Year Four of be:longing – Onwards to 2021

Well, what a year 2020 has been!  Much of what’s been happening in the world needs no further mention here – the challenges and trials of the COVID-19 pandemic and various natural disasters around the world impacted us all massively.  It’s been a tricky year, and we, like many others, are happy to see the end of it.  We’re grateful to have gotten through 2020 and to be on the precipice of a new year, and look forward to turning the page to 2021 with all of you soon.  And while we may look to the prospect of a new year with a newfound wariness of what may be to come, we’re also encouraged by the year that was, and hopeful and thankful to be looking ahead now.

One thing that does need further mention here is all the wonderful work and stories that be:longing has been lucky enough to gather across 2020.  From pieces that explored the emotional impacts of the pandemic and natural disasters head-on, to stories examining the turbulence and change that can be a part of cross-cultural individuals’ lives no matter what’s going on in the rest of the world, as well as pieces of hope and new beginnings, we received a truly amazing range of contributions this year.  We are endlessly thankful to each and every person who opened their hearts and their minds to us and shared parts of their cross-cultural stories over the year. We are excited to take this opportunity to look back on it all now.

As in previous years, we were lucky to once again receive a collection of migration memoirs in 2020.  In these, we were allowed a peek into our contributors’ journeys to where they find themselves today.  In Málaga to Canberra, the long way around, we tracked the twists and turns of a roundabout journey from Spain to Australia, while in I am Piedmontese, we witnessed the balancing of Australian, Italian and Piedmontese identities and the uncovering of a cultural identity that finally felt true.  In From Continental Europe to Cosmopolitan Canberra, we were led through a piecing-together of family mysteries born of war and displacement, while in Art and migration and From our fence to yours in Kauai, we witnessed the development of arts practices that were deeply influenced by migration, and the nostalgia, curiosity and joy that can be opened up through travels and creative journeys.  We also got a first look at an exciting upcoming memoir, which captures the writer’s poignant and comedic take on what it means to live cross-culturally across and within borders, in Extract: Weird Culture Kids (Ngoc Nguyen).  These pieces reminded us of the change that comes to us – sometimes through our choosing and sometimes because of forces entirely beyond us – and how these journeys and their outcomes are carried on into the lives of the families we build as we continue along them.   

While a multifaceted cultural identity offers us a unique position from which to participate in our societies, the difference and separation that often goes along with it can be turbulent.  Whether we find ourselves contending with new natural forces that threaten the peace we think we have found, or struggle to find the place – geographically or mentally – that will accommodate or reconcile the contradictions we seem to be made up of, we are saddled with resolving this complexity.  Pustinjska trska / Desert reed and Smoke and memories described the tension that the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires left in their wake.  Home explored losing touch with the day-to-day of a comfortable life when it is upended by war, as well as the pain of seeing future generations cut off from the language, customs and love of their relatives, while My bella copia described the struggle of building up the skills imperative to navigating a new linguistic and cultural environment.  Growth and 1999 discussed the burden of personal and familial pressures to make decisions about our cultural identities and whether to embrace or hide them. Leaving again reassured us that this turmoil can be stilled, and that complexity can be lived contentedly, too.  In these pieces, we remembered the difficulties of adjusting to the change we choose or inherit. 

Perhaps we are never done navigating this turbulence, but along the way we are also gifted precious moments of connection with others on a similar track.  Sometimes it is language that connects us to others, and sometimes it is the common experience of cultural dislocation.  In Connections, far away we were let in on special encounters where languages-in-common led to discoveries of striking crossovers in personal histories, while Another night in ED described an instance of life-saving care accomplished through chance cultural and linguistic compatibility.  On the bench further explored the barriers that migrants and refugees encounter in accessing healthcare in their new countries, looking at the reassurance that may be found in opening up explicitly about cross-cultural burdens with someone who understands.  We also explored connections abstracted out from the interpersonal to those connections that are more one-sided or internal.  Bodies of water reflected on those instances where we form a special bond with others totally unbeknownst to them, while The malban that was not contemplated the bottling of nostalgia to evoke memories of bonds that exist within ourselves.  These connections are made all the more precious when we have fewer opportunities to be in the company of others.  

Reflecting on that very circumstance, and stirred by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, several of our contributors took the pandemic head-on and examined how they and their families were personally affected by it and the global changes it necessitated.  In The surface, we witnessed the persistent worry and longing the writer felt for her family, located thousands of kilometres overseas, as she weathered the pandemic far from the people she loved.  In Love in a time of COVID-19 and Dear Milica, we saw two pieces that reflected on the way the pandemic interfered with plans that would, in any other year, have been perfectly achievable, but that COVID-19 rendered impossible.  On the move during COVID-19 explored how plans that were already in place ended up needing to be hurried along as a result of the pandemic, as the writer described her family packing up their life in Japan and moving to New Zealand in unexpected circumstances.

In reflecting on the value and fragility of our interconnectedness, we also looked at the other side of it – the othering that plagues minorities, some more than others, and undermines their comfort in belonging to their different homes.  2015 and To be or to be grappled with the confusion of understanding belonging when one can belong and not belong at the same time, exposing the impossibility of meeting cultural criteria that shift to apply to White and non-White players differently.  Matter out of place and 2006 further questioned the authority placed in the hands of a White majority to view and police minorities, while Hidden critiqued the illusion of cultural homogeneity and the perpetuation of false narratives through wilful refusals to notice people of colour in White spaces.  Critiquing these double-standards empowers us to redefine our experiences and expectations and to hope as we continue our cross-cultural journeys.

2020 also saw contributions that radiated this hope and a sense of curiosity.  The circle is open and Wanderlust took stock of journeys to and away from multiple homes, and on the comfort that travel can have for cross-cultural individuals.  These pieces reflected on how the human experience isn’t dependent on location – how the journey of finding oneself continues no matter how many times we cross the globe – but also on what we can learn from internal restlessness and desires for voyage.  In Flying home, we were shown how tastes, textures and sights that evoke home can continue to take us there even when we travel all over in search of our dreams and true selves; while in Da li se setis / Do you remember, we were invited along on a search for cultural roots, showing us how origins and heritage can continue to be imagined and invoked through artistic practice.  Finally, Together in this reminded us how important hope is during trying times; how, even during world-crippling pandemics, we can reconnect with and help each other get through.

For be:longing itself, 2020 was a year of wonderful new connections and energies.  In our own team, we welcomed Teresa Sadkowsky into our ranks, who brought new pieces and new perspectives – not to mention new skills – that expanded our breadth of focus and opened our eyes to new possibilities going forward.  Vesna Cvjetićanin joined us again, bringing her own wonderful brand of positivity, new ideas, amazing writing and organisational know-how, all of which have been pivotal to our successes.  We are thrilled to announce that both Teresa and Vesna will be staying on with us into 2021, and can’t wait to keep the magic brewing with them both!

Beyond our internal team, we made some truly fantastic connections through our social media networks.  A record number of contributions found their way to us through our friends on Instagram and Facebook, and we have been so excited to make and consolidate our interactions with fellow cross-cultural individuals all over the world through these platforms.  There is nothing like positive, warm and genuine communication with like-minded individuals halfway across the globe to make the world feel fantastically small, even in a year like 2020 when we all find ourselves cut off from each other physically.

As we move into 2021, be:longing will be exploring some exciting new projects, collaborations and media, and we look forward to bringing them to you all.  One thing we also hope to be able to reinvigorate is our real-world connections with all of you – our contributors, readers and supporters – in the form of live events and conversations that bring us all together.  2020 has showed us just how much we can connect even when we’re far apart, but hopefully 2021 can allow us to explore connections both over the internet and face-to-face (even if those faces might be covered by masks for some time to come).

To round out this end-of-year reflection, we, Dunja and Jasmine, want to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for continuing to share your stories with us and for connecting with us in mind and spirit.  As always, we invite those of you with cross-cultural experiences and thoughts to share your stories with us.  Your stories are important and meaningful, and even if you don’t feel like you belong where you are physically, you belong with be:longing.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday period – no matter which holidays or other life events you might be celebrating in your corner of the world over the next few weeks – and we look forward to stepping into 2021 with you all in the best of health and the highest of spirits.  Be well, stay safe, and we’ll see you in the new year!

© Dunja Kaczmarek and Jasmine Soukieh, 2020

Featured image: © Moustafa El-Kass, 2020