
I would study his wrinkled, serene
face and love him.... (28)

Like Klein, Gasparini delineates his literary paternity by appealing to the example of a studious male forebear. For Klein, it is the father who reads Hebrew scripture and its glosses; for Gasparini, it is the grandfather who reads Dante. The parallels between both poets’ poems do not end here. Klein’s father, in his reading, left "snuff ... on this page, now brown and old" (158). Gasparini’s grandfather sits reading with "a snuff box on the table beside him" (28). One more intertextual linkage is Gasparini’s use of the rocking chair; this reference points the reader to Klein’s most popular book of poems, The Rocking Chair and Other Poems (1948). These allusive connections suggest an Italian-Canadian interest in the Jewish-Canadian success in building a new culture in an alien land, while eschewing both isolation and assimilation.

Canada In Us Now shows no interest in any Canada-located, minority group save African-heritage people. Instead, Head’s writers display a multicultural vision by limning a Pan-African and Third World-oriented blackness. The anthology scribes, describes, and prescribes a polyphonous, international, and kaleidoscopic blackness, the very form of ‘African-Canadianité.’xiv Thus, poet Vibert Cambridge anatomizes contemporary West Indian immigration as a further globalization of the African Diaspora:

You may have seen him in Panama’s Canal....
Brixton, Balham,
Birmingham and Bradford,
Guyana’s Tiger Bay,
Trinidad’s La Basse,
Jamaica’s Dungle
And America’s Bedford Stuyvesant.

You can now see
him in Canada’s [i.e. Toronto’s] Bathurst
and occasionally
Brampton and Bramalea. (24)

Head’s poem, "Resumé," rewrites a job-application form to present an archetypal black leftist whose "Past Employment" saw him participate in the liberation of Algeria, The Congo, Kenya, Cuba, and Vietnam (84), while his "Position Desired" is "Restoration of dignity / & respect to the Indian nations / bantustand [sic] in Babylon" (84). The itinerant, South African exile, Arthur Nortje, in the course of his immigration to Canada, complains that "Bitter costs exorbitantly at London / airport"; critiques "the bulldozer civilization / of Fraser and Mackenzie" in British Columbia; recalls "the blond aura of the past / at Durban or Johannesburg" in South Africa; and applies the ubi sunt rhetorical formula to native South Africans: "Where are the mineworkers, the compound Africans, / your Zulu ancestors, where are / the root-eating, bead-charmed Bushmen, the Hottentot sufferers?" (112-113). His own exile and emigration becomes emblematic of the original displacement of South Africa’s native population. In Canada In Us Now, then, multiculturalism is championed, not by stressing congruencies between the writings and experiences of blacks and other Canadian minorities, but by marking the pluralism of ‘Black Canada’ and its de facto linkages—cultural and political—to other peoples of colour. Therefore, Head includes two Indo-Caribbean writers (Darryl Dean and Harold Sonny Ladoo) as well as one Caribbean Aboriginal (Arawak) writer (David Campbell).

Reflecting its thematic, "bicultural sensibility," Roman Candles’s contributors discuss Canada-located crises which debut in the loss of language or culture and which climax with the death of an elder. In "The Man Called Beppino," then, Di Cicco tells of a man, perhaps his own father, who, as a barber in Baltimore, Maryland, "works for nothing, because his english [sic] / is less than fine; the customers like him, / and the man is easily duped, he believes in the / honest dollar, and is offered peanuts in return" (31). Antonino Mazza, in his poem, "Canadese," commands other Italian-Canadians to remember their heritage: "Don’t try to reject your mother tongue, / in our cage, it is wrong; / do canaries smother their private song?" (39). His poem, "Death in Italy" recounts the macabre surrealism of mourning, in Canada, the death of a father in Italy:

Ah, not to have seen one’s father die!

... Mute days followed. Heartsunk
we stayed at home in one grave lit room
my mother’s dress turned black, the men wore death
for ties, black arm bands and other sorrow signs
and bands of friends appeared
to pay their last respects in absentia.
They are ghostly people with ghastly voices
when they relate their own Death in Italy stories. (40)

The special pain of separation from parents and relatives ‘abandoned’ to the ‘Old Country’ is a common thematic. Thus, Tony Pignataro states succinctly, "Life was a long distance telephone call / across the Atlantic" (49). Mary di Michele writes about a Canadian-raised daughter visiting the Italian village of her childhood, then dialing ‘home,’ ironically, to Canada: "Pronto, I hear my mother cough, / across the Atlantic" (60). "Enigmatico" portrays di Michele’s heritage of ocean-wide estrangement: "she cries out caught / with one bare foot in a village in the Abruzzi, / the other busy with cramped English speaking toes in Toronto, / she strides the Atlantic legs spread / like a colossus" (62).

Di Cicco’s poets straddle Italy and Canada—or, at least they attempt to bridge both countries. But Head’s poets still seek a homeland that is fully their own—a Canada that is welcoming, or a Caribbean that is truly free of neo-colonial control. Vibert Cambridge states, "We have until tomorrow to make our countries / our countries," and asks, "When will we stop making our countries / their countries? / And still have no country to call our own?" ("Historical" 29). In her piece, "The raping of the womb," Felizze Mortune imagines a black birth as the instantiation of an assumption of war: "i stuck out my black skull / through mother’s vagina / my first reaction to the real world / was a cry of revolt" (102). No black person, whether born in Canada or not, can evade the historical mission of revolt. Head presents a similar sentiment:

In Babylon
When a woman gives birth
Do not ask if it is a boy or girl
We are soldiers
The moment we are born. ("In Babylon" 85)

One does not need to know the Rastafarian concept of "Babylon" to understand that it applies to the capitalist, secularist, and ‘white’ Occident—including Canada. In his introduction, Head may call for an alliance between Canadians and ‘Blacks,’ but, here, he is clear that Canada is so problematically ensconced within the Euro-American, capital-imperial nexus that, here, too, black children born within its borders are fated to be fighters—or liberators, guerillas. If Di Cicco’s Italian-Canadian poets approach multiculturalism via their biculturality, Head’s ‘African’ assembly must foreground a heritage of (racial) struggle that links all black people, that is to say, they must vaunt a black multiculturalism. Indeed, the anthology is "dedicated to the spirit and ideals of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture to be held in Nigeria in 1977" [2].

Introducing The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing (1998), editor Joseph Pivato recognizes that, prior to the arrival of Di Cicco’s anthology, "There were many Italian writers and many books by Italians living in Canada, but they did not constitute a conscious literature" (Introduction 11). At this point, their writing represented "individual works produced by isolated writers who did not see themselves as creators of a new literature but as Italian writers in exile, or travellers or as writers in Canada who adopted the new language" (Introduction 11). Head’s 1976 anthology features a like psychology: the ‘Us in Canada Now’ are not yet African-Canadian, nor is there writing consciously that of Black Canadians, but rather, it is representative of "Black Poetry and Prose in Canada" as the subtitle says (cover, my italics). Or, as the dedication puts it, the anthology presents "the collective consciousness of the African diaspora in Canada today" [2]. Nevertheless, Head, too, like Di Cicco for Italian-Canadian writing, helps to usher in African-Canadian literature by consciously grouping together writers of disparate cultural and national origins. While neither Head nor Di Cicco engages with official Multiculturalism, their respective groupings of "Blacks in Canada" and "Italo-Canadians" could only make sense in the context of a society dominated racially by whites and culturally by Anglos and Francos. In other words, their respective writer-collages—Pan-African/Canadian and Trans-Atlantic/Mediterranean/Canadian—conjured up an intra-communal multiculturalism that made official Multiculturalism less stable, that is to say, more dynamic, whatever its status quo proclivities.

© 2002 George Elliott Clarke


iThis essay was sculpted for two presentations: the Keynote Address for the Association for Italian Canadian Writers, Toronto, Ontario, on May 27, 2002; and for the "Canada: Model for a Multicultural State" Conference, Edmonton, Alberta, on September 27, 2002.

iiRicardo Scipio is an Afro-Trinidad-born photographer based in Vancouver, B.C.. His Latinate names are as much a result of slavery as are my Anglo-Celtic ones.

iiiHead’s anthology, as I have pointed out in previous scholarship, is actually the third African-Canadian anthology. However, it was the first one to attempt to canvass black writing from across Canada. It was preceded by Black Chat: An Anthology of Black Poets (1973), edited by Camille Haynes, and One Out of Many: A Collection of Writings by 21 Black Women in Ontario (1975), edited by Liz Cromwell.

ivWhen capitalized, ‘Multiculturalism’ refers to the official, federal Government policy and programme; when it is not capitalized, ‘multiculturalism’ refers to the general concept.

vThe Liberal government of Trudeau may have sought to use multiculturalism to secure the electoral allegiances of "ethnic" communities in the largest Canadian cities, as well as to bolster ‘national unity, in the wake of the election of the pro-Québec-independence Parti Québécois, in Québec, in 1976. Yet, such Machiavellian maneouvering is common-place in governing. In their essay on Canadian multiculturalism, Andrew Cardozo and Louis Musto affirm "politics is the stuff of most government policies" (8). One critic of Multiculturalism as state policy, then-Independent Member of Parliament Jan Brown argued, in 1996, that Canadians find the concept confusing because it "can encompass folk songs, dance, food, festivals, arts and crafts, museums, heritage languages, ethnic studies, ethnic presses, race relations, culture sharing, and human rights" (65). One result is that "Ethnic group is pitted against ethnic group and the country is fragmented into a thousand consciousnesses" (65). In its origins, then, federal Multiculturalism was perceived as—and criticized for—acting as a de facto electioneering scheme that ‘bought off’ whiny minorities while dividing the common, cultural weal. But, what is most important, really, is what various Canadian minorities did with the program, not what the program inventors thought Canadian minorities could do electorally for them.

viIn 1996, Bloc Québbébcois Member of Parliament Christiane Gagnon wagered that the establishing of Multiculturalism was a federal reaction to the "expression of Quebec’s desire for independence, coming as it did shortly after the October crisis [of 1970]..." (43). From this nationalist Québbébcois perspective, Multiculturalism promotes "cultural differences" at the expense of "the concept of integration that would recognize the rights of members of ethnic groups and their equal participation in society" (43). Most destructively, "the whole dialectic of two founding peoples [the formation of Canada as a compact between British and French peoples] with their own language and culture was submerged and diluted in this ocean of other languages and cultures" (43). This critique of Multiculturalism has prospered for, as Fo Niemi reported in 1996, "Since the adoption of multiculturalism in 1971, there has been only one French-speaking minister capable of communicating with and clarifying multiculturalism among seven million French-speaking Canadians who are generally mistrustful of this policy" (168). Presumably, Niemi was referring to then-Heritage Canada Minister Sheila Copps (1993-2003), who spoke French, English, and Italian, a linguistic profile shared by her eventual successor, Liza Frulla (2004-6).

viiIronically, though, such rhetoric was already a spent force in 1976. While the African-American ‘Black Power’ and ‘Black Arts’ movements flourished from 1965 to 1975, their echoes in Canada arrived later (in 1968—see the Black Writers Conference in Montreal) and ended later (in 1978—see the penultimate demise of the National Black Coalition of Canada), but were never as revolutionary as their US originators. The reasons for the lower intensity of these movements in Canada were 1) a relatively smaller black population residing in disconnected pockets across the world’s second-largest country; 2) the variegated cultural allegiances of so-called blacks; and 3) the primacy of linguistic issues and state-nationalist politics over ‘race’ (save for First Nations peoples).

viiiOne must wonder about the reasons for Di Cicco’s intellectual violence in his wiping away of the Italian childhoods of his writers.

ixCertainly, Head also ‘Canadianizes’ his writers, classifying all of them as "Canadian""—"new" and otherwise (10). However, their blackness is more important than their Canadian citizenship.

xThe rhetoric about ‘hyphenated’ identities in Canada hearkens back to Progressive Conservative Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker (1957-1963), whose nationalism insisted on a singular Canadian identity: "One Canada, one nation, my Canada, your Canada, cannot be a hyphenated Canada" (qtd. in Nishiguchi 111). Diefenbaker himself seems to have imported this sentiment from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), who warned against the dangers of "hyphenated Americans" in a New York City speech in October 1915:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism ... The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities. (qtd. in Barnett 14)

According to this liberal perspective, whether Rooseveltian or Diefenbakerian, to be ‘hyphenated’—as in ‘Japanese-Canadian’-is to be divided. In defence of the ‘hyphen,’ Italian-Canadian scholar Joseph Pivato argues that, given the history of terms like ‘French-Canadian’ in Canada, it is difficult to see how other, generally smaller minorities could eschew the hyphenation of their own identities (48). Pivato also notes, "Hyphenation in Western Canada does not seem to carry the same negative connotation as in Central Canada. It is common practice here to use terms like: Ukrainian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Hungarian-Canadian, Haitian-Canadian, Italian-Canadian, and Polish-Canadian" (51 n.1). A Chinese-Canadian commentator issues a strong defence of the hyphen in her self-conception. Hear Lillian To: "Am I less Canadian because I am a woman or because I am of Chinese origin? ".We cannot all be Anglo-Saxon white males". Unless you produce clones or go through a purge, you cannot eliminate hyphenated Canadians" (203).

xiPerhaps Head was influenced by the thought of Trinidadian-Canadian playwright Lennox Brown, who declared, in 1972, "There is no substantial Black culture in Canada" (8) and that "Black culture in Canada was born in the cradle of Whiteness" (6).

xiiAntonio D’Alfonso notes, "Italy is not a unity but a mosaic" (37).

xiiiIntroducing The Battle Over Multiculturalism (1997), editors Cardozo and Musto defend the concept, recognizing that "Cultural diversity existed in Canada well before the arrival of European settlers. The Aboriginal and Inuit peoples were here first, and each were composed of sub-groups with their own language, culture, and social organization" (7). Pivato affirms that, with the appearance of Roman Candles, its contributors (including himself) "answered the call, discovered a group of writers, a receptive audience and we never looked back" (35). In fact, "The literary phenomenon of Italian-Canadian writing as a new body of writing was first recognized by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco in 1975-76 when he began to collect poems for his, now famous, anthology..." (38). Introducing the anthology, Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (1999), co-editor Andy Quan observes, "This anthology of poetry comes from a place that is both real and mythical—a place that exists concretely, and one that is created as we speak its name: Chinese-Canada" (7). Like Head and Di Cicco before him, he recognizes that the construction of an anthology announces the existence of a ‘new’ and ‘multicultural’ community:

...I had to see how diverse a people we [are]. Not only from Canton, immigrants came from all parts of China, from Taiwan, and from bustling Hong Kong. Perhaps they arrived in Canada by way of other continents, via Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Australia, or East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam.... It is a diverse group such as this that can give meaning to a name. Chinese-Canada. And if the poets here are all to be grouped together in a Chinese-Canadian poetry anthology, then we are witnessing multiple creations. First of all, it is the creation of a community, a "we" rather than "I," a gathering of diverse people who presume a cultural coherence due to our "Chinese"-ness. Next, we see how this characteristic of race and culture attaches itself to a nation-state, the great snowy plains and water country—oh, Canada.... (7)

Quan’s discovery of a multicultural "Chinese-Canada," one created by its artists, also creates the grounds for an engagement with other multicultural communities in Canada. Thus, when Quan writes, "With our poems, we’re also saying ... ‘We are here,’ in Canada," he echoes not only Head’s introduction, "We have come," but also a concluding phrase of my introduction to my edited anthology, Eyeing the North Star: Directions in African-Canadian Literature (1997): "And we are here. Where we have always been. Since 1605" (xxv).

iSee my article, "Contesting a Model Blackness," for a full discussion of these major aspects of African-Canadian identity.

Works Cited and Notes

Abella, Irving. "Multiculturalism, Jews, and the Forging of the Canadian Identity." In Cardozo & Louis Musto. 71-89.

Barnett, Derek. "Ethnic branding." Letters to the Editor. The Times. [London] Wednesday, August 17, 2005. 14.

Binavince, Emilio S. "The Role of Ethnic Minorities in the Pursuit of Equality and Multiculturalism." In Cardozo and Musto. 90-100.

Brown, Jan. "Independent MP: Culture as an Individual Responsibility." In Cardozo and Musto. 60-8.

Brown, Lennox. "A Crisis: Black Culture in Canada." Black Images. 1.1 (January 1972): 4-8.

Cambridge, Vibert. "Historical Position No. 2." In Canada In Us Now. 28-9.

____. "The West Indian ... a continuous position." In Canada In Us Now. 24-7.

Canada In Us Now: The First Anthology of Black Poetry and Prose in Canada. Ed. Harold Head. Toronto: NC Canada Press, 1976.

Cardozo, Andrew, and Louis Musto, eds. The Battle Over Multiculturalism: Does it help or hinder Canadian unity? Volume 1. Ottawa: PSI Publishing, 1996.

____. "Introduction: identifying the Issues." In Cardozo and Musto. 7-15.

Clarke, George Elliott. "Contesting a Model Blackness: A Meditation on African-Canadian African Americanism, or The Structures of African Canadianité." Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 27-70.

____. Introduction. Eyeing the North Star: Directions in African-Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997. xi-xxv.

Colombo, John Robert. "My Genealogy." In Di Cicco. 10-11.

Cromwell, Liz, ed. One Out of Many: A Collection of Writings by 21 Black Women in Ontario. Toronto: WACACRO Productions, 1975.

____. "We have come." In Canada In Us Now. 60.

D’Alfonso, Antonio. In Italics: In Defense of Ethnicity. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 1996.

Di Cicco, Pier Giorgio. Biographical Notes. In Roman Candles. 84-5.

____. Preface. In Roman Candles. 9-10.

____. "The Poem Becomes Canadian." In Roman Candles. 38.

____. "The Man Called Beppino." In Roman Candles. 31-2.

____. Ed. Roman Candles: An Anthology of Poems by Seventeen Italo-Canadian Poets. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1978.

di Michele, Mary. "Across the Atlantic." In Roman Candles. 60.

____. "Enigmatico." In Roman Candles. 62.

Fry, Hedy. "Liberal Party: A Continued Commitment to the Ideals of Multiculturalism." In Cardozo and Musto. 35-41.

Gagnon, Christiane. "Bloc Québécois: Integration Rather Than Multiculturalism." In Cardozo and Musto. 42-5.

Gasparini, Len. "The Photograph of My Grandfather Reading Dante." In Roman Candles. 28.

Haynes, Camille, ed. Black Chat: An Anthology of Black Poets. Montreal: Black and Third World Students Association, Dawson College, 1973.

Head, Harold, ed. Canada In Us Now: The First Anthology of Black Poetry and Prose in Canada. Toronto: NC Canada Press, 1976.

____. "Resumé." In Canada In Us Now. 84.

____. "We have come." Introduction. In Canada In Us Now. 7-12.

Kinsella, Noöl A. "Progressive Conservative Party: Guiding Our Future Through an Understanding of the Past." In Cardozo and Musto. 54-9.

Klein, A.M. "Heirloom." The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein. Ed. Miriam Waddington. Toronto: McGraw Hill-Ryerson, 1974.

____. The Rocking Chair and Other Poems. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1948.

Layton, Irving. "On Seeing the Statuettes of Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the Church of Notre Dame." The Poems of Irving Layton. Ed. Eli Mandel. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977. 19.

Mazza, Antonino. "Canadese." In Canada In Us Now. 39.

____. "Death in Italy." In Canada In Us Now. 40-1.

Mortune, Felizze. "The raping of the womb." In Canada In Us Now. 102.

Niemi, Fo. "Quebec, Canada and Multiculturalism: A Vision for the 21st Century." In Cardozo and Musto. 164-72.

Nishiguchi, R.L. Gabrielle. "True North Strong and Hyphen-Free." In Cardozo and Musto. 111-4.

Nortje, Arthur. "Immigrant." In Canada In Us Now. 112-3.

ignataro, Tony. "The Immigrant." In Canada In Us Now. 48-9.

Pivato, Joseph. Echo: Essays on Other Literatures. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 1994.

____. Introduction. The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing. Ed. Joseph Pivato. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 1998. 9-17.

Quan, Andy. Introduction. Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry. Eds. Andy Quan and Jim Wong-Chu. Vancouver: Arsenal-Pulp Press, 1999. 7-10.

Roman Candles: An Anthology of Poems by Seventeen Italo-Canadian Poets. Ed. Pier Giorgio Di Cicco. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1978.

Salvatore, Filippo. "Three Poems for Giovanni Caboto." In Roman Candles. 13-6.

Stanford, C. Lloyd. "How to Advance National Unity: A Professional and Personal Perspective." In Cardozo and Musto. 173-82.

Tepper, Elliott L. "Multiculturalism as a Response to an Evolving Society." In Cardozo and Musto. 183-200.

To, Lilian. "A Must for B.C., a Must for Canada." In Cardozo and Musto. 201-6.

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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