Session 5: The Multicultural Self in Text

“Strangers in a Multicultural Nation”: Reclaiming Language in the Nikkei Community

Dr. Mimi Okabe 

When I am unwritten in language textbooks, how do I begin to articulate identity and communicate my experiences?

This presentation explores the intersection of multilingualism and multiculturalism to raise awareness of how the social construction of the stranger is shaped by policy and pedagogy in how languages are formally taught in the classroom. This presentation incorporates a personal account of my own trials as a heritage language learner and the challenges I now encounter as an instructor of the Japanese language in grappling with language textbooks containing standardized, and often colonial, ways of knowing and teaching the Japanese language. I show how linguistic and discursive constructions of race and ethnicity, or the lack thereof, in Japanese language textbooks risk reproducing social hierarchies that affect how language learners see themselves outside of the text and in their local and national communities. I argue for the importance of Nikkei articulations of the self, to empower learners of the Japanese language as agents of social change through a kind of language pedagogy that recognizes and values learners’ multifaceted layers of identity and broad intercultural experiences that shape individual subject positions. I begin by examining how Canada’s multiculturalism policy regulates difference, placing ethnic minorities at both the centre and periphery of the Canadian mosaic with regard to national languages. I then explore the potentialities and limitations of teaching Japanese within a multicultural context. Teaching diversity and multiculturalism begins in the classroom, and at the end of this presentation, I offer some strategies for decolonizing language curricula.

Mimi Okabe (she/her) holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Alberta where she teaches courses such as Japanese language, translation, popular culture, and world literature. She is an award-winning instructor at the U of A and the co-founder of Japanese for Nikkei Inc., an online teaching and learning platform for Nikkei learners of Japanese. Aside from her academic work, Mimi loves reading mystery novels and publishes her works on trans-cultural adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. She was named the Master Bootmaker in 2021 for her significant contribution to The Bootmakers of Toronto and the Canadian Sherlockian movement.

What Can Change in 50 Years? Multiculturalism in Canadian Children’s Literature

Dominika Tabor 

The aim of this article is to examine the impact of the proclamation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act on the development of the genre of children’s literature in Canada. While we can trace some of the first Canadian children’s books up until the 19th century, it was not until the 1970s that the genre of Canadian children’s literature started to emerge. The shift in Canadian children’s publication was highly influenced by the proclamation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. It began a slow evolution towards an increasing number of publications that showed not only idealized cultural identities but also focused on mirroring children’s actual experiences. I will argue that Canadian literature functions as a cultural product of Canadian national consciousness that not only reflects the society but also shapes it. The emphasis was put on the Canadian multicultural children publications that are not dominated by white narrative and were written by Aboriginal peoples and people of colour. The analysis proves that the relationship between Canadian children’s literature and multiculturalism should be viewed as a constant process.

Dominika Tabor is a PhD student in the department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, Transnational and Comparative Literatures, at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include children’s literature, fairy tales, Canadian literature, and travel writing.

Connected Voices as Canadians

Marion Mutala

We need to re-imagine and reaffirm multiculturalism in today’s Canada. In this paper, I will discuss the importance of multiculturalism in families by using specific examples of my family heritage and traditions. The methodology used will be factual historical stories and observations. To test these facts, one needs to examine one’s own traditions and experiences. One does not pick relatives or can get away from genetics. For example, on my mother’s side my Baba and Dido (Grandmother and Grandfather), Tessie Woznakowski and Stefan Dubyk came from different areas of western Ukraine immigrating to Canada in 1912 and 1911 respectively. My mother, Sophie Dubyk, a Ukrainian Canadian married my father, August Mutala, who came from Slovakia in 1930. I grew up in an English, Croatian, Scandinavian community and married an Eritrean refugee who grew up in Ethiopia and have 3 beautiful children. My son’s partner is of Indigenous and Métis ancestry, and my daughter’s partner is of German ancestry. Multiculturism in Canada is about valuing the differences in people, but more importantly the awareness of how much we are alike and finding those common elements. We need to learn about each other cultures in order to promote respect, education and peace. And, as a mother of three mixed children, I am their voice as well as my future grandchildren. This paper will reflect the importance of reconciling and empowering multiculturalism in the 21st s century.


Marion Mutala holds a Masters degree in Educational Administration and taught for 30 years. She has written 15 books to date. Marion is the author of the national bestselling, award-winning children’s books Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Christmas (Anna Pidrucheny Award – 2010), Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Easter (shortlisted for Saskatchewan Book Award, Publishing in Education – 2013), Baba’s Babushka: A Magical Ukrainian Wedding (High Plains Award, Best Children’s Book – 2015), and Kohkum’s Babushka: A Magical Métis/Ukrainian Tale. She is also the author of Grateful , The Time for Peace is Now, Ukrainian Daughter’s Dance (a poetry collection), The Mechanic’s Wife (Silver Winner, Destiny Publishers Fiction – 2015), More Babas Please!, and My Buddy, Dido! (Shortlisted for a High Plains Award, Best Children’s Book – 2019).