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Claudio Chipana: “If culture isn’t diverse, it’s not culture”

Claudio Chipana, LARC

“The greatest of riches that a country can have is its culture, that is what makes it free. The more cultured a country is, the freer it will be”.


Ramón Alabau


London has always been known for its cultural diversity. The figures show: out of its 7 million inhabitants, a third of the population belongs to an ethnic minority.

And it is enough to wander around the streets to see that in its buildings live people from all corners of the planet.

In this urban cosmopolitan 50% of its citizens are not of British origin, though the vast majority speak the national language, drive with the wheel on the right, and respect the island’s customs and traditions.

Also, the cultural diversity is confirmed on discovering that in this city more than 300 different languages are spoken.

That which is certain, is that the UK is considered one of the most multicultural countries on the planet. Facing this reality many ask why the Prime Minister, David Cameron, last year stated that multiculturalism had failed in England.

This phenomenon involves the coexistence of different races and cultures in one space and the acceptance, respect and tolerance of the differences that arise, and the mutual enrichment based on what is taken or not from the said cultures.

Here one speaks an interchange of languages, beliefs, customs and religions…However, that which is a factor to fortify a society, also has its critics.

In fact it is known that in Great Britain 34000 racist children on average exist, which raises the question of whether the integration of immigrants is a reality or not.

The Prisma discussed the ‘crisis’ of multiculturalism with Claudio Chipana, a citizen with a divided heart, between Peru, his birthplace, and the UK, his country for more than 20 years.

High unemployment rates, conflict in areas with Caribbean populations, an economic crisis and mistrusted politicians. Multiculturalism isn’t at it’s best right now, is it?

Presently there are many who think that multiculturalism, and everything that has been done to promote it, has not given the expected results. But quite the contrary, they state that it poses a danger to the stability of national unity. Also the conservative parties have a pessimistic view. Not only in Europe, David Cameron categorically affirmed that this phenomenon had failed.

What has led the British Prime Minister, and the government of Angela Merkel to affirm the failure?

They claim that fundamentalist Muslim groups have emerged, which has made way for the polarization of society. They say that these communities, which are formed in ghettos, have driven segregation rather than encourage integration. The politicians have agreed that they are formed by radicals, and even by terrorists.

This belief has grown over the last few years, with the construction of mosques; of Arabic schools…and this has ultimately led to social tensions.

The current government, which defends cultural diversity and wants to differentiate its measures from those of the radical and extremist groups, says that multiculturalism doesn’t lead to integration but rather segregation and to marginalization…but this is not the case.

In your condition as an immigrant in a host country you always want to conserve your beliefs, but this doesn’t mean creating a city within a city as they seem to think, because a large portion of foreigners adapt themselves and respect the country’s traditions and customs.

Is it the state’s duty to defend multiculturalism?

Yes, when some minorities express themselves and are noted, as has happened in the USA, Canada, Australia…the state ought to adopt measures to address this. In the eighties there were many countries that were enthusiastic and promoted it.

Here in England there has never been a concrete policy. At the ’97 elections the Laborites made an attempt, but it didn’t come to anything more. Here the thought has always existed that immigration is the cause of the violence problems, of the lack of employment, of the poverty…

Therefore, the economic crisis has influenced the degradation…

Yes. The ex prime minister Gordon Brown already said at the start of the economic crisis “British jobs for British people”; a statement that caused much controversy.  Facing these declarations, and in the current context, immigrant are the most vulnerable. They are accused of taking employment away from native citizens, when that’s not how it is. All this combined with the image they have of the thieving, violent, delinquent foreigner, amongst other factors…hurts a lot.

They say that the time of multiculturalism has already come to an end. I don’t know what we are waiting for. Will we all have to talk, believe, and think the same, and to forget our own principles?

Has the British society been prepared for receiving and welcoming so many immigrants?

London is one of the most multicultural cities; you only have to get on a bus to see this. One in three residents in the city are foreign. Therefore, the opinion that multiculturalism must be improved simply doesn’t make sense.

It is a duty of the state. In schools the principles of integration should be taught, to promote understanding amongst pupils, in order to generate dialogue and consensus.

You have to see the reality, and this tells us that Great Britain has long been the union of different states. Not all the regions talk and think similarly, and some may even want independence.

Tell us the characteristics of a multicultural society.

It ought to be a civilized society, where the people recognize their differences, but at the same time maintain an understanding and a dialogue between them. Where everyone addresses integration, and the state reflects and represents the diversity of its people.

We can’t talk of uniformity, as the Nazis did. You have to give way to a globalized world, where the borders are founded. This is not to say that each country no longer has spatial limits and has its own laws, but merely that nations need each other and communication between them ought to exist.

Is there an attempt to impose a general culture on the minorities?

What we call progress changes us all. The advances in technology, in communication, and travel to other countries, widen our point of view, and encourage us to accept others with greater ease.

London would not be the same city without the minorities of immigrants. A politician from the Labour party said that the most representative dish of English food was the Chicken Tikka Masala, an Indian dish.

The Englishman who is not affected by the negative news about immigration can coexist with ease and welcomes immigrants without a problem. That is the norm, we are accepted, although some say that we don’t make an effort to learn English, that we want to live our own way and that we don’t want to integrate.

You only have to look at the army or at the sports stars that represent the UK in the Olympic games; people from different cultures that are fighting to raise the British medal count.

Is multiculturalism part of globalization?

It is born of the necessity to integrate ethnic minorities in countries receiving migrants. In answering the question of how to treat the different cultures of its new citizens.

A few days ago I read a piece in a British paper about whether there was a difference between the racism existent in the UK and in Latin America.

Everyone says that they’re not racist, but everyone attacks multiculturalism in some way. By law, racist language can’t be used, but at this stage in history there are other methods of attack. Racism has changed form, it has a mask, but it hasn’t disappeared. Here the British media points to foreigners in news about delinquency, or the stereotype that they have.

David Cameron announced cultural measures in order to stop the entrance of new citizens…

This stance ought to be considered as a break on cultural interchange. It’s not necessary to demand of foreigners a minimum knowledge of English in order to stop immigration; the economic crisis is reason enough. We are seeing how the arrival abroad has decreased; now it is the opposite.

I agree that we all have to know the language and the culture…but, why doesn’t the state increase resources for integration, with English courses or with accessible cultural activities?

If culture isn’t diverse then it’s not culture, as well as assimilating, it contributes.

Can the Latin American culture be expressed openly in England?

Great Britain is very open as a country. What we have attempted for a long time and what we have achieved, bit by bit, is that we are recognized as a minority. This is an important advance. We adapt ourselves easily, and we are people who have cultural variety written in our blood, names and surnames. Here we have expressed ourselves freely, and we have performed all our traditions freely too.

(Translated by Eleanor Gooch – Email: eleanor.gooch@googlemail.com)

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