Culture  Quebe…quoi?

Political correctness can go to far in Tête du tuque

Through the perspective of the children of first-generation immigrants, Pierre Mignault and Hélène Magny present a documentary about the clash of immigrant cultures and dominant culture in the province of Quebec.

The film, entitled Tête du tuque, offers some insight into racism and the problem of being considered an outsider in one’s place of birth. Overall, however, it comes off contrived, in ways that carry some troubling implications.

The documentary opens with the Quebecois song “Mes Aïeux” and a typically Quebecois scene: a horse sled in a rustic town. The people aboard the sled are not typical Quebecois, but rather high school kids whose parents immigrated from Tunisia, Haiti, China, and Vietnam. The teenagers, however, were born in Quebec. As the child of an English-Canadian mother from the Yukon Territory and a pure laine (“dyed in the wool”) Quebecker from Saguenay, certain elements of this film caused a visceral objection in me.

The filmmakers undo what they seek to create. Throughout the documentary there is a latent attack on what constitutes a Quebecker. Fundamentally, there is a difference between a person who is from the province of Quebec and a person who is considered and considers themselves a Quebecois pure laine. On the subject of pure laine, the filmmakers assert that this concept is ridiculous and of no real value, employing comments in narration and the spiel of one professor to this effect. However, I completely and fundamentally disagree. The insightful points brought forth by the high school kids who discuss the hardships of dual identities and a métissage of values are buried deep beneath the intentions of the filmmakers and their disrespect of pure laine Quebecois.

First of all, the filmmakers did not, as I have done in this article, admit their biases. This is inherently problematic to me and especially alienating in the closing sequence. In this scene, the filmmakers take the teenagers to a cabin in the woods and have them put up a Christmas tree and do typically Quebecois things. At the end of the sequence, the narrator’s voice asks the viewer: “Are these children not our future?” Seemingly, in a rudimentary documentary with contrived sequences, the filmmakers try to tell the audience that a culture isn’t important because all people are alike. This is a utopian and misleading way of thinking. Attacking the integrity of a group of people in order to claim that all peoples have equal access to a label is just frustrating. People have equal access to fundamental human rights, but not to claims on a particular history.

Perhaps the filmmakers are trying to define the term “culture.” Perhaps they have some great insight on what “cultures” are and their validity. If so, I’d like to see some credentials and several published volumes. What a “culture” is has been the subject of intellectual inquiries for centuries. Interestingly enough, the teenagers the filmmakers follow seem to have a better understanding of what is relevant than the filmmakers themselves.

I would argue that it is precisely this kind of ignorance that causes increasing racism when it comes to immigration. What is the point of attacking one culture’s right to exist because other, different cultures are coming into contact with it? Racism and cultural divides crop up when cultural identities are threatened, and this documentary adds lighter fluid to the fire. Just as it would be unfair to declare that suddenly all immigrants’ cultures are irrelevant once they are Canadian citizens, it is unfair to argue, even if subtly, that pure laine culture is irrelevant.

Reasonable accommodation has been a divisive issue in Quebec recently, invariably fraught with racism from both sides. However, a middle ground does establish itself. New groups form around the shared experiences of people who at once belong to two different groups – such as the Métis – and are liminal to both. Just as the pure laine were once both part of France and not part of the country, the second, third, and fourth-generation children of parents who immigrated to Quebec will perhaps consider themselves Quebeckers – where the term Quebecker will be understood as something else than synonymous with pure laine Quebecois (the terms are not synonymous and have not been for decades). Perhaps these groups will have a different way of creating cultural identity. Cultures cannot be made open to all and there are valid functional, structural, psychological, and historical reasons for this.

The only valuable part of the film for me was the youth recounting their experience of growing up between the culture of their parents and that of their surroundings. These teenagers are bound together by commonalities, like having to obey certain rules of conduct that may not make “sense” to the culture of their Quebecois friends. In a way, they are proof of how cultures are created: through shared experiences. The beauty of the captured images lies in the stories from the mouths of babes, not of filmmakers.