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The first time I had a strong sense of ‘being an Australian’ was when I went overseas. I was fresh out of my teens and backpacking around India. Maybe my awareness was born from having to recite my passport number so often and the necessity of learning how to talk about cricket. Just as I was beginning to identify with this assumed and unexamined fact of my existence – a chance conversation forced me to consider what this really meant. It started the usual way – introducing myself to the Indian traveler sitting next to me on the bus. After asking me where I was from our conversation progressed to the weather. He commented that it must be very cold in Australia at this time of year. It was December, so I smiled and replied in the negative. The man looked at me strangely, “I don’t understand – if Australia is a hot country, then why are Australians white?”
It’s difficult to examine ideas of belonging without acknowledging its shadowy other; exclusion. Cultural identity is a strong theme in My Tribe and the exhibition is rich with both affirming and challenging stories.
Recently uploaded is a audio documentary called La Voce Della Luna (the voice of the moon). Excavated from the troves of Radio National’s Into the Music archives, this is a warm documentary about the Italian women’s choir. Woven among the earthy music tracks are stories of immigration, feeling dislocated and then found in the deep pocket of the Italian community in Melbourne. It seems that feeling grounded in our own community gives us the strength and confidence to reach out to the people of another.
Move a quarter of a century into the future and check out the video ‘My Asian Tribe’ – a fresh and playful student work celebrating being Asian and the adhesive power of shared cultural experiences like having ‘the same bowl hair cut as a child’.
Culture and genetic heritage calls even when you grow up and live removed from it. Contributor Mercedes takes us on a journey to understand her Italian and Maltese heritage in ‘The all together Australian Tribe’ – while Lorriane shares insights about her Kenyan homeland in her work ‘My Tribe’.
The dark side of cultural identity is eloquently explored by JNT in ‘Gazing at chicken village’. A tourist takes a snapshot in a Vietnamese village and wonders just what she is shooting and why. A particularly thoughtful exploration of the notion of the other is a series of works called ‘Muslim Woman’ by contributor Susan Dirgham The series explores stereotypes and assumptions about Muslim women through audio, image and text. And for a work that tackles racism head-on, check out the multimedia work, ‘Violence against International Students’.
Perhaps the sharpest betrayal is the one that comes from within your own tribe. In ‘My [errant] Tribe’ contributor Jeff Lowenstein, a 67 year old Jewish Australian, explores his split with the Jewish community over the issue of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
All rich pickings from the hot pot of My Tribe
so get it while it is hot … Audio: ABC Archive | Life Matters Interview about Teen Tribes
We snaffled it on its way down to the archive …. Now it’s up for reincarnation as a creative My Tribe remix – an interview from ABC Radio National’s Life Matters. Richard Aedy speaks with author Rebecca Sparrow about her recent book on teenage tribes. In Find Your Tribe (and nine other things I wish I’d known in high school) Sparrow talks about the tribes that she belonged to during her adolescence and how teenagers navigate the tricky world of friendships and loyalty.
Listening to it brings back painful memories of my own rather uneventful yet appropriately tortured ‘coming of age’ story. In our teens we are thought to be forging our independent identities and defining ourselves as different from our families. Bring on images of rebellious haircuts and risk-taking accessories. Ironically, our teens can be one of the most conformist periods in our lives – when we look the same as the next one and our peers wield untold power and influence over … OMG – like everything!
A while back I got curious about this and also about what happened to this powerful mix when we fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’ as a teen – so I interviewed family expert Andrew Fuller. I did it as part of a story for the Age’s Sunday Life! Magazine – below is an edited extract:
Fuller is a clinical psychologist and a lecturer in psychology at La Trobe University. He is also author of Raising Real People.
Adolescence is an intensely social period. Young people start forming their identity by thinking about their place in the world outside their family and deciding on who they want to hang out with. Commonly, during early high school kids relate to particular peer groups that share an identity, it might be the computer geeks, the ones who study hard or the cool gang.
During adolescence fitting in is everything. If you want to be seen as part of a group you must adapt the group’s rules, hierarchy and enjoy what they do. Having established a connection and sense of belonging, the individual should then be able to sort out what they want. While parents may feel the group subsumes their adolescent’s identity, this is actually their process of forming individual identity.
Strong peer groups become a concern if the adolescent gets locked into a particular group and can’t break away without destroying all their social networks. It’s also worrying if the teenager is dependent on one peer group that doesn’t accept them. Then the young person will do almost anything to connect with the group and gain their approval.
The best way to protect your child from undue peer influence is to ensure they have access to a diverse range of friendship groups. This means the adolescent is not reliant on one group’s acceptance and they are exposed to a selection of behavioural models they can identify with. In late primary school parents should start engineering these relationships by making sure their child has a couple of friendship groups, perhaps through sporting or cultural clubs.
Parents often say, ‘If it wasn’t for those kids-from-hell my teenager is mixing with – then everything would be fine’. Certainly other kids can encourage and make it easier for your child to behave badly, but it’s also your child’s doing.
Just to shake the parental tone of this post– I’d like to draw attention to a lovely text piece in the exhibition, A Typical Monday Afternoon English Class by Tribe Contributor jesswalker. This work will be featured in the first My Tribe 360documentaries Showcase!
image: by My Tribe Community Manager, Jessica Walker