of his Speech
RACE MARRIAGES – RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
Mukerjee was a pioneering senior officer in the Department
of Canadian Heritage for thirty years who amongst the varied
historic dossiers, he helped prepare the Canadian Multiculturalism
Act for legislation and the unanimous passage. He was also
one of the founding members of the bilingual Intercultural
Institute of Montreal, the first such association in Canada.
He is proud of his mixed race, mixed culture and mixed faith
heritage that is lived in family life. In retirement, he
is currently active with visible minority religious communities
such as the Sikhs and the Muslims. He is a member of the
Capital Region Interfaith Council. Multiculturalism is a
way of life in al spheres.
mixed race, intercultural and interfaith marriage and family
life, it is a challenge Roman Mukerjee faces in the truly
multicultural path officially proclaimed in Canada. This
presentation will summarily focus on how the religious diversity
is faced within the mixed race family from youth to maturity.
This is an original witness that will form part of the larger
package where mixed race couples of diverse cultural backgrounds
will share their experiences for common ground and identify
issues towards follow-up research.
Day. Namastey (East Indian) and Dobry Den (Slovak),
greeting reflects my core identity by the name of Roman
(Slovak) Mukerjee (Bengali-East Indian). My father is of
Indian origin (Hindu) and my late mother was of Slovak (Christian)
briefly, my parents met during the last World War in Zlin,
the Czech Republic whilst training in Bata’s, a prominent
international Shoe Company, currently headquartered in Toronto.
My parents were the first Indo-Slovak mixed race marriage
that hit the media headlines. I was born in the Czech Republic
under Nazi rule with a Nazi birth certificate that would
come to haunt me later in life. There were also bets as
to which color I would be at birth. I turned out “whitish”
and most lost their bets. Moral: Do not bet on me.
during the war period that my father joined the India independence
Azad Hind Fauj in Berlin where he served under the leadership
of the renowned and radical nationalist leader, Netaji Subhas
Chandra Bose. Some of you may have heard my father’s
presentation here on his active role in the national army.
It was only when India gained independence from Britain
that I returned with my parents to India at my early age
of four years old. My formative years were spent in India
till I was 19 and I then left to study in Canada. This youth
developmental period in my life would be spent in India
within the intercultural context of my parents. I would
attend an English medium boarding school that was run by
the Canadian Catholic Jesuit Mission in Darjeeling. The
students were of diverse backgrounds from within India and
other countries which nurtured an open spirit.
are many dimensions that one may touch in an intercultural
marriage and family setting like mine. Given time constraints
and the need to strike a learning chord, I will primarily
focus on the religious identity that I acquired within the
intercultural context of my mixed race and distinct faith
parents and the influence of my school environment. It is
important to stress that the religious experience is an
integral part of one’s basic identity. As one says
in Hinduism, it is a “way of life”.
my residential school days from age six onwards where I
passed nine months per annum, there was the strong British
education influence, as we prepared to finish the Cambridge
school certificate. Simultaneously, there was an intense
Roman Catholic thrust by the Canadian Jesuit’s leadership
who led the school for those with Christian roots. In my
early years in the school, the priests did not approach
me with the Catholic faith as they initially took me for
a Hindu, with my surname Mukerjee. Their policy was to provide
moral education to non-Catholics which I initially received.
When they came to know that my mother was Christian, the
pressure upon my parents and on me was made to convert me
to Catholicism. As far as my father was concerned, I was
born a Hindu and that could never change. As far as my mother
was concerned, in interfaith spirit, it would be fine to
formally add the Christian dimension to me, a born Hindu.
What my parents did not realize nor was I then sophisticated
enough to fully discern, Catholicism became the prime and
only focus in my religious education. There was no recognition
of the Hindu part of me right in India whilst frequent comments
were made how true the Catholic faith was and how secondary
Hinduism was, with the “many gods”. This was
all laid on me by the good Jesuits in the well-intentioned
and genuine Christian missionary zeal in India. Whenever
I returned home after full Catholic immersion, I was far
more Christian than Hindu in outlook and in practice. My
parents never debated the issue which they felt would evolve
in interfaith spirit over time. I have to admit that over
those formative years till age nineteen when I completed
my high school and pre-university education, the Hinduism
in me was quite marginal on account of the total immersion
in Christianity at the school. I kept a relative distance
from Hinduism that my father and my Bengali relatives devotedly
practised in my midst. Brainwashed?
briefly, my parents were very accommodating and inclusive
to one another in the way they brought me up. For example,
at home we only spoke Czech whilst I learnt colloquial Hindi
and Bengali on the conversational side in daily social contacts
plus, with family members on my East Indian side. In food,
we readily ate Indian curry and rosogoolas and then Czech
goulash or stew, whilst fully respecting the exclusion of
beef in accord with the Hindu tradition. In music, I learnt
to play the European accordion and play Czech and Bengali
songs that were sung together at home. I continually expressed
the duality of my origins that were not in real conflict.
The key mechanism is mutual accommodation and avoidance
of the purist thrust. It is not a one way street. On the
religious plane however, I was in my teens on a one way
and the only street namely, Christian, the ‘true’
Most significantly, my father philosophically and regularly
warned me that if one breaks the traditional societal rules,
one must be prepared for the natural opposition and, one
peacefully continues to be who one is in a positive spirit
of sharing. By definition, those of us along the intercultural
path must be tolerant and accommodating with each step we
take. By definition, an intercultural existence must be
flexible to be complete. Yes, it is a challenge as it is
lived on a daily basis. I try to live in duality of race
and cultural traditions on a daily basis. Unquestionably,
India’s diversity marked me strongly during my youth.
The Slovak heritage was acquired in terms of bonds to my
revered mother in India. I am always Indo-Slovak. At the
same time, there was the social tension as to whether or
not I was white enough or brown enough in my real mix. One
has to be firmly conscious as to who one is.
was a privilege to receive a fully paid scholarship to come
and study in Montreal, Canada where my East Indian identity
came to the fore in my studies at the undergraduate level.
It was then that I began to seriously recognize that an
essential part of my identity, the Hindu faith and culture
were seriously missing. I came to realize that I had to
enter into ongoing interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue
in thought and in practice. There was the underlying need
to strike an identity balance in my “mix”.
early years in Montreal, I joined and I helped establish
the first Intercultural Institute in Montreal on a voluntary
basis that literally opened me to serious dialogue with
the Hindu faith and tradition. The founder was a great liberal
Holy Cross francophone priest, Rev Jacques Langlais, Order
of Canada and Order of Quebec who inspired me. I began to
call myself Hindu-Christian which the formal Christian establishment
would not accept. On the Hindu side, I never got any resistance
to expressing my Hindu-Christian identity. Very briefly,
in cross-cultural harmony, I was able to truly feel that
I had my faith and culture in both traditions. There was
no need for theological debate over the core values of both
faiths. I just came to be in both traditions from my parental
source. This was an integral part of my full identity. For
example, love thy neighbour as yourself is common to both
Hindu and Christian traditions and so on. I could not be
a purist. I had to live in religious diversity that is an
integral part of my identity.
jump in time and in space, I settled down in Canada and
I served for thirty years in Canadian Heritage – Multiculturalism.
I y got a government offer of a senior position to address
diversity on varied fronts, particularly the Asian communities.
For example, I initiated multiculturalism in education in
the school systems across Canada to ensure equality and
full participation of students and parents in the rich diversity
that composes Canada.
the lead with the RCMP to modify the dress code and accommodate
Sikh Canadians with turban and kirpan in the RCMP. I assisted
in modifying the House of Commons Opening Christian prayer
to be inclusive of all faiths and spirituality. Most significantly,
I helped prepare the Canadian Multiculturalism Act for legislation.
All this action was more than a job. It was part of my intercultural
and inter-racial life. I was not simply at a federal government
public service desk job. I lived multiculturalism.
home front, I married a French Canadian and a devout Catholic
woman. After an eventual divorce due to profound religious
differences, I married a Jewish woman. Yes, I did not complete
my first intercultural and interfaith marriage. No one is
perfect. It does take two to clap hands. The divorce and
annulment matter are settled in compromise in and out of
court and there are no ill feelings. Life continues in the
search for the intercultural path. I was blessed with a
tolerant and fully inclusive Cindy, my second wife who is
here watching me. I am watchful.
the religious front again, my second wife who is Jewish
and I were married in the Hindu temple. In full respect
for the Jewish tradition and the people, I arranged to get
a fresh birth certificate that annulled my Nazi one. I fully
respect my wife’s Jewish faith and the basic practices
as she does mine in my Hindu-Christian faith. We try to
be inclusive in the key practices and aspirations. Yes,
one must be sensitive and open to frequent compromise to
gain full ground together in the spiritual and cultural
paths in the mixed culture marriage. This is the Canadian
way of genuine compromise. There is no recipe other than
openness and good faith in diversity as the true bond. The
bottom line in mixed race marriage is love where one gives
to the maximum. Yes, I am very much in love with Cindy.
I hope she is in love with me.
be naïve to think that all this functions smoothly
on the social level. For example I am sorry to report how
a Catholic priest and a Hindu woman who along with me helped
establish the first Intercultural Institute in Montreal
whereby we had common team and intercultural bonds, they
just cut me off when I divorced. As current directors of
the Institute, they made a blunt moral judgment over my
personal family matter. Persons of mixed heritage cannot
afford to break intercultural ties as we of mixed race and
culture are a minority. There is always room for compromise,
the Canadian way. We must be united that we be fully recognized.
Just as some ethnic groups like the well coordinated Jewish
community tend to be united so must we in the “mixed”
tradition hold together. The importance is that we are together
in the intercultural journey we all share.
those of us in mixed race heritage often suffer subtle and
overt racial discrimination or exclusion by extreme religious
or cultural fundamentalists. We are marginal to such people.
The most severe manifestation to those of us in mixed race
is racial discrimination as we are not “pure”
enough to some pundits. We are the “mongrels”,
the “bastards” and the “impure”
who do not fit in the purist agenda. For us, we are so enriched
in our diversity. We must affirm ourselves. Yes, we are
not “pure” as we must firmly assert our dual
identity that is so alive. We must be recognized for who
we really are.
not easy to gain mixed race recognition, even at the federal
government level. Ironically, after thirty years of devoted
public service with Canadian Heritage- Multiculturalism
and after a decade in retirement, I made a proposal to the
department to do groundbreaking work in Mixed Race Marriages
and Social Implications.
was given a blunt email no and a cold shoulder right at
the very source in the federal government that claims to
address multiculturalism. One is not so readily accepted
in the mixed culture and mixed race marriage way of life.
Persons like me in mixed race marriage are only 3.9% of
the population, with little political clout. I again repeat,
we must affirm ourselves. We are who we are. In that spirit,
I just met an Indo-Czech couple like me with well grown
up young ones. We united with such joy and spontaneous bonds
as we share the same blood. We are in the same intercultural
and interracial tribe.
very fact that the India Canada Friendship Circle has given
me this opportunity to bear public witness to this cross-cultural
identity that blends the East and the West is very deeply
appreciated by me and my family. This affirms my identity
that I so freely breathe, like I do today and everyday.
In very practical interfaith terms, I go to church, Hindu
temple and synagogue when appropriate and my family celebrates
the major holy days in the calendar of each tradition. Yes,
we eat East Indian curry and Jewish matzo ball soup. We
are a happy mix. For me, it is really worthwhile to triple
pay for the diverse faith expenses towards a high quality
of life in the multifaith and multicultural heritage. No
accountant can measure the full value. This is all a part
of my complete identity. I thrive in this diversity.
may I demonstrate how practical the mutifaith and multicultural
character in mixed race marriage and family can be in service
and how it gains formal and encouraging recognition.
I had the privilege to be called by National Defence Chaplaincy
Services to help inaugurate the first multifaith room in
the military chapel at the Uplands base in Ottawa. I was
selected to represent the Hindu role, whilst the Military
Chaplains fully recognized my Christian. This was followed
by an interfaith Peace Vigil in the military base church
where I expressed my Hindu-Christian faith prayer in witness.
This past December, at the Ottawa military base, it was
the first time in my life that I got formal Christian acknowledgement
by the military chaplains of my Hindu-Christian identity.
This all came at long last in my 65th year which was well
celebrated. It does take time to be publicly recognized
for who you are in the “mix”. People like me
are not typical and yet we are very normal.
The next example deals with the Canadian Islamic Congress
which was organizing the October Islamic History Month to
publicly exhibit the diverse character of live Islamic culture
from the past to the present. This projects the full Muslim
identity right here in Canada. I happened to bump into the
President of the Canadian Islamic Congress by internet and
I was invited to participate on account of my diverse and
intercultural background. I was the only non-Muslim to be
honoured to be on the organizing committee of the Islamic
History Month to offer intercultural counsel. I never could
feel more welcome and at home in an ethnic community than
in the full Islamic national exhibit. This past initial
exhibit was such a success that parliament declared the
event as a permanent feature each October. It was so moving
how the Muslim community recognized the diversity in me
and permanently included me in the national Islamic History
Month Committee. This clearly breaks all the stereotypes
of the Muslims.
will still have to bear with me, as I have waited 65 years
to bear full public witness of my “mixed” identity
to a primarily Indian audience. I cannot be cut off now.
That would be discrimination.
not deny that varied traditionalists understandably have
difficulty with multiple religious and cultural identities
as being “diluted”, as being “mixed up”
or as “neither here nor there”. There are others
on the orthodox path who feel that one faith is weakened
when mixed with another. In short, it is not pure enough.
With due respect, I recall the Catholic bishops of Italy
formally urging Catholics not to marry into Islam as the
Christian faith is weakened. Similarly, it is somewhat understandable
that the Jewish community has reservations over mixed faith
marriages like mine whereby they feel that their small ranks
may crumble. I am of the view that mixed faith and mixed
culture persons like me are not a threat or a mere dilution.
We are contributors in full life towards intercultural dialogue
and harmony by sheer necessity. The hyphenated religious
status can be a source of interfaith strength which is a
gain to both faiths and traditions through interfaith harmony.
The intercultural links stimulate global consciousness.
Yes, times have changed. There is greater room for interfaith
and intercultural relations in full public view and so in
mixed race marriage.
As a former federal public servant in Canadian Heritage
– Multiculturalism, I functioned bilingually and as
a visible minority member. Again, though clearly “white”
in my appearance, I identified as a visible minority in
the public service, with my Indian name and my strong bonds
interestingly, since my father arrived from India just a
decade ago, he has made me more conscious of my Czech roots
as we both speak Czech to one another, my mother tongue
and we frequent the Czech embassy and the Czech community
to keep those bonds live. Yes, I do cross cultural lines
so readily. I must.
in terms of my children or the youth and their ways of life
in the context of a multicultural home, they became quite
liberal in outlook in such a key dimension as religion and
values. For example my biological daughter, Meera went on
to carry her Christian and Hindu influences in her own way.
Concretely, it was her initiative that led to a marriage
in Church to which her husband, Jeremy belonged and then
in the Hindu temple, followed by a reception at East India
Company restaurant with good curry and rice. Television
News had to come and broadcast this distinct wedding in
the Hindu tradition. Meera naturally reflects East and West.
Then, I have an adopted daughter of Inuit origin, Liane
who I nourished in her home family ties and simultaneously
her Inuit roots. I helped her trace her biological roots
to complete the mixed cultural picture. Interestingly, she
is employed by Indian and Northern Affairs. She is my daughter
who reflects mixed heritage that includes Inuit.
for my youngest adopted daughter from Honduras (Central
America) in my second marriage to my Jewish wife Cindy,
we followed the footsteps of the mother in my daughter Alisha
being named and blessed in the Jewish tradition. At the
same time, on account of her Latin American roots, she was
immersed in the Spanish language which she now fluently
speaks in the Latin American community and she acquires
the culture-specific traits. My wife Cindy and I thrive
in such diversity with our youth.
is a future for those of us in mixed race marriage in being
formally identified by Statistics Canada in the census and
being counted for who we are. I was overjoyed when I saw
as the headlines of the Montreal Gazette quote: “
Census Canada: Mixed race unions on the rise as Canada’s
diversity increases”. At last, we are federally counted.
We do really count.
I take this occasion to extend my very deep felt thanks
to the India Canada Friendship Circle and to each of you
for giving me this my first chance in my life to come out
in public on this live issue of mixed race and mixed culture
marriages and family life. Most important, I appreciate
your listening to a “mixed” person who is trying
to clarify what this clearly means. I hope that I have not
made the obvious too complex. Like all of you, I am just
People like me, just wish to be more recognized for who
we really are in the genuine “mix”. I did my
very best to share my “mix” today. I hope you
digested it. Dekuju, Dhanabad, Merci.
For future contact:
Roman Mukerjee (613) 739-3887
Consultant – Intercultural & Interfaith Relations
254 Westvalley Private, Ottawa, Ont - K1V 2B6, Canada