What do you mean by ‘the cultural tightrope’?
That’s a great question and one that I’ve asked myself. By the term ‘Cultural Tightrope’ I mean: The act of balancing between the culture you’re born into, and the culture of the place or country in which you live.
Like the traditional circus tightrope we all know, the cultural tightrope can be precarious as it swings and bounces over the journey of the walker. For us first, second, and even third-generation Australians, we sometimes find ourselves on an oscillating tightrope, unsure of where we fit. Are we real Australians? We weren’t born here! Or, if we were, we don’t look like the typical Aussie in TV commercials. Inevitably, we look for cues about what is culturally acceptable should we choose to define ourselves as an Australian, and too often change ourselves to blend in, to balance, rejecting the culture of our forefathers. Alternatively, we deep dive into it, immersing ourselves in the safety of where we know we definitely belong.
As I get older, it increasingly dawns on me just how much the culture within us, and the culture without, affects every part of how we exist. And with this awareness, comes the realisation of just how important it is to understand, accept, and be proud of it. Not only is culture a wide and frameless being, it is also complex in its constant evolution and fusion. So, it’s no surprise that balancing that tightrope can be tough.
Natalie has to balance two lives—her Syrian and Australian identities. Do you think many Australian teenagers walk this cultural tightrope too? Is it tricky to balance?
The ABS tells us that around 30% of Australians are born overseas. This figure covers the entire population and within it, a wide age range so yes, I definitely believe many Australian teenagers find themselves on that precarious cultural tightrope, but so do a great many adults. What I think varies is the type of tightrope we walk.
As a teenager we want so much to fit in, but simultaneously, stand out as an individual – so the balance is more about what we wear, how we speak, our social activities etc. As an adult, the balance changes focus to how we parent, how we behave in our working life, what language we speak at home – do we encourage our kids to assimilate or adopt their cultural heritage. Of course, it’s not the same for everyone and I’ve made some generalisations but for some, that balance can be pretty tricky.
You’re a Turkish-born Australian. Did you have similar experiences to Natalie when you were growing up? I did. My parents were loving, but also strict and overly protective so I missed out on school camps and mixed sex parties. Sleepovers at friends’ houses were a definite no, as was dating boys. I was in constant terror of being caught walking home with male school mates – but in hindsight, some of it was in my head, and as I grew older, I found my parents weren’t as strict and unreasonable as I’d thought. In fact, when I finally introduced them to my now husband, they were really warm and welcoming, despite him being an Aussie 😊.
What was your first impression of Australia when you immigrated?
In my blog – Tip o The Fez – I actually recount my first memory in Australia in a post titled 'Immigrant Girl'. I was only four years old when my family immigrated here, so my memories are a little hazy, but what left an imprint on me was a sense of wonder and magic - that this place, Australia, was full of possibilities. Although I was so young, I believe my senses were spot on. That’s exactly how I still feel about Australia.
What’s it like to be a debut author? Are you excited or nervous?
Absolutely awesome! I’m excited and nervous and still in a state of disbelief but also incredibly happy. I feel very fortunate that the team at Rhiza Press believe in me and my work, and have given me this opportunity to share my story with others.
Lora's debut novel, Unspoken Rules, is out on the 17th of September on Australian Citizenship Day.