From one generation to another

The Austolian Youth Association (AYA) was a wonderful organisation to collaborate with to complete my final project. As I delved into the project itself, I found that my original plans for my final product had changed. The initial online, qualitative questionnaire I created, which did not end up in the final project, still guided me in the creation of the open-ended interviews I conducted. The results from the questionnaire, coupled with the videos I gathered over the course of my interactions with the organisation, contributed to the promotional video I created for AYA’s website.
Through analysing the responses of the qualitative questionnaires that I had conducted, the cultural, social, and historical value of this organisation to the Turkish community was hugely evident. Most members described their early introduction and interactions with Turkish cultural history, and they noted going to Turkish school on Saturday mornings. However, they stated that they valued the nature of AYA, due to its social fluidity. They suggested that they didn’t feel like the cultural or historical aspects were forced upon them, rather, they were integrated within the dance lessons themselves, making it less rigid, and more fun. Members of the group also described how the AYA allowed them to strengthen their sense of self and identity, as they were not only able to learn about their culture, they were spending more time interacting with people of the same background, and strengthening their language skills. One member noted that in the geographical area that they live in, there is hardly a Turkish population, therefore they enjoyed coming to class to listen to Turkish music, learn about the historical and cultural significance of the dances, and talk in Turkish with their peers. Additionally, the AYA’s participation in not only Turkish festivals, but also international festivals, provides members opportunities to share their culture whilst interacting with others.
This project reaffirmed my understandings of local history, and the agency (and sometimes lack of agency) the community has in the manner of the way their history is viewed and distributed. The AYA begun when the director noticed a disconnect between Turkish-Australian youth and the older generations of their family. Therefore, in the creation and maintenance of this organisation, in addition to their historical contribution to festivals, they are shaping the way in which Turkish historical culture is understood and consumed within the community. Especially through the act of combining art, dance, music, food and historical knowledge in festivals such as the “Taste of Turkey” festival in October this year.
The short video was intended to act as an addition to the “About us” section of the AYA website, as an informational video for future potential members and sponsors. The video follows AYA at two of their major cultural events, and incorporates the integral interviews that highlight the historical significance of the organisation for its members, directors, sponsors, and the Turkish community. Initially, I had decided on creating a physical brochure in conjunction with the video, however, AYA does not hold frequent information evenings, therefore, I thought it would be more beneficial to compose a short, informational video for the official website. It is direct in exploring the work the organisation does, and how the members feel their identities fit within that creative space.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience reconnecting with AYA again, especially as the little bits and pieces unravelled towards the larger project. This project reaffirmed my understanding of the significance of creating and maintaining a collective historical and cultural narrative for developing both a personal identity, and a group one.

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.