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Archive for March, 2013

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.”

–Lady Bird Johnson

It is the week of “Cultural Diversity” in Victoria and the whole state is awash with celebrations of multiculturalism in every nook and corner.

This is the week where almost every ethnic group residing in the state comes forward to display their unique traditions and culture, laying an assault on one’s senses with vibrant colours, visuals, music and gastronomical treats.

It is the week where similar organisations like Oasis Wimmera that are involved with migrant work, come to realise their project outcomes after toiling on it for months; a week where community groups everywhere actually and easily co-exist without resentment or guilt, a week where tolerance, understanding and cultural awareness is at its heights; a week where even jaded cynics like me get emotional and teary-eyed seeing the positive and generous response from the community towards a multicultural festival.

It is also the week where the following kind of jargon flows in abundance – Cultural and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups, unity in diversity, cultural pluralism, mosaic, multiculturalism, ethnic fusion, inclusion etc., making one question the excessive nature of the English language; it is also the week where perhaps political agendas that use immigration issues as a red-herring are momentarily set aside.

In short this week is the Mecca of multicultural charm – an epitome of co-existence and harmony; though some might argue that perhaps it is more contrived than natural.

However, as with any celebration, once the festivities are over, the spirit or essence of the celebration goes into hiatus till the next year comes around.  Likewise, once the “Cultural Diversity” week is over, the appreciation of multiculturalism is also packed up and the debate over melting pot or salad bowl continues.

Everyday life, fraught with hectic schedules and personal agendas pushes cultural awareness and tolerance to the backseat.  It is only a handful of government agencies and organisations along with a few religious and not-for-profit organisations that have their focus on immigration and settlement that continue to promote cultural diversity.  Multiculturalism in general is seen as a challenge and perhaps even a barrier in everyday life, sometimes irrespective of which camp one belongs to.

But there is one unassuming institution that opens its doors wide to everyone and performs a huge service to migrants throughout the whole year and of course, is not always recognised or appreciated for its service. Have you ever dropped at your local library and taken a moment to reflect on how much a library gives to its community, including the multicultural community?

In most countries, it was the libraries than educational institutions that nurtured and educated migrants to enter the mainstream community before the digital age.   This tradition seems to continue even today even though libraries are losing their prominence in the society trying to keep up with the advances in the technology which makes information readily available to people in their own homes.

Given my avid interest in reading and my children taking after me, we are regular visitors to the library.  Used to borrowing only two books on a card in huge and silent mausoleums under strict and authoritarian librarians while growing up in India, I was ecstatic to learn that I could borrow books and other materials without limits in Australian libraries.  I was equally thrilled when I learnt I could get books (and movies) in Indian languages from the local libraries for my mother, another voracious reader, while she was visiting me.

Later I discovered that libraries here were more than just a resource centre.  Especially after moving to Horsham, I understood first-hand that libraries were in addition, a community centre and also a first stop for migrants.

It really gladdens my heart when I see many new arrivals visit the library with their families.  Whether it is enhancing their own knowledge of English or promoting the reading habits of their children or making use of the internet facility or just spending time with their families, the library is versatile in meeting their needs.

In most communities, libraries turn into this secure haven where people from CALD groups seem to mingle without much inhibition or intimidation. It is this inherent trust that such groups place in their libraries that pushes the latter to the forefront of catering to the needs of the multicultural crowd and showcasing the cultural traditions or history of immigrants and also being their cultural voice wherever required.

Oasis Wimmera was first launched during the Harmony Week Celebrations in the Horsham library two years ago – what more proof one needs to corroborate the words behind this article.

Weekly Advertiser: http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2013/03/20/sharing-our-cultures/

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Some of us may have a powerful voice in Western countries, but women globally often have very little voice in comparison with men. However, saying that, at the same time, when women get together as a group, it’s immensely powerful.

–          Annie Lenox

 I came to know about “International Women’s Day” only a few years ago.  Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own life in the city or maybe I had moved amongst insular crowds; either way the day had gone unnoticed by me for decades.  However, it didn’t stop me from embracing this day with much gusto once I came to know about it.

But lately I wonder what is it I celebrate – is it a genuine appreciation of the relative freedom and empowerment enjoyed by women in the society that I currently live in or is it belated gratitude that I have somehow escaped the confines of second class treatment showered upon women in developing countries.

Not all is wrong with societies around the world but then not everything is right as well.  Even in cultures where women are on par with men, it is not a victory that is easily conceded to the deserving.

It saddens me beyond words when women are still being victimised everyday around us.  All it takes is being born in the wrong country, raised in the wrong social conditions, existing in the wrong relationship, sometimes even as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time – the odds continue to be stacked against women in their struggle to stay alive let alone their endeavours towards equality and an identity.

As much as we are weighed down by the plight of women in some parts of the world, we cannot but not appreciate the growing emancipation and the enduring spirit of womanhood around us.

If International Women’s Day is about celebrating the survival spirit of womanhood and her achievements, then I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to some migrant and local women I have come across in the Wimmera.

Running a group like Oasis for migrants, I have often met exceptional migrant women whose resilient spirit never ceases to amaze me.  Most of these women have been uprooted from the only life they know but yet they remain undaunted by what their new life throws at them and engage themselves fully towards integrating into the society.  It is not easy to step out of one’s comfort zone, tackle a new language and break down any cultural or personal barriers and yet these women seem to do it unwaveringly and above all selflessly pushing them-selves for the betterment of their children and their families.

These are smart women who fully understand how they are not always viewed as equals in the society and in some cases even exploited as token crowd or mere statistics portraying migrant engagement within the community but yet quietly and diplomatically assert themselves when the situation arises.  Their magnanimity in overlooking the subtle discrimination and overbearing patronisation that are occasionally directed at them only wins them more accolades from me.

As for the second group of women, these are exemplary local women who look after their families, run farms, have an extra job or a business, donate their time and efforts generously to various committees and volunteering efforts and still find the time to live a fulfilling life and inspire others.  I am wowed by some of these amazing and inspiring women with whom I have crossed paths.

Having lived a cushy life in the city, with perhaps the most daunting challenges being the tantrums thrown by my kids or peak-hour traffic jams, I cannot but help marvel at the strength and endurance displayed by these women in the face of natural disasters and other exacting conditions of rural/farm life.  These are women who seamlessly transform from one arena of their life to another, comfortable in their skins, be it out on the farm in their gumboots or chairing a meeting. Their down-to-earth attitude, unbridled optimism, unfaltering sense of loyalty and obligation, genuine compassion and above all their sense of humour makes them standout even to people relatively new to the region.

The women that I have mentioned above might come from extreme ends of a broad spectrum, but nevertheless their defining qualities are more or less the same regardless of their origin or culture or social standing.  It is this indefatigable spirit and the life-force of womanhood that I salute and appreciate.

To the women out there battling the odds and still staying afloat…….

Weekly Advertiser: http://www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au/2013/03/06/a-salute-to-women/

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