9.02 Interview Themes: Ethnic Backgrounds

The ethnic backgrounds of the collective included an Australian, an East German first generation immigrant, a South African Turk, someone with a Jewish background, a second generation Spaniard, and myself as a second generation Pole. In fact Jenet Thomas was the only person with two English Parents in the group interviewed. Such a list does not really do justice to the complexity of these influences. Extracts from the interviews give this picture more fully:

Well my parents are Germans but my grandparents are from the border between Austria and Yugoslavia - Slovenia, which is now Ljubljana. (TZ)[1]

(I was born in) Perth, Western Australia â I came over here when I was about fifteen for a holiday and never went back. (CK)

(My mother) was raised in South Africa in Durbanâ Then met my fatherâ they met in Turkey, and they never went back to South Africa really until I was born. When my mum fell pregnant with me, my grandparents had to come over and see her through the pregnancy. (They) tried to get my father to marry my mother and my father said no, 'I never intended to marry her, I need to marry a Turkish woman'. So my mum said, 'Fuck you!' And the whole family went, 'Fuck you!' And she stormed back to South Africa with me, and so I was raised (in) Cape Town. (CR)

It gave me a slightly arrogant feeling of feeling different from my contemporaries in that my dad was Spanishâ My parents split up when I was about eleven and so family life was a bit disrupted in some ways. My dad was having to work a lot to support us, and over time he developed a drink problem. So he stopped reading so much and spent more or less most of his free time asleep. It was a pretty uninspiring home life in my adolescence. (PT)

From my experience with 'Bigos, artists of Polish origin' it is clear how the immigrant experience of displacement makes cultural adaptation a hugely important issue. Although it is difficult to track the precise influence of any of these influences onto Exploding without much further research it is possible to surmise some general dynamics. The immigrant has to face a huge cultural displacement. A negotiation happens between the new host culture and the original ethnic identity as the immigrant culture assimilates. Often the host country tries to enforce its mores and to subdue the foreign culture in a process of cultural subjugation. The maintenance of a cultural integrity by the immigrants and their children often requires considerable self-invention and creativity. People who are undergoing such changes are perhaps natural candidates for the experimental areas of cultural production.[2]

The shared experience of displacement and cultural otherness may also help in terms of group cohesion. It is certainly not a conscious issue in the day to day running of the group and doesn't seem to feature in the logbook notes. [3] It is very much a background feature, which has only come to prominence through these interviews.

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[1] The following quotations are referenced to each interviewee by their initials. Caroline Kennedy (CK); Duncan Reekie (DR); Colette Rouhier (CR);  Paul Tarrago (PT); Jenet Thomas (JT); Thomas Zagrozek (TZ). See illustrations 7, 8 & 9 for photos of the interviewees.

 

[2] Refer to my earlier short account in Chapter 1 of 'Bigos' for more detail and further references on these issues.

[3] It is possible that this may be my own blindspot.