A Place to Call Home

When I was younger, I carried around a certain apprehension that was attached to my cultural identity. Growing up and living in Western Sydney, I was aware of how important my personal history was in determining every detail of my life. From my name, to the food I ate, to the language I spoke at home, it shaped me. I was constantly immersed in an understanding of my cultural identity, and the short walk from my primary school to my home would highlight little pieces of me. There was the library that contained archives of Turkish history in the area, that detailed the migration pact that allowed my family to arrive in Australia in 1971, then the men of every colour flooding the mosque for their Friday prayers, and the little Turkish café which served traditional maraş ice cream.
On the other hand, this immersion would become overwhelming, and at times, I found that the ways in which my grandmother attempted to explicitly teach me about our culture, history, and religion, felt contrived. How could I learn about myself without become disenchanted? As history students, we can all acknowledge the importance of interaction with our personal histories, and how essential it is to create a space where that can be done comfortably.
The Austolian Youth Association (AYA), is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to maintain cultural and historical connections between individuals in the local community. ‘Austolian’ is a portmanteau of ‘Australian’ and ‘Anatolian’, created to illustrate the place of Turkish cultural and historical knowledge in the lives of Turkish-Australian individuals. The group holds biweekly dance rehearsals in which members learn dances from specific regions in Turkey, gain cultural knowledge, and prepare for performances at festivals and weddings.
The AYA states that their central goals are:
• To emphasise respect of Turkish culture.
• Improve intercultural communication.
• Promote understanding across cultures.
• Become the central point of cultural learning for youth.
I’ve been allowing my project to unravel naturally, through my interactions with the association. I’ve focused on resettling myself into the association, and becoming reacquainted with members. I’ve begun conducting interviews containing open-ended questions, both with members who have been there from the beginning, and others who have joined recently. Since their current focus is preparing for the ‘Taste of Turkey’ festival, which begins on the 13th of October, I’ve been observing their process of preparation and I’ve found that their clear dedication translates to their desire to represent Turkish history in a manner which reaffirms the importance of retaining cultural knowledge. In my short time back with the association, it’s clear that these members don’t just come here to dance.