In late February, in my capacity as YANQ's Multicultural Development Officer, I attended a meeting of the State-wide Multicultural Youth Issues Network (SMYIN) in Victoria; a meeting focused on "Being ‘In-between': Projects Engaging Second Generation Young People". Organised by the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMYI) - an organisation with which YANQ works closely as part of the National Multicultural Youth Issues Network (NMYIN) - the meeting was a follow up to a recent two-day symposium on a similar topic that was held in association with Deakin University.
At the "Being ‘In-between'" assembly, delegates explored and discussed the idea that "Australian-born young people whose parents or grandparents were born overseas can find themselves straddling the orientations of different cultural identities" (CMYI brochure). We also examined a selection of initiatives that assist "second generation young people in positively experiencing and expressing their identities" (CMYI brochure).
Speakers from CMYI, Swinburne University of Technology, Noble Park English Language School and the Islamic Social Services Agency joined representatives of various youth based, project managing organisations including: The Australian Vietnamese Women's Welfare Association (Young Women's Soccer competition), fuSIAN (Polynesian Hip Hop Dance Alliance and Urban Aftershock projects), the Victorian Arabic Social Services (Anti Racism Action Band), and Australian Lebanese Welfare Inc.
This is an important point: the ways that young people develop their ethno-cultural identities is not the same as the ways that their parents or earlier waves of ‘first' or ‘second generation' young people have in the past. Dr Liza Hopkins of Swinburne University of Technology spoke of young people engaging in multiple identities and, in specific regard to their ethno-cultural identities, that young people's identities were undergoing a process of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. In other words, whereas previously, members of diasporic groups quite definitely were able or were left no other option than to view the ‘new country' and the ‘old country' as separate entities (ie. One place to be an insider and access a native identity; and one place to be a newcomer, be seen by some as an outsider, and to dream of an idealised, far away ‘home'), young people today can and do claim multiple identities through a disassociation of identity with a particular space. Young people's avid use of technology such as mobile phones, email and the internet, and applications such as Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, Messenger and Youtube has meant that there are online communities of young, like people; virtual spaces where people can connect with and learn about their ethno-cultural identities and liaise with similarly self-defined peers. With the use of this technology there is a reduced need to associate a traditional ethnic identity with time spent in an actual place, as the online community can be accessed and interacted with, at any location in the world where there is access to the internet.
The reterritorialisation of ethnic identity into virtual space was also spoken about by Dakhylina Madkhul, who is not only Vice-President of the Islamic Social Services Agency, but is also Health and Wellbeing Officer at Noble Park English Language School. She said that young people are finding their identities in their own ways, rather than only relying on older relatives to impart the knowledge and customs to them. For example, forwarded emails detailing (albeit mostly in jest) criteria for (for example) how you know you're a Filipino (http://www.qatarliving.com/node/22848), or "You know you're a Papua New Guinean when..." (http://www.pnginusa.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=206) provide young people not only with links to a like online community, but also the opportunity to check off the list of their own attributes, and therefore strengthen their own identity, in relation to a particular ethnic identity. However, young people still require support and recognition in their acquisition and utilisation of such knowledge.
Madkhul spoke of her own experience, being the child of migrants to this country, and the ways in which she formulated her identity: ethnically, linguistically, culturally, and in relation to citizenship and nationality. Madkhul said that, like many children of migrants, she was taught from an early age by her parents that the ‘home country' did things a certain way; that if you wanted to be [like people from the ‘home country' and therefore please the parents] you had to adhere to these ways, and if you wanted to be Australian you had to reject them. This dichotomy leaves many children of migrants in a ‘nowhere land', caught ‘in-between' as the title of the meeting suggested. However, being caught in a ‘nowhere land' can also be the result of parents not imparting knowledge of their traditional cultures to their children, much like the issues that were spoken of by Grace Vanilau of fuSIAN (as mentioned earlier). But being caught in a ‘nowhere land' is not necessarily indicative of having no identity, rather, it is suggestive of owning simultaneous multiple identities while existing in a ‘third space'.
The third space is inhabited by children of migrants either because their parents have attempted to force them to choose between cultures of the ‘home country' and the ‘new country' or because their parents preferred not to impart an understanding of the ‘home country', despite young people's yearning for such knowledge. The third space is also inhabited by those like Sarah1, one of the attendees at the meeting, whose mother was a migrant to Australia, but whose father was an Anglo-Australian. Describing her identity as ‘mixed race', she also felt ‘in-between' and said that while some of the issues people described as being faced by ‘second generation' young people applied also to her, others failed to adequately match her experience as a young mixed race person in Australia, simultaneously belonging and not belonging: existing in the ‘third space'. And the virtual space of reterritorialisation of identity can also be seen as the ‘third space'. But the ‘third space' is not necessarily a malevolent place to be, and sometimes carries with it some great power and can be a source of personal strength.
On a slightly different note, one of the contestations with identity arose when the young person's knowledge base may not align with others' stereotypic ideas of their appearance (eg. "You speak English very well" was said by a very surprised person to a young woman of Asian appearance who was born and grew up in Australia). These constant reminders of outsiderness do not aid in sector attempts to advocate for multiculturalism nor do they positively aid in a person's individual sense of belonging. Further, I wonder how many times an Anglo-Australian, born to English speaking - or even non-English speaking - Anglo migrants would be asked "where are you from" or "no, where are you really from" or "wow, you speak English very well".
Finally, a note on terminology. Online dictionaries (eg. www.dictionary.com) define first and second generation in the following ways:
- Being the first generation of a family to be born in a particular country;
- Being a naturalized citizen of a particular country; immigrant.
- Being the second generation of a family to be born in a particular country;
- Being the native-born child of naturalized parents.
As can be seen in the above definitions, there is contestation in the ways that first and second generation terms are used. In my own case, having been born to migrant parents who made very clear and definite choices to migrate to Australia, I have always known myself to be (albeit simultaneously a ‘mixed race' Papua New Guinean/ New Zealander) a first generation Australian. In identifying as ‘first generation', I feel I am respecting not only my parents choice to migrate to Australia for the benefit of their future children, but I am also saluting my cultural heritage and my parents' separate migrant experiences. And I do acknowledge and respect that others' opinions will differ from mine on this point, but I have never thought of calling myself ‘second generation'. To me, that term reminds me that I am an outsider: I see it not as a label indicating that I am a second generation Australian, but rather that I am a second generation migrant. And I reserve the right to define my identity by myself , not to have others do it for me.
Dakhylina Madkhul and others who spoke at the "Being ‘In-between'" meeting spoke of their hopes for the future - their hopes as Australians who were children of migrants. Among her ‘wish list' Madkhul included:
- That young people have the opportunities to be proud of their cultures;
- That young people have the opportunities to educate others about their cultures;
- That young people can work with their communities, and teach Australia;
- That ‘yesterday' can be merged with ‘tomorrow' culturally;
- That young people are given validity and power in deciding what they want to do; and
- That young people gather together all the good points of their multiple identities and use these points to define who they are.
For more information about the "Being ‘In-between'" meeting or about these issues in general, please contact Claire from CMYI on firstname.lastname@example.org or Kirsten McGavin at email@example.com.