In light of the present retrenchment of racialized and culturalized Eurocentrism, what do multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism as discourses and proposed alternative phenomena to the melting pot offer to the Latina/o experience? My contention in the first section of this paper is that for all their attempt at undoing and undermining Eurocentrism, these discourses merely reconfigure it as the critical apparatus and vantage point from which they imagine “multicultural” societies. I insist that multiculturalism—more locally—and cosmopolitanism— more globally—are two cognate ideas couched within the scope of the present globalizing economical calculus that puts in place the mechanisms necessary for population control in culturally diverse contexts, while simultaneously ensuring that everything is up for sale, bodies, cultural traditions, and even citizenship
Instead, in the second section of this paper, I propose that a fuller evaluation of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism is only possible from its fringes, its exteriority. I argue that it is those people who are unable to “pay” the entrance “fees” into cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism who constitute the undesirable human surplus, the exteriority of this growing system. Drawing on the Latina/o experience of marginalization and systemic discrimination, I argue that it is the exteriority—the human surplus—of this growing system, who should be the base upon which cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism is analyzed and interrogated
Contrary to those who claim that what is emerging is a global cosmopolitan culture, and taking the Canadian experiment of multiculturalism as focus of analysis, I argue that what is taking place can be more appropriately identified in terms of syncopation, a strategic in and out movement between cultures and identities. I argue that Latina/o communities are a good test case of this complex life-dynamic of syncopation, by which they engage and challenge inherited and pervasive cultural and identity frames by simultaneously inhabiting multiple cultural and identity spaces, without surrendering their own ethnocultural identity.
Cosmopolitanism and Multiculturalism: The Canadian Experiment
The debates on Cosmopolitanism, that is, the idea of a shared morality and the construction of societies where cultural (and religious) plurality is the social norm are predicated on two fundamental “values”: One, locally, for a diverse society to exist it is necessary that the population learns to respect the cultural boundaries of each other’s neighbours. And two, globally, the population ought to recognize their collective moral responsibility for every human being—the citizens of the world, including some distant others who are also our global neighbors. Anthony Appiah identifies these two values as two different chronologically sequential strands of cosmopolitanism. In a somewhat idealized way, he notes that these two values together make it possible for the realization that we can learn from each other’s differences.
In Canada, there is disconnect between this set of “cosmopolitan” or “multicultural” values and how things take place on the ground. The cosmopolitan society preserves the bifurcation of reality as private versus public, whereby one’s cultural background is reserved for the private-personal dimension while one is expected to perform within the scope of the (one) dominant culture in the public sphere—a kind of functional Anglophoness or Francophoness. The Canadian population (born and immigrants) has been sold to the idea of Canada as a welcoming country. We often brandish one of the key instruments behind this notion, the Multiculturalism Act as foundational to Canada’s tolerance and openness. The Multiculturalism Act did in fact put the spotlight on Canada’s cultural diversity while taking attention away from Canada’s racialized and (polite) racist social structures. What is not often admitted is that the Multiculturalism Act was first and foremost an instrument to avert a dispute with the Francophone population of the province of Quebec that threatened to rip the country into two. It succeeded in granting the Francophone equal founding status with the Anglophones, but it made other ethnocultural groups socially and politically subaltern.
In Canada, cosmopolitanism shares in the semantic field with multiculturalism. On one hand, multiculturalism emphasized cultural coexistence while subsuming other cultures under a dominant public culture, to which all citizens ought to ascribe in order to contribute to the social program. On the other hand, cosmopolitanism understands cultural boundaries not as clearly demarcated silos but as dynamic, fluctuating, moveable targets. Both celebrate cultural diversity, but while in multiculturalism the social and civic duty is tolerance, in cosmopolitanism citizens learn to respect cultural differences while caring for each other’s shared humanity. Other aspects of cosmopolitanism will become apparent in what follows as I attempt to look at this phenomenon from the perspective of the insiders and its outsiders.
The cosmopolitan nature of Canada is no accident. For over 50 years now, Canada has opened the door for immigrants because of its low birth rate. In order for Canada to thrive immigrants are necessary. It is this part of the story that is emphasized and for which Canada is portrayed as a welcoming and kind country. Also, officially Canada is described as a multicultural-cosmopolitan nation, with three founding nations: The First Nations, the French and the British. On the ground, it operates within a bicultural and bilingual frame. It is Canada’s multicultural Act and policy of increased immigration that have created the conditions for the emergence of multi-cultural cosmopolitan social environments in their various expressions in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
Canada’s multicultural and cosmopolitan vision has not gone unchallenged, particularly its depiction as a benevolent state. In its present configuration it is structurally ethnocentric. It forces minoritized groups to adopt the dominant cultures (French and English) and accompanying cultural implications (values, custom, religion). From the perspective of racialized cultures, the present policy becomes an instrument for the preservation of the “purity” of the dominant culture while domesticating ethnic differences. The reduction of the First Nations to the status of ethnic groups helps manage the relationship between the state and this potentially threatening minoritized population, while it legitimizes itself as benevolent. The government claims it “recognizes” and celebrates diversity while placing limits to diversity itself: “acceptable forms of difference” are those that participate in and contribute to the project of nation building and unity. In the words of Eva Mackey, “Ethnic groups are mobilized as picturesque and colourful helpmates and allies in the nation-building project.” For Mackey, by defining and recognising others as “ethnocultural groups,” the policy of multiculturalism provided the means through which cultural difference became politicised, but also politically manageable through the funding of “cultural programmes,” the main function of the early policy of multiculturalism. If Foucault was correct that the creation of knowledge has as its central goal the control of the population, within the context of Canada multicultural cosmopolitanism functions as critical technology of cultural power, population control, and neutralization of differences, while simultaneously concealing Anglo Eurocentric white domination. In other words, the present cultural architecture is designed to push forward the interests of the government with minimal interruptions.
In practical terms, in Canada the idea of a society where a plurality of cultures live together serves as instrument for political maneuvering. Charles Taylor argues that “recognition” is an aspect to which all groups are entitled in this society. He is correct that nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being. Yet, he blames people’s nonrecognition on their “self-deprecation.” The first task toward “recognition,” he observes, is to purge themselves of imposed and destructive identities. But Taylor conveniently leaves unchallenged the fact that present societal structures are predicated on a colonizing power differential and historical imaginary. Himani Bannerji insists that the construction of “visible minorities” as a social imaginary and the architecture of the “nation” built with a “multi-cultural mosaic” can only be read together with the engravings of conquests, wars and exclusions. Within this context, the hegemonic character of Canadian versions of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism becomes apparent by the very ease with which elite anglo-European culture can function as “culture” and can, therefore, claim universality and transcendence, while non-European others are particularized. The specter of the British Empire still has a formative role in the construction of the Canadian “cosmopolitan” imaginary: the all-powerful “white” hand extends its “recognition” to the others but not without first working such recognition into the state apparatus of population control and imaginary of Canada as a kind and welcoming country. This dynamic is exemplified by Srinivas Krishna, director of the Indian Canadian film Masala (1992) as he comments: “Fine, I have a Canadian passport. I’ve spend a lot of time here. But there is no Canadian cinema with reference to my film.” He continues, “Whether I’m a Canadian or an Indian is irrelevant. That kind of nation-state way of dividing culture is irrelevant to my personal experience. If you can’t subscribe to the dominant definition, you either spend your life banging away at that door, or it becomes irrelevant to you…” In the United States this is also exemplified in the movie Born in East L.A., wherein Rudy Robles—playing the main character of the movie—tells the Immigration officers: “I am an American, Idiots!” But it does not matter what he thinks of himself; rather, what “the idiots” think of him is what determines his fate. As a result he is deported back to Mexico, where he is thought to belong by the idiots. 
It is this dynamic in the politics of recognition that sets the tone for the construction of the cosmopolitan society. Differences are disarticulated, notions of racism are neutralized and deemed matters of a long gone dark past, cultural distinctiveness is folklorized and turned into products for global consumption, and the particular privileges of a given cultural group such as the first nations is subsumed under the idea that “all are taken care of in the same way,” “there is no room for favoritism.” In practical terms, the cosmopolitan society claims equality for all but not equity; claims inclusivity but not inclusiveness, claims respect but detracts affirmative action. Its objectives are to stifle dissent of potentially troublesome minorities while reinforcing the privilege of the ruling classes. On the surface diversity is celebrated but the population is misled into acceptance of the status quo.
The genius of concepts like cosmopolitanism is that they claim to provide an “adequate” description of the present social contexts in many cities, where peoples from different cultural groups are being thrown together each responding to the present globalizing economic forces. At a surface level of cultural and identity discourse, cosmopolitanism seems to counter racist sentiments. Instead of supporting ideas for ethnoracial and cultural “purity,” the experiment of cosmopolitanism seems to buttress notions of porous identities and political borders, a new type of “hybrid” culture different from the earlier model of melting pot. As a result, many see the promise of one culture emerging with the necessary material for global human inclusiveness, which inherently carries the antidote to racism, and the willingness to respond to the moral collective responsibility for our shared humanity.
Contesting Cosmopolitanism from its Exteriority: The Latina/o Experience
As I have indicated earlier, not all groups fit or are welcome in the present cosmopolitan scheme. The contested nature of how identity is defined in Latina/o communities in Canada (and the United States of America) illustrates both the complexities and the fallacies of the myth of multiculturalism, and of the emerging proposal of cosmopolitanism. I propose that the experiences of ordinary people in Latina/o communities in relation to multiple ethnocultural identities offer new ways of understanding these dynamics. At its best and at its worst, the composition of our communities forces us to deal with the multiple intersections and crossings of racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. Nevertheless, surface readings of our experiences of intermixture have often been interpreted as promising spaces for conceptualizing emerging cosmopolitan and multicultural identities. For example, Jacques Audinet takes a round-about way to speak of the present global exchange of cultures, peoples, and traditions. His concern is the peaceful coexistence of cultural groups within a shared geographical-national-global space. He sees what is taking place with the present influx of peoples as a colourful dynamic of biological and cultural exchanges and not, as I am arguing, as the masked by-product of Western European and Anglo North Atlantic ethnocentrism. So he proposes mestizaje (intermixture) as the lenses for understanding the eventual outcome of the multi-cultural city-world. The reality of the global and local plurality of ethnocultural groups sets the conditions that lead to mestizaje, which for him basically means the emergence of one global mixed cosmopolitan identity. Multiculturalism is a prerequisite to the present reality and future orientation toward intermixture.
Audinet’s position is far too romantic. The structural processes by which intermixture is taking place is not peaceful at all. It is the negative effect of multiple violent factors such as war, poverty, human trafficking, contamination of the environment, erosion of local-national market capabilities, underscored by the rapacious nature of the present globalizing economic market capitalist networks. Not surprisingly, he also fails to identify the equally violent and disturbingly destructive nature of the history of mestizaje.
Another example is Richard Rodriguez’s idea of the “Browning” of the United States (and the world). Also wrestling with the idea of multiculturalism, he celebrates the subversive role of love bringing about the blending of “races” and inevitably undermining the dominant “white” society. Aware of the violent history of the Spanish invasion of Mexico, he claims that the undergoing browning is “reversing” the dynamics of colonialism; intermixture through subversive love is the way by which Latinas/os (for him Mexicans) take back what is theirs. As he views it, then, the future direction of the world is brown!
No doubt Rodríguez sees browning as the solution to racism, but when viewed from the perspective of cosmopolitanism browning turns counterproductive as it supports the very thing Rodríguez condemns: browning inevitably results in depriving specific cultural collectives of their right and capacity to label themselves. The asymmetrical power differential perpetuated by notions of the melting pot, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism again lurk behind romantic affirmations of love: who does the labelling and what are the motivations behind it is at stake here. Moreover, adopting “brownness”—as a celebration of the present intermixing of human collectives—runs the danger of effectively erasing, once and for all, the victims of such a violent past: the murdered, the raped, those whose lands were stolen, and those who must migrate to survive. All of which figure prominently as the exteriority of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism.
According to Ulf Hannerz cosmopolitanism entails relationships to a plurality of cultures but not the cultural communities of which they are part. Cosmopolitanism (and multiculturalism) he claims, “includes a stance toward diversity itself, toward the coexistence of cultures in the individual experience.” He adds, “a more genuine cosmopolitanism is first of all an orientation, a willingness to engage with the Other. It is an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness toward divergent cultural experiences, a search for contrasts rather than uniformity. In the same breadth, he asserts that the cosmopolitans surrender to the “alien” culture vis-à-vis the culture where they originated; they operate under the premise of mastering cultures and finding themselves at home in multiple cultural contexts.
By Hannerz’ account, Latinas/os easily fit within the label of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism. I would argue that Latinas/os carry in their bodies the competence to engage multiple cultures. The difference between Latinas/os and the cosmopolite (for Hannerz cosmopolitan) is that the latter can always choose to and in fact do disengage from their cultures. They possess mastery of the cultures and their cultures do not possess them; cultures are for them malleable entities that can easily be abstracted, shed, and often reduced to a series of artifacts and products disconnected from the history of a people. Meanwhile, Latinas/os engage diverse ethnocultural communities in a creatively dynamic and fluid ways but as part of their own existential experience of being Latinas/os. This engagement is not the result of an individual’s exploratory ventures but part and parcel of belonging to the Latina/o diverse communities.
Moreover, the cultural “competence” of the cosmopolite is undergirded by a centre-periphery power differential that caters to them; “the institutions of the transnational cultures tend to be organized so as to make people from Western Europe and [Anglo] North America feel as much at home as possible.” Several assumptions are made concerning the cosmopolite-cosmopolitan in terms of financial resources, institutional educational level, language they speak, nationality and documentation they carry, and whether they are from the urban centers. Not surprisingly, the philosopher Roy Weatherford is happy to see English replace all other languages as a result of the dominance of the USA as an economic and entertainment superpower. In his view, we are about to become “one world, one government, one culture.” Thomas Friedman confirms: “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist … And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” In other words, cosmopolitanism leaves unchallenged the social, cultural, political and capitalist economic edifice and structures that make cosmopolitanism possible, while at the same time sounding progressive toward the celebration of other cultures.
We see then that notions such as cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism function as smoke screens hiding and perpetuating uneven racialized cultural and political power relations. They promote the Westernization of the globe and the consequent suffocating of non-western cultures. It is for this reason that I insist that the “we” in cosmopolitanism ought to be interrogated from its exteriority; that is, from the vantage point of los desechados, those peoples who play a disruptive “insignificant” “inconsequential” role in the construction of the present “multi-cultural” global imaginary, and whose status as surplus population, is directly connected to the capitalist economic apparatus of exploitation of people and lands, and the destruction of local communities and ecosystems by corporations. Lifting the complexities of cosmopolitanism from its exteriority, Pope Francis asserts:
Cities are multicultural; in the larger cities, a connective network is found in which groups of people share a common imagination and dreams about life, and new human interactions arise, new cultures, invisible cities. Various subcultures exist side by side, and often practice segregation and violence. …[in those cities] there are people who have the means needed to develop their personal and family lives, but there are also many “non-citizens”, “half citizens” and “urban remnants”. Cities create a sort of permanent ambivalence because, while they offer their residents countless possibilities, they also present many people with any number of obstacles to the full development of their lives
Nowadays, those facing enormous obstacles are the immigrants. But these people travel not out of luxury but are forced to migrate and relocate. They leave their homes not because of the desire to explore new cultures and communities—as the cosmopolite does— but simply because they want/need to survive. The development of any notion of collective morality, therefore, must emerge from those inhabiting these spaces of exteriority, from the spaces of the bioeconomical and the biopolitical. They do not fit the cosmopolitan imaginary, those whom the system needs to be stripped of their human rights, whom no country protects, the immigrant, the undocumented, who are left stranded in a liminal space of lawlessness, and where they can be exploited and killed, or die with no police protection. Latinas/os and Latin Americans in their complex and contested multiply diverse, multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual realities are part of this growing periphery of cosmopolitan imaginaries. They are joined by eleven million in the United States of America and an estimated 120,000 undocumented in Canada, who have been deemed undesirable and under persecution, and who live in limbo outside the spaces of the cosmopolitan.
It is evident that Latinas/os and Latin Americans have joined the ranks of those who travel across borders, establish transnational relations, and enrich many cities and places in the Americas and the rest of the world with their multiple cultural traditions. From such a perspective many would think that Latinas/os are joining forces toward the construction of an elite global localized cosmopolitan culture—or vernacular cosmopolitanism, as Pnina Werbner would put it. However, I would also argue against concluding with Rodríguez and Audinet that what is taking place is a type of renewed energy toward intermixture, or even a kind of cultural bricoleur, by which Latinas/os pick from multiple other cultures the parts that suit them.
I am not saying that Latinas/os are closed to external cultural influences or resist mixing with other cultural groups. Yet, the idea of hybridity in the sense of the amalgamation and mixing of different elements does not adequately describe the dynamics at play. Instead, I propose that Latinas/os more often engage in a kind of functional cosmopolitanism or what I call a cultural syncopation. By cultural syncopation, I mean that Latinas/os cross and disrupt cultural boundaries as an existential expression of their culture and identity, creating along the way a new grammar for engagement and interaction whereby they develop strategies to get in and out of cosmopolitanism while celebrating their own cultural traditions.
Latinas/os should be understood not as haphazardly adopting-mixing cultural elements but as immersed in an intentional process of simultaneous negotiation, disturbance, and interruption of conventional cultural grammars while remaining anchored in their cultural traditions, values, and customs: a cultural syncopation. Latinas/os engage in a social multicultural reimagining that disrupts monolithic identity markers and clearly defined cultural boundaries. But these are not cosmopolitan strategies, rather, they are strategies for life, for what is necessary to live. Immanuel Wallerstein is correct that in the present culturally plural context, the very construction of culture, and I would add identity, become the ideological battle- ground as cultural communities oppose the dominant cannibalizing cultural historical system.
As this stage it is worth asking what about questions of religious faith. Certainly, faith plays a key role at this juncture as it provides protective infrastructures for Latin American undocumented immigrants to carve a social space of their own and for Latinas/os to preserve their cultures, to go in and out of cosmopolitanism in a safer environment. The faith/the churches become the cultural centers and the safer environments for envisioning a shared collective morality oriented toward those outside cosmopolitanism. I would argue that it is doing this kind of church that people encounter God.