Formulaire de contact


E-mail *

Message *

vendredi 1 février 2008

Cultural Identity: Tale of a Traveller

Who are you, anyway?
In the New World, especially the Anglo-Saxon, English speaking conglomeration of USA/CANADA/AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND, the superficial identities are clear enough. The deep identities are less clear. “ I am half English, half German with a touch of American Indian thrown in “, is a common saying in the USA. A half of this and a quarter of this another quarter of that, does not add up to one instead it adds up to zero, American Indians would say.These peregrinations would apply to all who in the live in the new world, but especially those who have not acquired their nationality “naturally” as the Australian government officials would say, meaning a Malaysian Chinese living in Australia, a Fijian Indian living in Aotearoa, a Pakistani in Britain ( Black British, they say, but why isn’t he a Black English?), a guyanese living in Canada, among others.In Australia, post 1972 Whitlam Government and the aftermath of Colombo Plan students, a new hybrid began taking shape. Parents from Asia or remote areas such as Seychelles, trying to forge an Identity; Aotearoa ( the land of the long white cloud: New Zealand ) with its multifocal south pacific populations, all trying to be or rejecting to be a Kiwi.Nationality in the new world, in the legal sense, Passport Holding, is a creation with the Political Body dictating a uniform Social Body, doing so to avoid social problems, thus acting upon the Individual Bodies. But cultural identities are not Just or just only Bodily manifestations. How often have I heard in my travels, “ I thought all Australians are white?”At times it is difficult to melt into the Australian cultural identity, one must not only change bodies ( from Saree to a dress, out of turban to an uniform way of dressing) but try to change a way of thinking as well ( to me, a difficult thing to do). When I was a Junior Doctor at University of Melbourne hospitals, what mattered most was the school you attended ( high school mind you, not university), there was instantaneous acceptance if you were from a private school as most medical students were in those days.Australia is a good example of a place which is Multi Ethnic but not Multicultural. One particular high school in Melbourne has produced more Prime Ministers than you can count, the upper class is heavily loaded with connections to Scotland ( as is the case in the southern island of Aotearoa). I realized very early on that, it is an identification with the European way of thinking that is being demanded of all- regardless of where your parents came from Yugoslavia or Burma. Post-renaissance western European that is, not Slavic or Oriental.Most immigrants to these four countries try to fit in, after all they had gone there voluntarily from India or Egypt to better their lives. While in the host countries there may be ghetto communities from the old countries, there are no appropriate cultural receptacles in the host countries for the new comers and their children. Of course, a white immigrant from former Rhodesia has no problem assimilating into Australian society as they have demonstrated in Western Australia and Queensland. Rejected or unable to assimilate, in Australia, for example to the predominantly Scottish protestant way of thinking and in USA to the stoicism of the german and English, these foreign bodies and their descendants look for Communities.I shall describe, by personal example, this search for community. I have felt comfortable in only three communities in the world: even though I have lived in 18 different locations in 10 different countries. The three communities are or were: The Jewish Community of Melbourne, Australia; the Medical Community of the Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami and the general community of Miami and the final one being where I am currently: the small city of Baracoa in the eastern part of the island of Cuba.Within the jewish community of Melbourne, almost all of us were children of jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe with a sprinkling of other geographic entities. Once I lost that connection with the Jewish Community in Melourne, I lost my cultural identity as an Australian as well. No, I still feel “Australian” but the sense of belonging, especially to what used to be our little world of : st kilda, elwood and caulfied and Kew has disappeared.If Australian ambience has failed to integrate you, there is no point in looking in other new world countries. So my search began for a community where my Body (Jewish) and my mind ( by now distinctly post renaissance European influenced ) would fit in.Easy to search for, in places where your parents were born or had come from- Belorus is not the answer, though. The jewish communities of most of eastern Europe has all but disappeared. In my case, I searched in Malaysia ( where I was born and lived until the ripe age of 2!) and Borneo ( especially Kuching, which had incited Somerset Maugham type of memories of childhood spent in Borneo ). But in these places the Mind-Body conflict was much more severe in Australia, which is always ready to welcome you back. Asians have difficulty accepting European minds in Asian Bodies. Europeans on the other hand, understand this conflict easily and even come to respect your mind.I went to study in England. England, ah England, where so many roots sprouted towards its European colonies and giving them their distinct shade. But non European colonies were exempt, Jamaicans who now have lived for three generations in England are referred to as Black British, they cannot become Black English ( because English is a cultural term and British is a changing political term, such as Falklanders are British, Ascension Islanders are trying to get their Britishness back, most non Europeans holding British passports are not considered British and most of them are denied entry into Britain). Of course an Aussie or Kiwi with immediate family connections would certainly would find “home” there, judging by the number of Aussies and Kiwis who live and have integrated well into the life of London, for example. But what about the rest of us? We hold blue Australian passports and now stand in line at the Non European Passport Lines at London Heathrow, whereas before we had our own lines at Immigration: Commonwealth Citizens!After the established communities- in the East and West- found you ineligible for membership and you had rejected them, whatever the case may be, the next choice is to look for a small community, a small town somewhere else. Quaint places had always attracted, such as Noel Coward to Firefly in the northern coast of Jamaica, intellectuals, foreigners and others marginalized in their own countries for reasons of their way of thinking.In my case, I looked for such a small community to make my home: Cochin in the state of Kerala in India, the island of Zanzibar and the English speaking countries in the Caribbean such as Jamaica. It is not a matter of black and white, African, Asian or European. During my years of search, I thanked Australia, for in comparison to the other countries, “ I still called Austrlia home”. Then you realize your unease with cultural identity in Australia or USA, is not just limited to Australia or USA, it is a underlying desire to find a community of like minded souls. Life in Australia or USA would always be better than Cochin or Zanzibar ( in a material sense ), and more importantly, in our countries ( A U C N ) there is a chance that you might run into individual intellectuals and people with broad views of the world ( Individuality is much prized in these countries ). I am perfectly compatible with intellectuals of similar latitudes in matters of mutual interest.I realized that search for a community is also search for yourself, to find out who you are and find compatibility with the outer world for your inner world.In searching for a community, what is important is the level you have attained in the sensibility of emotions. ( There is a good story about the writer/poet Larkin and the psychoanalyst Freud about ones ability to enjoy the beauty that is presented to them )Secondly, there has to be a certain congruity between your social ideas and the social ideas of the community you wish to integrate into.In the end, it comes down to this. Are you interested in just yourself or in the welfare of others as well? And their well being and more importantly are you wiling to contribute to that?An old jewish communist in Havana one day explained this to me, after that I was able to enjoy Cuba even more, because of your genuine desire to help Cubans and to understand that Cuba helps more than anyone else the poor and destitute of the poor countries especially in Africa.There is very little migration out of USA, upto a million and half migrate to it each year! Australians tend to travel a lot, but permanent migration is much smaller, since most Australians tend to return home, even after 20 years away, surveys show.If you are interested in the welfare of others much more than yours, the whole world opens up, when making money is not the only objective, the horizons widen dramatically. It is unrealistic to expect external things to make you happy, says Dalai Lama. American Indians say that you should be thankful for what you have and enjoy that which is around you.A combination of an inner desire to be of help and able to do so, would eventually drive you into the arms of a waiting community which would adopt you as it gets to know you. Going somewhere ( with Peace Corps or Volunteers Abroad) alone, having the desire to help would lead you to a country or more; a wide variety of places could be visited. But only the intellectual bent of the person and his sensibility, and that alone will lock him into an appropriate community and country, which would remove from him or her all the conflicts of a cultural identity.You do not dramatically change, your body remains as before, your legal identity does not change, but your place in the universe is better defined, your purpose is clearer to you, happiness comes easily, rather just contentment.I live in Baracoa, Cuba but half of each month, I am out of the community physically ( to continue my professional endeavours which started in Australia and matured in the USA, that of an Endocrinologist and Medical Anthropologist). While away, as right now, I am among the UmonHon Indians in Nebraska, my emotional attachment to the community and friends in Baracoa is reminded of by indirect and direct symbolism that I see everywhere
but I am present there in the minds of my friends as they are in mine.