Here we are at the end of yet another publishing year at be:longing! This year has been extra special for us, not only because of the fantastic range of pieces and multiple new contributors we were able to feature, but also because it was our fifth year of operation, and wow does that feel great.
be:longing was launched back on 2 December 2016 with just eight pieces during an intimate community gathering held in our home town of Canberra, Australia. Since then, we have published almost 180 pieces by close to 90 contributors, and our community has blossomed and flourished with every passing year. As always, we feel so lucky to do what we do. It’s a true labour of love reading and publishing the thoughts and efforts of cross-cultural individuals the world over, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here’s to another 5 years of be:longing, and 5 more after that, and so forth to eternity! (Allow us this excited, wishful thinking, if you will!)
As for this year just passed, 2021 has been challenging and uplifting in equal parts. The effects of COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions kept rippling around us, which meant we couldn’t always meet with our contributors (or even our editorial team) or hold the in-person events we so love. However, on the other hand, we were positively inundated with wonderful submissions from contributors all over the globe, and were able to bring 29 original pieces from 26 contributors to our dear audience! Here, we look back on those pieces, and reflect on the impact they had on us.
This year, we received several pieces that delved into the writers’ childhoods and adolescences, picking apart what may have seemed like simple experiences at the time but turned out to be hugely influential exchanges into adulthood. In PEANUT BUTTER and INTERVIEW WITH ANNA KOESTENBAUER – PART 1, we were given a view into what it’s like when you’re a child who has moved overseas with your internationally-mobile parents and suddenly need to adapt to a new landscape, new language, new customs and – yes – even new tastes. These pieces gave us a new level of appreciation for the challenges children can go through in the migratory process, and they weren’t the only ones. In I AM. and WHO DO YOU GO FOR?, we saw how experiences like these that we go through as children – and even things like watching sporting events – can influence how we grow and think, and can have a profound impact on the creation of our cultural identities and senses of self. ANAMNESIS IV explored how childhood experiences, even if they occurred a long time ago, can still reverberate into our present lives, while BETTE ON LINE 196 showed us how we can be reminded of our different cultural identities, formed over many years, even when we’re doing typical things like riding the bus.
Our pieces also explored the impact that our natural environments have on our sense of self and place, and how they become inextricable parts of us. COUNTING THE LEAVES spoke of the memories embedded in these places – memories of the people we’ve shared them with and the different but no less precious ways we interact with them. ONE AND SAME described how the physical distance between loved ones might sometimes be overcome by looking to shared natural phenomena – the moon, the sun, the sky – and the common experiences of a life on earth, even if we may not find ourselves on the same patch of it. NEDOSTAJANJA / LONGING reflected on the comings and goings of a life pre-migration, recalling the sounds, smells and sights of a place well lived-in – a place that seemed, then, like it would be home forever. These homes impart their habits to us and, as THIS OLD APPOINTMENT BOOK explores, we may find ourselves wrong-footed when we encounter a wholly unfamiliar seasonal pattern. As MOSS suggested, though, it may be in our shifting environments that we can begin to converse anew with places and people – lost and budding – to build more nuanced understandings of a home’s habits and histories, though they may be painful.
Pain and discomfort came to the fore in pieces like YAHYA, wherein migration meant isolation and long-term grief; and again in 1992, which described the unbearable frustration of inhabiting in-between spaces, and experiencing ongoing misunderstandings and assumptions while trying to find a position from which to speak. C R E O L E meditated on the burden of responding to – and making sense of yourself for – others, resolving to let the words fall where they may, and taking power back with the knowledge that being known to yourself might be enough. Some pieces showcased how the dilemmas of cross-cultural life may also be compounded when we make the active choice to relocate for pleasure or possibility – when we recognise that we are responsible for interrupting our own peace. CHOICES / IZBOR wondered whether making a move to seek out personal dreams was justified, or whether the decision had been reckless, while DO I NEED TO CHANGE TO FEEL LIKE I BELONG? asked the same when the overwhelm of culture shock and dislocation set in, ultimately finding that an identity built elsewhere can still be honoured and integrated into new ways of being through reflection, support and hard work.
Although migration, chosen or inherited, can mean adaptation, and that the turbulence around identity and belonging is eventually overcome, socio-political and historical forces beyond the individual can impact the freedom of particular people to interact with their communities, and to explore, interrogate and adapt to new environments safely. In CHAI, the burden and tension of navigating conversations carefully so as not to reveal parts of your personal history to certain people, given the threat this could pose to you, were explored. BOILING WAVES OF MIGRANT SHORES described how finding footing in a White-majority country comes with a fraught and unclear path when a queer, south Asian woman treads it. NEM ISSO, NEM AQUILO / NEITHER THIS NOR THAT condemned the selective remembering of White over Black personal histories where both origins were represented in the family, recounting the painful impacts this has had on subsequent generations. These traumas are inevitable outcomes of the violence and persistence of colonial and imperial legacies, and as these pieces showed, navigating them is no small feat. Such legacies were explored again in GHOST FIRE, but this time considering the responsibility of White descendents of colonial settlers in stolen places, reflecting on the consciousness of inhabiting – and making a home in – the place that your ancestors played a role in colonising.
Other pieces explored how migration can mean the splintering off of family trees, making the job of holding onto branches an ongoing effort. In A MEMORY OF A QUIET BURIAL, we saw how the pain of a loss of a central branch was navigated very differently at either end extending from it, with responses finding some (though not complete) coherence along a common middle. FINDING A LOST GRANDFATHER FROM THE UKRAINE described the seeking out of family histories. It explored the piecing together of a story and a guess at personality profiles from the testimony of those still around who remembered, searches in official records and community histories, to pay tribute to a lost part of the tree. DAS DEUTSCHSEIN / ON BEING GERMAN asked what it might take to preserve connection to a family roots when a branch had travelled far away, and pondered how flexible a family tree can be when it has to reach across generations and oceans. DO YOU REMEMBER?, for its part, recalled the excitement of travelling onwards, finding comfort in the knowledge that one could always find a way back along lines, however far they extend, to ground us in new places while we pursue our joy.
Finally, we received a series of pieces that showed us how migration and living cross-culturally – though tricky at times – can be wonderful fodder for creative pursuits. In MY LITTLE HISTORY, we saw how spending years in different countries across South America to Australia created a unique blend of cultural influences that could then find a satisfying expression in creative projects such as mosaics, papier maché and other arts and crafts. Similarly, in EVERYWHERE & NOWHERE and ARRIVAL / DOLAZAK, we saw how cross-cultural and international experiences can inspire the creation of beautiful, deeply personal music and poetry that then could work to give its creators solace, and connect them with like-minded people around the world. Finally, we ended the year with a couple of delicious pieces that reminded us just how special food is in the migration context – MEKIKE (SERBIAN DONUTS) gave us a fantastically yummy recipe, transporting us to kitchens across the Balkans and straight into a plate of donuts; while O LJUBAVI, SMRTI, ANDJELIMA I SVECIMA / OF LOVE, ANGELS, SAINTS AND TYRANTS showed us how a loved one’s deftness at cookery can function to retain a connection to lands and times far away, bring us simple, yummy eating delight wherever we are today, and also to remind us, in a bittersweet way, of some of the divisions and misunderstandings that indirectly led us away from our past homelands.
So there you have it: a wrap-up of the year that was on be:longing! If any of these descriptions struck a chord with you and you would like to read more, feel free to click on any of the piece names, and you will be taken straight to the full piece.
With so much beautiful content to look back on like this, we can’t help but be inspired to push ahead and look forward to 2022! We hope you’re excited too, and inspired to share some of your own stories, works and experiences.
Until then, have a fantastic couple of months, everyone! We hope you enjoy the holidays, get to spend at least a little time doing what you love (on your terms), and enter 2022 with a smile on your face and peace in your heart.
We’ll see you back here in February 2022 for year SIX of this here publication, be:longing.
Dunja and Jasmine
Featured image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2021