Weird title right? How to find your culture? I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a while now, but haven’t really known how to address it – perhaps it’s because whenever I think of the question, I feel like I don’t have an answer.
But it’s something that lately has come up time and time again. The idea of culture and how this adds to our identity.
Last year, a friend of mine confessed to me that she didn’t really know how to address her mothers culture. Her mum is Filipino but my friend grew up in country Victoria, far away from the Philippines and its culture.
She said to me that she wanted to have the same grasp of culture that I do, but was confused on how to get there. Maybe it felt somewhat fake? Dishonest even, to suddenly start talking about another country with passion. To be invested in the issues surrounding the country and feel like you have a credible voice to take these issues personally?
I’m going to take a step back here though.
I started this blog in 2010 (I think)? And I started it because I thought I had no culture. Conversations were starting to turn to the subject of climate change, and Kiribati would be part of that conversation. People would turn to me and say, you’re from there – what do you think?
And honestly? I responded with the most blank/generic answers because I had no idea ‘Yeah, it’s kinda bad I think’.
This happened over a couple of years and it dawned on me that I was sounding like an idiot. I had no idea. So for the sake of not looking like an idiot, I started to read more articles. And for me personally, the only way I have ever been able to retain information, is if I read it and then try to write in down and put it in my own words. So The Little Island That Could began.
I started it just for me. For my own journey. To figure out if I could actually sound smart when people spoke about climate change and mentioned Kiribati.
And from there, word by work, sentence by sentence, essay by essay, my culture started to seep in. Bit by bit. It didn’t happen straight away. I’m now in my 8th year of The Little Island That Could and I’m still trying to dig deeper about Kiribati.
In December I spoke at the Civicus conference in Fiji – with one of the issues I address was on identity – and what does this even mean any way? Afterwards, someone asked me, when did you start to feel like an I-Kiribati woman? When did this change happen?
They asked this not realizing that before the event, I had dressed in my accommodation in my traditional Kiribati dress and looked at myself in the mirror and felt like a fraud. What right did I have to wear this traditional Kiribati dress when my name tag said I was Australian, I had light brown skin and spoke with an Australian accent?
I put the dress on. I took it off. I put in on. Took it off. Then put it back on and looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘Marita get over yourself, it’s a fucking dress. Just wear the damn thing.’
And here I was it this presentation with people complementing the dress and I clearly looked like I was wearing this dress with confidence and pride.
So from this tiny experience, all I can say is this:
You don’t need to find your culture. Your culture is right in front of you, ready to embrace you.
Whatever your background, your ethnicity if you think there is a culture you can explore; it’s yours for the taking.
Find ways to explore it that feels comfortable to you. Cook the country’s food, learn a couple of phrases of the language, research a particular time in history, ask your parents or grandparents to tell you a story of when they were young. If you want to that is. If you don’t want to, that’s totally fine to. It’s your life you live it how you want to.
But if there is a culture you want to feel a little bit more a part of, you don’t need an excuse to include that in your identity. Your culture doesn’t judge, nor will it be angry at you if you have dismissed it in the past. Bloody hell, I’m so mortified of the amount of times as a teenager I told my Mum that learning I-Kiribati was ‘a waste of time because we live in Australia’.
Your culture is your home if you want it to be and it will always embrace you.
Much love, from this brown skinned, Australian accented, Aussie rules loving, island music obsessing, sponge cake loving, fish eyes eating, gum tree planting Australian/I-Kiribati woman.