Year three of be:longing – Digging deeper

So, guess what..  be:longing has existed for three whole years now!  And we couldn’t be more proud of it – or more humbled by how it has continued to grow.

In this third year of exploring the complexities of cross-cultural life, we wanted to dig even deeper.  We wanted to connect more with our community, expand it, do more with the beautiful pieces we’ve been lucky to receive, and think further about be:longing’s place in this world of cross-cultural reflection.

Bolstered by our first-ever set of grant funding (from the ACT Government), we ran another incredible live event in June at our favourite place in the world, Smith’s Alternative, and were awed by the talent we saw and the stories we heard on that beautiful stage.

We promoted our contributors’ works out far and wide into the digital world through Facebook and Instagram, and made connections with people from all corners of the globe along the way, learning about how cross-cultural life makes even those furthest away from us (geographically) feel like next-door neighbours.

We also engaged with discussions about migration and belonging closer to home.  We attended a number of different workshops with like-minded groups in and around the ACT, spoke about be:longing on ABC radio, and met people who helped us stretch our conceptions of what cultural belonging means to different people.

And through it all, we were the lucky recipients of a huge range of completely new and original pieces of reflection on migration, nostalgia and cultural belonging, each exploring all the joyful and painful ways that being a cross-cultural person can impact your life.

This year, we kicked off two wonderful series, interviewing some awe-inspiring members of the local community.  Our cross-cultural health series saw us interview Vinh Tran, Win Yee Tan and our own Jasmine Soukieh, each of whom gave us a vista into the ways that cross-cultural actors engage in their health work with people of a range of cultural backgrounds, including in diaspora communities in Australia and in cross-cultural settings internationally.  We learned about the challenges of bringing one’s cross-cultural self to the professional setting, but also about how important and valuable it can be to do so, and the positive impacts it can have on those seeking health services.

In our series on folk traditions, we interviewed Lepomir Miladinovic and Darko Andreski, and heard about how their folk traditions – centred on music and dance – help new diasporic individuals and communities not only retain cultural connections across time and place, but also bring cultures together.  In the third piece in the series, A tarantella story, we saw how engaging in folk traditions in your new country can help foster a connection with an aspect of your home culture that you may never have engaged in had you not migrated.

Beyond these series, we received a whole range of new pieces that deepened our understanding of the disconnect that can come out of a splintering between places.  Arranged and To my daughter explored fractured communication from parent-to-child in the chaos of adapting to new communities, and the effects this can have on a sense of self.  An interruption discussed the implications that exclusion can have for mental health and social development, and Foreigners learning a foreign language explored this in relation to educational and creative development.  Incomplete new year described the diluting of joy that can happen when we miss the usual seasonal signs that mark important celebrations in a different home, while Parenting the parents showed us how a turning-of-tables in family roles in a new place with new linguistic challenges can give rise to empowering collaborations between parents and children as they navigate settling into a new community.

In such collaborations, really potent nostalgia can arise – and across generations.  There was a mill on the riverbank touched on the potency of music in evoking shared nostalgia across generations in a diaspora, far from the music’s source and a generation’s memories.  We saw how memories can be transmitted through reproducing family recipes in Tortellini at Midnight, and how they can wash over you across countries when a scene from your childhood plays out again in On the other side.  In Plam / Flame, we saw how these memories can burn quietly within us wherever we go.

We looked further into the gender dimensions of cross-cultural life, and the impact of minority status on safety and well-being.  In Why’d you write about me instead?, we saw how disempowering and essentialising being spoken for can be.  Unpicking a silencing thread described the deep harm that can be inflicted on women in minority groups and the barriers to finding remedies when sexual and cultural power dynamics produce violence and constrained autonomy.  ‘But you don’t look Lebanese’ is not a compliment described how gendered cultural hierarchising permeates our mainstream media, teaching and reinforcing harmful stereotypes and standards of beauty for cross-cultural women; and in A difficult fear, we saw how men of minority backgrounds face complexity, being targeted and feared by those around them as a matter of course.

We saw pieces about the potency of language and names, too!  Dughan (Holy places) explored the task of finding a place in the volume and complexities of cross-culture and linguistic diversity, and of figuring out where we end up with our inquiries with the passage of time.  What’s in a name? looked at the difficulties of forming an identity when connecting with one of your cultures through your name is challenged through othering, while Farewell to my surname described how the connection forged through holding fast to your name in the face of resistance to it can be so powerful, and take you confidently and lovingly across place and through life stages.

Finally, a range of our pieces explored the ephemerality of place and of retaining connections to them.  Lost in translation, our first ever short-film contribution, explored how people who speak multiple languages process their thoughts, and how meaning can be lost through the process of translation.  Our interview with our own Vesna Cvjeticanin on nostalgia and belonging echoed that sense of loss, but also framed nostalgia as an instrument with a powerful capacity to retain and protect memories of places and times long gone.  Remembering an amazing lady also featured this duality, expressing sadness at the passing of dear family members overseas, but also a sense of possibility for retaining legacy and continuity across the globe.  Finally, Smile in connection and Blado-rozowy blekit / Pale pink sky blue focused on the importance of enjoying simple moments, whether they be a rare encounter with a friendly face in a new country, or the feeling of wind on one’s face that gives a sense of belonging to and within the world itself.

At the end of another lucky year, we are deeply grateful to each of our contributors who chose be:longing as the home for their work and thoughts, and who bestowed upon us the honour of hosting these precious reflections, which we will protect and care for far into the future.  Each piece inspired us, surprised us, and nurtured in us a humility and curiosity that has helped to remind us of just how special be:longing is, and how much more it can grow!  We hope we can continue to be a place you all think of when it comes to sharing your stories of cross-cultural life, and we hope to grow, ourselves, to give you even more opportunities to do so in 2020 and beyond.

be:longing is a group project – a true community creation – and we would like to thank our community for its ongoing support.  We thank our contributors and event performers, and also the wonderful organisations that helped support us through 2019.  (Special thanks go to Frank and Ros at the Canberra Academy of Languages, Jacqui at Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry, Nigel and the team at Smiths Alternative, and Glaiza and the team at Diversity Arts Australia.)

We also thank our incredible acquisitions editors for 2019 – Vesna Cvjetićanin and Abeir Soukieh – and all those who helped spread the word about be:longing and bring amazing pieces in.  Your hard work, enthusiasm and thoughts were invaluable, and helped keep us going in what was a very busy year!

To finish off, we would like, once again, to extend to everyone a very open and warm invitation to contribute your personal stories and reflections to be:longing.  Your experiences and feelings about living in and amongst cultures are important, and worthy, and they ought to be heard.  Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if some creative reflection is brewing inside you; even if it’s only at the pitch stage – we would love to hear from you.  🙂

Until next year, we wish you all a safe and happy holiday season, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2020!

Best wishes
Dunja and Jasmine

Featured image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2016