I am.

Božana Pašić was born in Vojvodina, in the north of modern-day Serbia, in 1995 and emigrated to Australia in 2003 with her family.  Božana is passionate about the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and discussing the connections people have to their past, present and future.

Image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2020

When I was five, I was told I was Serbian. It made sense.  I lived in Serbia, I was born in Serbia, I spoke the language, breathed the culture, shared the heritage and thought in Serbian. I was encompassed by Serbia.  It was my reality; it was my home; it was my identity.  It was who I was as I began to weave the tapestry of myself.

When I was seven, I was told I was Bosnian-Serbian. It, too, made sense. I spent many summers in Bosnia, albeit speaking a different dialect and often forgetting to add the additional ‘ij’ in the word ‘mleko’. I breathed the culture and shared the heritage with my ancestors at the foothills of the Dinarides. Most of my family was Bosnian-Serbian, so I was too. Bosnia wasn’t my home, but it was a part of my identity, part of who I was; a part of the tapestry I wove.

When I was eight, I learned I was once Yugoslavian.  I was never told this.  I found out on an outdated map in the classroom, where the Serbian flag was labelled Yugoslavia.  This was my first memory of asking about Yugoslavia.  ‘Why were the maps wrong?’ I learned that we were all once brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends without difference, but that was no more. I learned that the war took away Yugoslavia, and along with it, the chance to be a part of the whole that my parents and grandparents had been a part of. It was my reality that I would never experience Yugoslavia; that I was born into a post-war world, where the collective memory divided people based on ethnicity, religion and politics, and that yearned for unity and freedom all at once. I wasn’t Yugoslavian anymore; I was Serbian and Bosnian-Serbian, and I left the star out of my tapestry.

When I was ten, I became Australian. I held the cream paper in my hands and marvelled at the intricate coat of arms and the exotic animals.  I was a part of that environment now, a vast contrast to the majority of my life at that point. All my memories were viridian-stained forests and valleys, agricultural fields that stretched to the horizon; the few tones of beige and tawny there were flecks of wheat. Now, though, my reality would be predominantly beige and tawny, with flecks of viridian few and far between. I wanted to breathe the culture and share the heritage of this land; to become a part of the story and the tapestry that was still being woven. I’d weave the eucalypts into my tapestry, I’d weave the country of drought and fire, I’d weave the stories of the First Nations Peoples and their connections, because I wanted to have a connection to the land I now called home.  I wanted to be Australian. I wanted to be Australian-Serbian.

When I was eighteen, I battled with my Serbian and Australian-Serbian self.  I battled with the conflicting cultures, histories and ideals.  I could no longer remember the ideals of the Serbia I grew up in.  Now it was replaced with the Serbia I knew in diaspora. I never knew strict religion, nation and tradition. How could I?  I had breathed the culture of post-Yugoslavia, one that couldn’t decide if it longed for unity or for independence. Serbia in diaspora was independent. It knew its religion and tradition, in a place where such concepts were evolving and people were forgetting. I yearned to be a part of the tradition and the nation and the religion, even though I knew I couldn’t fully immerse myself in those things, because I saw everything as beautiful but also divisive. So I did my part.  I wove the traditions and religion and nation, but my heart knew that the tapestry would be torn, imperfect – fake amongst the others. I was an Australian-Serb, I told myself.  It was my duty to preserve my heritage.

When I was twenty, the battle continued. I struggled with the progressive thought that being Australian offered, with the Yugoslavian ideals that seemed to guide how I saw people and the world, and the possessiveness I felt over being Serbian. I struggled with the conflicting ideology of nation and globalisation, of war and peace, of memory and forgiveness. My tapestry had become a mess of colours and patterns, almost nonsensical in its intricacy.  I wanted to have it all, all the aspects of how I felt connected to myself. But I knew that one day my tapestry would have to be reworked.

Today, I am twenty-five, and I am Yugoslavian, Serbian, Bosnian-Serbian and Australian. I know this, after meeting people like me, with a world view shaped by migration, by difficulty and by change. I know that my tapestry is always being reworked, because my experience grows with each passing day, interaction and breath. I know that I possess Yugoslavian ideals, that I believe in religious freedom, in equality, and in the importance of history and transitions. I know that I am all of those identities, for those words are my experiences, my history, culture and self. They are the very meaning of who I am, because without them, I am no one.

© Božana Pašić, 2021