posted by Kiriaki Koubaroulis
Last Sunday I went to the theatre. It was a show that had caught my attention earlier in the week in my Facebook feed. Urban Theatre Projects was posting about it. The Belvoir was posting about it. It had popped up in several status updates of friends, too.
The name didn’t give much away. But the promo shots spoke volumes. At least they did to me. Now, I’m a keen consumer of the arts and culture, from screens to stages and concert halls to the streets; and I’m a self-defined ‘cultural omnivore’, so my palette thrives on the alternative and diverse, but when a man clearly of ‘Middle-Eastern appearance’ (actor Hazem Shammas) hits my feed accompanied by words like theatre, Belvoir, Surry Hills and Muslim-Australian, it tweaks my interest in a special kind of way. Read on and you’ll understand why.
The Tribe, is a series of vignettes – snap shots in time told through the eyes of the main character, Bani, a young boy growing up in Lakemba, and second generation Australian. The stories are centred around his experience of family and major life events, and sit at that beautiful confluence – that point where the culture of his ancestors and his experience of growing up in Australia merge.
The Tribe tells Bani’s stories – stories that are familiar to many, me included. I know the streets and places described because I’ve been there. Arabic music and language lace the edges of the script, punctuating the stories. This is music and language familiar to me. I know the quirks of family and culture that Bani tells of, intimately. They’re all part of my lived experience growing up Greek-Australian in places like Lakemba, Wiley Park, Carlton and Canley Heights. So to see them all in this context – that is, placed on a stage in a suburb far from their origin for an audience perhaps not so acquainted with them — was a powerful thing.
Placing honest, personal stories not often heard on a new and bigger stage like this, adds a legitimacy and confers a new value both to the stories themselves, and to the writers, actors and producers behind them. It offers a doorway into a deeper sense of belonging and acceptance for the people represented by these stories – an embrace into this country’s bigger story.
In the words of the writer, Michael Mohammed Ahmad: ‘The Tribe is my attempt to counteract the limited and simplistic representation that the Arab-Australian Muslim community of Western Sydney has received to date, and to offer a broader, more intimate understanding. It is also an act of self-determination – a declaration of the right to reclaim and tell our own stories in our own way.’
So in this light, The Tribe, and other works like it, are also powerful anti-racism vehicles. Yes, they are theatre, pure and simple. Yes, they are art and culture.I’m not advocating for an instrumental approach to the arts – to theatre-making in this case. But works like The Tribe are instruments of social cohesion by their very nature. They are stories, faces, music and languages not seen often enough on our screens and stages, where what dominates does not reflect the whole lived reality of the diversity, plurality and inter-sectionality around us.
We need more theatre like this! The Tribe runs through til Feb 7th. Go see it – no matter where you grew up or if you identify with Bani or not. You’ll be entertained and moved, and you might even come out with a new understanding.
Last week on Thursday and Friday, the 5-6th of November, the 2015 FECCA National Conference took place in Sydney. FECCA, the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia, is the peak national body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The two-day conference brought hundreds of leading decision makers, scholars, and experts together, all with a collective desire to debate and discuss key issues relating to multiculturalism.
It was positive to have our politicians cohesively acknowledge how a better embracement of multiculturalism will lead to a better future for all Australians. Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells acknowledged how important it is for Australians to recognise our country’s history of successful migration and how this is a legacy worth protecting. The Hon Tanya Plibersek addressed the tokenistic manner in which multiculturalism is often highlighted, and how “multiculturalism is more than the ethnic food festivals and parades” it is so often limited to. Senator Richard Di Natale confronted how the government cannot support multiculturalism through policy yet repeal s18C of the Anti-Discrimination Act and “open the floodgates to racism”. By our political parties dismissing their governmental differences in order to show a united front in the name of multiculturalism shows a common interest by our democratic leaders in the face of racial discrimination, and how important the issue of racism is to our parliamentary leaders.
The conference held concurrent forums on key issues related to multiculturalism such as equity in disability, productivity through diversity, cyber racism, and multicultural broadcasting and communications. In the forum addressing ‘The Cultural Dividend of Multiculturalism”, Ross Tzannes AM cited Anne Phillip’s quote “Harm could come to our minority groups if we trivialise their culture”, and noted how cultural diversity in the workplace is often paraded around as a marketing tool, without recognising the intrinsic value cultural diversity has in itself. Liz Deep-Jones also explored the idea of multiculturalism in the workplace. Having over twenty years experience at SBS, Liz brought up to the discussion how integral it was for her workplace of the media, in particular, to bring education of other cultures to the forefront of broadcasting. Liz expressed how Australia is a country so rich in diversity, we are able to put on shows such as Living Black, or a news program addressing Chinese Australians that is spoken in Manderin but with English subtitles, to be as inclusive as possible.
In “Enabling Better Health”, key scholars and medical practitioners brought together their unique experience and knowledge of how minority groups often struggle to get access to the Australian healthcare system. Dr. Sara Javanparast expressed her disdain at the resistance of general practitioners to using interpreting services to fully engage migrants with our healthcare system. This apprehension of interpreting services was also of concern to Rosemarie Draper, who has taken action addressing this problem with a health literacy approach. Rosemarie represented the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS), and showed how the RDNS has created unique talking books that take all cultural diversities into consideration. For example, their talking book on Type 2 Diabetes in Vietnamese is freely available on the RDNS’ website, and provides both written and audible health information in Vietnamese at the equivalent of an English grade 6 level, in order to be more inclusive of the community.
Many more forums were held addressing key areas that have felt the impact and influence of multiculturalism, and all the speakers at the conference agreed that multiculturalism is the necessary narrative for the future of Australia. The conference ended on a positive note, with the 2014 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, Laura John, concluding the forum with some personal accounts of her own experiences that led to her personal understanding of what multiculturalism means. The 2015 FECCA conference was an irrefutable success, and All Together Now can’t thank FECCA Chair Joe Caputo OAM for bringing these creative and scholarly minds together to collaborate and discuss the possibilities the lie ahead for the Australian community.
All Together Now was lucky enough to catch up with one of our ambassadors, L-Fresh the Lion, who has been a trailblazer for social justice in the hip-hop music scene. Natalia spoke to L-Fresh not only about how he got into the hip-hop industry in the first place, but how he embraced his culture as a practicing Sikh into his music, and what his thoughts were on diversity in the entertainment industry in Australia.
All Together Now: How do you express your cultural and ethnic identity through hip-hop? Do you think that music and hip-hop, particularly, is a universal platform that may be understood by everyone regardless of their cultural background or religion?
L-Fresh the Lion: Hip-hop music and hip-hop culture in general, I think, is one of those beautiful things which goes beyond the barriers of race, class, gender, politics and any type of inequality, and becomes a force that brings people together in a positive way. In terms of my cultural identity, I think that this is an inevitable part of me that comes across everything that I do without having me to think about it. This is so much a part of who I am from the formation of my values to more notably in my appearance as I am a practicing Sikh. So, you know, culture is there in everything that I do.
All Together Now: Are you keen to express your views on racism in your lyrics? What motivates you to speak up?
L-Fresh the Lion: I’ve been thinking about it since the first time I wrote my lyrics, when I was a 14-years-old teenager in high school. The first thing I ever wrote was called ‘World of Discrimination’, talking about my experience with racism. So, it started from the very beginning. I think it was one of the core things that brought me to a space where I felt like I needed to write music. Again, it’s one of those things that influenced me in that I was raised by my parents and by those around me to be a vocal and active member of society, to be someone who is interested in not only uplifting those around me in the community, but also to be a positive force in a world. I feel that it’s my duty to use this platform, to be able to develop life through the music, and positively contribute to the world around me. Moreover, one of those things that I am obviously talking about is my experience with racism. And I think it is still here, because this is a very prominent issue in our society today.
All Together Now: Why did you join All Together Now? What led you here?
L-Fresh the Lion: All Together Now is the only organization existing in a 24/7 basis in Australia, which calls to address racism in a positive way. One of the important things I’ve seen All Together Now do is work with young people, while taking innovative approach to tackling racism. All Together Now makes people feel like they are active participants in creating a better society. That was important for me not only personally, but also because regardless of what I was doing, or speaking about, I was always trying to find a way to address this problem. When I found All Together Now operating in that space and I heard about their projects, I wanted to be involved and be able to help them and to make contributions.
All Together Now: How much is the spirit of multiculturalism felt in the underground hip-hop community? Is this community open to everyone who is willing to join it?
L-Fresh the Lion: Hip-hop since its inception is in America, but also in Australia has been very multicultural. Some of the first people who operated in the space of hip-hop in Australia came from all worlds of life. From the perspective of the present, contemporary hip-hop is on the level where you have people from diverse backgrounds, operating in this space. This is because, like I mentioned earlier, hip-hop erases all those barriers that tend to differentiate us as human beings. So, it’s a very multicultural space that often doesn’t get reflected in mainstream media. That’s because we have issues in the entertainment industry as a whole, which haven’t been spoken about quite extensively. Most recently it was discussed, I think on Sunrise, there was debate about the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry and, more specifically, on TV. Lack of diversity is something that is prevalent in all entertainment industries in Australia. But the roots of this problem are on a community level. That is what people don’t see unless they are active participants in hip-hop. Hip-hop is very, very diverse.
All Together Now: Do you have a big dream? What is that?
L-Fresh the Lion: Wow (laughing), I have lots of dreams. I suppose, it depends on context, you know, because I have dreams in a variety of different aspects in my life. If we are talk about dreams on my personal level, I have dreams in terms of what family I would like to build, or dreams about music. But I also have dreams about what I would like to see in politics, or what I would like to see in the world. I think, those things are important, and I want to share these dreams with people. I would like to see a country that could be an example of a space of values. I’d love to see the dominant culture in Australia becomes one of welcome, one of love and compassion, and one of valuing all human lives equally, and not some more than others.
I would like to see these dreams not just be reflected on a theoretical level, but enforced on a practical level. To ensure that inequality is addressed, we firstly have to begin with the inequality gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the community, as well as looking at the gender inequality between Australian men and women. The discussion of inequality is also raised when we are talking about the way we treat asylum seekers and refugees, and migrants in general in the context of race. I think these are all things that come down to the culture we live in, especially when we don’t have a dominant culture that consists of positive values. I would like to see Australia leading in that space of positive values. It is a dream that I have to speak out about, because Australia could be a leading example of positive racial culture and show this to the rest of the world, so that they can follow.
All Together Now: What do you consider makes a person a ‘Real Australian’?
L-Fresh the Lion: I think the answer to this question is something that I have been looking for my whole life. Been born in Australia, in South-West Sydney, and growing up here for a long period of time, and even to this day at some point, I’ve been made to question myself. People have questioned how Australian I am, because I don’t look like what people would consider an average Australian to look like. I look culturally different. So, I’ve been looking for that answer for a long, long time, because at what point can we collectively determine who is and who isn’t an Australian?
You know, I think, that the answer is obvious when you ask does the person have an Australian passport, or is that person an Australian citizen. But when you enter the term ‘Real Australian’ that makes things much, much more complicated. ‘Real’ becomes a question mark. How can we determine it? I think some important questions come with this word and we need to think about it. I don’t think that I have as an individual the sole power to determine who is or who isn’t a ‘Real Australian’. And I think that it’s a collective conversation that needs to be held one day so that Australia can have a discussion on race from a power and structural frame of mind.
Find out more about L-Fresh the Lion here.
L-Fresh the Lion was also featured on Pro Bono here.
On April 25-26th the Build Peace Conference 2015 was held in Nicosia (Lefkosia), “the last divided capital in the world,” Cyprus. The conference brought together like-minded individuals and organisations to learn from each other how contemporary technologies can be used for peace building.
The setting for this amazing function was to be within the UN administered zone Ledra Palace, on the Turkish Occupied side at the Bedestan and Buyuk Han and within some very modern centers in Greek-Cyprus at 10:10 and CVAR.
There were individual talks, short talks, Q&A sessions, working labs, panel discussions and multiple receptions and the 250 participants were able to interact and gain knowledge on the various projects happening in different contexts, under extreme technology constraints, including: how to use social media to the most benefit; how to entice Users to participate; and how not-for-profit organisations can achieve maximum success to attain their peace outcomes.
From All Together Now’s perspective the discussions and talks on social media, Peacebuilding: A Hands-On Experience presented by Derek Gildea from PeaceTech Lab and issues about changing behaviours through ICTs was particularly useful. Another area of interest and indeed the most surprising and astonishing was during the Build Peace Conference artist space Together Separate: Contesting Space. The art project run by Jason Meek and Roseline de Thelin used movement and dance to interpret and understand what living divided can mean for either side of the divide. It encouraged participants and watchers to see the importance of culture and what it means to a community. This engagement made not only the situation in Cyprus clearer but also to understand migrant communities and cultural interaction on a larger social scale.
The conference also saw All Together Now accept the PEACEApp award for the Everyday Racism mobile phone app, which was sponsored by UNAOC and Build Up.
All Together Now would like to thank PEACEApp, Build Up, UNAOC, UNDP and Games for Change for their support of the Everyday Racism mobile phone app and the continued support and mentoring they will give in the months and years to come. All Together Now cannot wait to release the next version of the Everyday Racism app and we will ensure to keep you updated on the development of this new educational app for primary schools.
All Together Now would also like to congratulate the other winners and wish them the best of success in their peace building efforts.
For anyone within the field of peace building who would like to apply for this award in 2016 you can do so through their PEACEApp website: http://www.unaoc.org/peaceapp-blog/peaceapp-now-open-for-submissions/
You may remember that last August, All Together Now’s Everyday Racism app won an Intercultural Innovation Award. Part of the prize includes attendance at capacity building workshops to build our organisation’s sustainability.
So, last week I flew to South Carolina in North America as a guest of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group tolearn more about fundraising, leadership and interpersonal excellence. I had the chance to practice pitching All Together Now’s work to several philanthropists and gain some useful insights into how we could improve our strategy and communications.
I am extremely grateful to both UNAOC and BMW for their support, encouragement, and connections, enabling us to improve our work in Australia.
As a result of this prize, All Together Now is able to expand on what it learned from building the Everyday Racism app. Our team is now creating an educational iPad app for 8-10 year olds to teach them about racial bias. This app is expected to be launched in mid-2016. We are currently working very closely with some academics in both Australia and the USA to ensure this app will be evidence-based and independently evaluated.
During Harmony Week, All Together Now worked with Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) to create the #EraseRacism round over the weekend 20-22 March.
The initiative highlighted the commitment of the Hyundai A-League and the players at all clubs in ensuring that racism has no place in the league, football generally or Australian society.
All Together Now’s volunteers distributed 7,500 purple wristbands over the weekend to fans attending the five games, to spark conversations about erasing racism. From this perspective it was a highly successful campaign.