Una Madura Verde Reporting on NEMBC 2015 Radioactive Conference Session Two: Modern Cultural Identity Q&A Panel
A quick google search reveals that cultural identity is defined as a feeling of belonging to a group. Wikipedia states ‘It is part of a person’s self-conception and self-perception and is related to nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality or any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture.’ In reality however, cultural identity isn’t so fine cut. Indeed, despite the broad nature of Wikipedia’s definition, it fails to capture the sensitivity and complexity of personal experience.
Our globalised and interconnected society has proved that ‘cultural identity’ is a fluid process fraught by our collective attempts to not only define cultural identity as a measure of experience but also, by our tendency to utilise ‘popular’ definitions as a criteria of belonging. In many cases, young people including myself, have described cultural identity as a framework which restricts rather than facilitates our self-expression and consequently, one which motivates a collective search for alternative platforms, words, ideas and labels which can better capture “what it means to be me.”
This morning NEMBC Radioactive delegates had the opportunity to contribute to this conversation by listening to and pondering on the words of advice given by an amazing panel eager to guide and aid our own journey for self-definition.
The panel facilitated by convenor and NEMBC youth committee member Curtis Ho featured Adolfo Aranjuez, editor of Metro magazine, Faiza Rehman, Lawyer, former MasterChef contestant and member of Australian Multicultural Council and Fatima Measham, social commentator and editorial consultant at Eureka St. The panellists were asked to share their thoughts on what is modern cultural identity and how this fits into broader perceptions of who we are as Australians.
Here are some of their insights:
According to Adolfo, cultural identity is relative, something which changes according to what we have normalised as acceptable or popular. Adolfo explained this by suggesting that cultures are time contingent and acutely shaped by the dominant attitudes and perspectives which suggest their value and meaning in ‘mainstream’ society. Faiza agreed, however her interpretation of this conceptual thread- the relativity of cultural identity -was more opportunistic, focusing instead on how her identity encouraged her to “dream to be on the frontline.” Having under her belt numerous and distinct opportunities to express her cultural identity – She is a former MasterChef contestant and currently working for the Australian Multicultural Council- Faiza stated that we often dismiss cultural identity as a hindrance to our political agency when in fact the opposite is true. The relativity of cultural identity, she noted, ensures its transformative capacity especially to those who seek or work towards its revision as an act of self definition. Together Adolfo and Faiza suggested that we must perceive the fluidity of cultural identity as an advantage or better still, as a unique opportunity to actively define how we and others perceive and communicate who we are. Faiza candidly expressed,
“for me culture is being yourself, there’s ten different people in that person, we must be proud of who are.”
Fatima on other hand, contributed to the conversation by identifying the importance of time and how this has provided young people of today with unique opportunities to define who they are and thus, reconstitute their representation in the mainstream. She noted that compared to her time, when she one of the only ethnic kids in the classroom, children of today are more comfortable with diversity because they are more likely to encounter it in their everyday lives. This she suggested, has given young people from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds more confidence and opportunity to tell their stories and do so on their own terms. Ideas that multiculturalism is still on the periphery were pushed to floor after Fatima wholeheartedly informed us that,
“statistics bear this out”
Overall the panel was insightful and a genuine opportunity to explore the state of young people and multiculturalism in Australia today. One of the many messages which I took away from the panel was that we must not be afraid to be in the ‘middle.’ Between then and now, between here and there, we are the future of today and the change of tomorrow.