In Walter Benjamin’s account, ‘memory creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening
on from generation to generation,’ and the storyteller ‘tells from experience—her own or that
reported by others. And she in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to her
tale’” (in Fisher 2001: 227).
This online lecture deals with the notion of diasporic communities. Many contemporary cities in North
America, including the city of Toronto, and to some extent in Europe, are increasingly home to what has
been called diasporic communities: immigrants, expatriates, refugees, guest workers, and exile
This diasporic reality has changed the definition of nation, citizen, and subject.
The “primordial” categories and boundaries of ethnicity, race, religion and territories have been
transformed by the movements of people across nations’ boundaries and also due to the fact that the speed
of communication and information has become widespread around the world.
The ever-increasing political presence of refugees and immigrants in post-Cold war Europe and North
America has generated considerable debate about the nature of multicultural societies. It is argued that the
world is now producing a different type of a subject, a different type of citizen, and a new type of nation
state. Reflecting this new reality scholars and artists working on the area of diasporas had to rethink the
notions of ethnicity and identity and cultural boundaries. This new citizen is more characterized by its
multiple and complicated identities. The city of Toronto is considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world:
The demand for the recognition of cultural, racial, and ethnic differences has come to occupy a central
place in political governments to reflect this new reality. As social anthropologists James Clifford put it
in his article called “Diasporas” (1994), bounded communities or homogenous communities are difficult
to find nowadays. What does it mean to be African-American, Japanese–Canadian, Hispanic American
or Hindo-Canadian or Irish Canadian? What side of the hyphen takes precedence?
The answers to these questions are connected to the notion of a diasporic imagination and of a
social/cultural identity. We can think of a diasporic imagination as a type of collective identity or a
cultural (social) memory defined by a vision or myth of a homeland, or a place of origin. What this mean
is that the main characteristic of a diasporic community is maintaining a “memory”, a vision or myth
about a place, a homeland. According to a common definition, social identity “is the portion of an
individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_identity_theory). The context of a diasporic imagination is then one
of forced or voluntary relocation: it is about displacement, exile and immigration. It is about constructing
a new type of identity: one that is new and emerging based on the present conditions of the diaspora.
This new type of identity is ripe with creative possibilities when it comes to art, theatre, and performance.
Theatre and performance scholar Ric Knowles states that, “communities in diaspora interact and constitute
themselves as communities through the performative enactment of intercultural memory (2010: 167).
2 An example of the enactment of intercultural memory can be found in theatrical performances such as
plays that approach cultural memory and perform diasporic memory as a bridge across two or more
cultures. In Toronto, various kinds of this theatrical practice exists such as Fish Eyes (Anita Majundar),
Singkil (Catherine Hernandez Filipino), the Sheep and the Whale (by Ahmed Ghazali and the scrubbing
project by turtle Gals).
Knowles nonetheless proposes that there is a difference between government-sanctioned multiculturalism
- what he calls Multicultural Text - and artistic expressions that enact intercultural memory - what he calls
“Multicultural texts are the policies, docu- ments, and official discourses of Canadian multiculturalism, as
well as the theatrical events and social performances, often funded by government diversity programs and
framed by civic heritage spectacles, that are sanctioned by those texts” (Knowles 3-4).
On the other hand, “Intercultural” performance work is made by a host of primarily young artists of color,
and seeks to disrupt, reinterpret, question, and challenge the myths of “mosaic” harmony …” (Knowles 4)
There are pitfalls with Multicultural Text or official multiculturalism. This type of government-sponsored
politics can be seen as a way of managing and controlling difference. Official multiculturalism typically
constructs memory in essensialistic, static and nostalgic ways separating communities rather than uniting
3 Official multiculturalism is about heritage; it is about celebrating Canada as an immigrant nation or a
haven for refugees, and so on. Such politics, to some degree, are controlled through granting agencies.
Official multiculturalism is about is fixed identities.