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Field Reports of Toronto 2017: Ethnography of Kensington Market

Students of the Respect program have many chances to go abroad for study trips. From April 26th to May 8th of 2017, students went to Toronto to study multiculturalism of Canada. In the field, students were assigned three research groups: critiques of multiculturalism; home making amongst the diaspora; ethnography of Kensington market. The following is a report of ethnography of Kensington market.

Field trip to Kensington market

[Pic. 1]A scene in Kensington Market

[Pic. 2]A scene in Jimmy’s Coffee

Kensington Market is a symbol of multiculturalism in Canada. In the 1800’s, a lot of immigrants from Britain settled in this place and the area was British in character. Dramatic changes happened from the 1900’s, and the area became a gathering place of immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe and so on. Nowadays, Kensington Market has become an important place defining the multicultural identity of Toronto. But this area also faces a threat in recent years due to gentrification.

Before going on the field trip, we read several articles about Kensington Market. We discovered that although Kensington Market is a good place to enjoy multiculturalism, there are still lots of problems including gentrification and economic gaps. We also realized that the self-image of multiculturalism has been constructed through the media.

During the field trip, we interviewed a lot of people, including someone who lived there, worked there or was sightseeing there. We were told that the land prices have risen higher and higher. We also sensed economic gaps when we walked around the different cafes. We started to wonder if a socio-economic class inequality exists in Kensington Market alongside ethnic diversity. Through the observation of different cafes and interviews with the customers, we gained lots of new information about Kensington Market. We found in Jimmy’s Coffee, for example, many young and fashionable people sitting quietly. They seemed to be middle class. In Moonbean Café on the other hand, judging by our observations, there were two groups of people: those who looked relatively wealthy and others who seemed to be coming from a more underpivileged background. The two groups shared the same place but remained divided.

During the day, we rarely saw homeless people on the streets but in St. Stephen’s Community House we found many homeless.

Behind the identifiable, we should also focus on the hidden parts of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism can be used as an effective tool to make a profit in Kensington Market. The owners of some stores also advertise themselves as a symbol of multiculturalism. On the other hand, negative aspects of multiculturalism are hidden. People who have a lack of economic power such as the homeless and the working class are pushed aside. Multiculturalism in Canada is supported by a strong economic power. The power helps people who want to keep their identities to stay together. Everyone accepts the diversity but do not connect to each other closely. This keeps them separated. But if the power of the economy gets weaker, multiculturalism will lose its balance. People might begin to conflict with each other or become more alienated. We think kyosei can give us a new perspective of living together. Kyosei is a new style of co-existence. Kyosei cares about diversity and at the same time it compliments the harmony. So kyosei also attaches importance to interaction. We think interaction could be a more stable strategy than an economic approach. But there are still many tasks to pursue in kyosei. For example, we are not very sure how to use interaction as a tool to solve specific social problems. Or maybe, interaction may bring new problems because people stay too close. In Canada, we could see the advantage of remaining separated. But the lack of interaction is also a problem. We need to keep reconsidering the concept of kyosei and find a balance.

(July 7, 2017, Kim, Sawai, Tomiyasu, Wang Yiqiong)

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