Understanding My Hybrid Identity-2018

To explore the concept of identities in relation to place, I will be taking an autobiographical approach to this essay. As a first generation Australia born to mixed parents, I am what is referred to as a third culture kid, that is I grew up in a culture different to those of my parents. As a 28 year old woman, I am confident in who I am now, and there are a number of different factors that have contributed to my identity formation. The woman I am today, may not be the woman I am tomorrow, next week or a year from now as identities are constantly evolving and adapting especially in our new digital globalised world. I will be focusing this essay on my own Jewish heritage and the impact of collective memory and place within my own familial background to explore identity formation within myself. I will begin with a brief narrative around my parents nationalities after which a discussion on the Jewish Diaspora including the concept of othering will be explored. Following on from that will be a discussion on the different markers Judaism can represent and the difficulty of these differences on my own understanding of what Judaism can mean. The assumption of the link between identity and ethnicity is discussed in regards to whiteness in Australia and the essay will conclude with the impacts of my parents nostalgia on my own false sense of nostalgia.

My parents were both born in Eastern Europe, my father in Poland and my mother in Romania. Given the fact both my parents were Jewish and born in the 1950’s, the collective memory of the holocaust was something that impacted the lives of my parents even though neither of them are (or ever were) religious. My father’s family emigrated to Australia when he was 8 and he grew up in a Jewish suburb of Melbourne, deciding to move to Israel around his 30th birthday. My mother grew up under the Romanian communist dictator Ceacescu and only left the country for the first time at the age of 28, using her Jewish heritage to gain Israeli citizenship. After my parents met and got married in Israel, my eldest sister was born there and while pregnant with my middle sister my parents decided they wanted to raise a family in a country where military service was not mandatory and packed up all their things to move for the final time to Melbourne, Australia. We were raised with traditional understandings of Judaism; as in we celebrated Jewish holidays with extended family (my father’s side) but without the religious undertone. Channukah, Rosh Hashana and the other holidays we celebrated were a time to be with family and to eat lots of food, while we occasionally read the prayers this was always more of a tradition than a belief. The role that Judaism has played in my life is one that stems from the tragedies that have occurred over centuries against the Jewish people; a cultural heritage that, according to my parents, should not be forgotten. Judaism is one part of my identity, and there are a number of different intersections that all come together to make up who I am.
The politics of memory are important to the Jewish Diaspora, as is the role of narrative. All younger generation Jews are implicated by the politics of memory as the narratives of our history are passed onto us. Much like Ang and her Chinese heritage, the stories passed on to us are both opportunistic and oppressive (Ang, pg. 27). These stories of opportunity were the stories of how lucky we were to be Australian; we were born in a place that gave us freedoms our parents didn’t have. We had places to use as reference points (Poland/Israel/Romania) for what life could have looked like had our parents not moved to Australia. The oppressive narratives come from stories of living under a communist dictator, stories about the injustices against ‘our people’ during the Second World War, stories of army service fighting unjustified wars. Through the Jewish ethnocultural perspective the Holocaust is the most recent memory that can be drawn on to push the agenda of othering; “a process in which groups come to define themselves through the recognition of people outside their group” (Macionic & Plummer, 2012, pg. 351). It situates Jews as separate from the dominant culture in all contexts outside the State of Israel. But as I got older it appeared to me that the concept of othering was a key aspect of the Jewish identity. I argue that the collective memory of discrimination against the Jewish people (which through narrative I have learnt has been happening since the days of Moses), alongside some of the religious beliefs (we are the ‘chosen’ people) have created not just a scepticism about all those who do not have the collective Jewish history but also a victim mentality.

As more and more stories were passed down as I got older, the more exclusive I began to view Jews. Outside of the Israeli context, religion was a rather large factor in Jewish identity. My sisters and I didn’t attend Jewish schools, go to Hebrew classes or consistently visit temple. I soon realised that even within the Jewish community the concept of othering occurs; something I experienced when my aunt passed away. After her death, my uncle and his children became orthodox in their beliefs, as we remained secular, and it didn’t take long before all communication was cut off as we were now seen as lesser than my uncle and his family due to our (non-) beliefs. It made me question our ‘Jewishness’; we weren’t Jewish enough for our own family, but we were still Jewish enough to be separated from the dominant Christian group. Moving between cultures was something that would occur naturally, yet there were times in which the differences were amplified especially when I felt minoritised and excluded. As cultural identity is often constructed across difference I felt this separation from the dominant group in the physical space of school. There were certain times of the year such as Easter and Christmas when all the kids would be eating chocolate eggs, or opening their presents from Santa that I felt disconnected from both the kids at school and my own cultural background. It also made me begin to question what it really meant to be Jewish. When we were cut off from my uncles family I recognised that Judaism was used in a number of different ways; religious, cultural, ethnic and sometimes even classified as a race. Although problematic, I still aligned with a Jewish identity as it provided a ‘framework for living’ and had the symbolic cultural resources I could employ to make sense of my life as a first generation Australian especially as I got older (Noble et al, 1999, pg. 31).

My multi-cultural heritage has resulted in my appearance being quite ambiguous, I’ve been asked if I’m from almost every corner of the globe including: Greece, Italy, Brazil, Russia, (Indigenous) Australia, “somewhere in Africa” and even once someone asked if I was from Tahiti?! These assumptions of my background feed into the assumed connection between ethnicity and identity. Bottomley argues that “ethnic identities are the dialectical interplay of self-identification by others, and of perceptions and structural forces” (Bottomley cited in Noble et al, 1999, pp. 30-31). People ask where you’re from with the intent of judgement; if they just knew where you were really from they are then better equipped to make judgements about your identity based on (often false) stereotypes. The role of ethnicity within our understanding of identity is often taken as an inherent part of our biology, something natural, rather than a social construct which may influence the way in which we decide to self-identify. Cultural identity is often understood through ethnicity which is passed on through ancestry, yet in reality our cultural affiliations are voluntary choices that we make. The ability to make these choices within the Australian context are not a given to all ethnicities, as those of European descent have it much easier given their white skin. For those with distinct racial features (ie. skin tone, eye shape etc) their choices are more limited and they may face “a socially enforced and imposed racial identity” (Germov & Poole, 2011, pg. 258). Given my hybrid European heritage I was born with white skin, an external feature of my ethnic background which helps my assimilation into Australian society.

Both my parents have a collective nostalgia for our diasporic homeland of Israel. It is the place where my parents met, and for my mother, it was the place that allowed her to be free of communist rule prior to the Romanian revolution. Lowenthal describes nostalgia as “memory with the pain removed” (cited in Beng Huat, REF) and this couldn’t be more true in regards to my parents recollections. They came to Australia as a young family at the end of the 1980’s and never really managed to find their feet financially or socially. This social isolation and the financial stress resulted in these nostalgic memories of a more stable and friendly situation; a situation reminiscent of their time in Israel. The migration politics of Israel is very different to those here in Australia. As Israel is the only Jewish State in the world, all Jews from around the globe have the ‘right’ (according to Israeli law) to become a new ‘olim’ (immigrant). The Israeli government therefore provides assistance to these new olim by providing Hebrew classes, specific olim accommodation as well as a number of other welcoming resources to make the assimilation process easier. For my mother, she had two distinct ‘new immigrant’ experiences and the latter move to Australia would’ve highlighted her nostalgic memories of her experiences in Israel. As my father was already an Australian citizen, my parents received no extra assistance from the Australian government, unlike the assistance they received from Israel. My mother would often reminisce with me when I was young, not just of her time in Israel but also of her time in Romania. As Beng Huat suggests, “nostalgia transforms [certain] instances into abstract fond recollections by deleting the specific historical and material circumstances under which they emerged and relocating these instances in an imagined ‘golden past’ that lays claim to be ‘real’ by the facticity of the instances themselves” (Beng Huat, 1995). The nostalgia for Israel experienced by my parents resulted in my own false nostalgia; a longing for a place I’d never been before. The way in which my parents would talk about our homeland almost made me feel as though my Jewish identity would be lacking until I was able to go and physically be in the homeland myself.

I ended up living in Israel for 7 months when I was 19-20 years old, which interestingly was the biggest reason why I would disassociate myself from Judaism today. I found it interesting that the contemporary collective memory of Jews is one of persecution, exclusion, murder and destruction; the exact same thing Palestinians are now experiencing at the hand of the Jews. It seemed too much of a contradiction that the imagined community of Jewish people who, according to all the narratives passed onto me, suffered at the hands of anti-semites would subject any other living being to the same plight they experienced. I want to be proud of my Jewish heritage and to identify as Jewish, but how can I be proud of what the Jewish people are doing to Palestinians? Similar story with my Australian identity; I want to be proud of being Australian, so many freedoms and opportunities my parents weren’t afforded but how can I be proud of the discrimination Indigenous Australians face, all the inequalities they experience on their own land. For different reasons I seem to have more social rights in both Australia and Israel, even though I am indigenous to neither land.

Beng Huat, C, 1995, ‘That Imagined Space: Nostalgia for Kampungs’, Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore, Times Edition, Singapore, pp. 222-241
Noble, G, Poynting, S & Tabar, P, 1999, ‘Youth, Ethnicity and the Mapping of Identities: Strategic Essentialism and Strategic Hybridity among Male Arabic-Speaking Youth in South-Western Sydney’, Communal/Plural, pp. 29-44
Ang, I, 1999, ‘On Not Speaking Chinese’, Feminism and Cultural Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 540-564
Macionis & Plummer, 2012, ‘Sociology: A Global Introduction’, Fifth Edition, Pearson Education Limited
Germov & Poole, 2001, ‘Public Sociology’, Second Edition, Allen & Unwin

This article discussed the changing perception of Singaporean life, and that modernity came at the cost of Kampung life. This has resulted in a collective nostalgia for the Kampungs, but the author argues that it is easy to forget the restricted conditions that allowed the Kampungs to flourish as well as the negative aspects of Kampung life. The author suggests that nostalgia is employed when there is a crisis of the present.
There were a number of things the authors discovered through a study of boys in a particular area of Sydney, in regards to how the boys would perform specific traits of their identity to either assimilate or to differentiate from the dominant group. Strategic essentialism is referred to when members from a particular group temporarily band together ignoring differences they may have to act in solidarity, whereas strategic hybridity is the employment of different aspects of your identity depending on the given context.

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