• Dilvin Yasa (pictured) explores our cultural connections. (Supplied by author)
Regardless of whether you’re taught to celebrate it or told to ignore it, reaching out for a better understanding of where you came from can be one of the greatest gifts of adulthood. Here are three stories of cultural discovery.
By
Dilvin Yasa

19 Sep 2017 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 19 Sep 2017 - 4:12 PM

“I discovered my sense of Turkishness when I was 18”

When I heard the call of my parents’ homeland straight after she finished high school, the identity shift was one I was not prepared for.

I grew up a fairly Aussie kid in a very non-traditional Turkish household. I could speak the language fluently (courtesy of my mother and her trusty wooden spoon) and I loved the food, but for the most part, I paid no attention to the who, what, why, when and how of my parents’ homeland. The movies and TV series my mother kept bringing home from Turkish video store to play on our VCR didn’t interest me, nor did the wailing music they kept listening to. It’s not that I had a problem with my heritage, it’s just that it didn’t play a big part of my identity.

It’s difficult to explain when my views began changing, but when I turned 18, I suddenly began to feel the pull of the motherland. Seemingly out of nowhere, I felt a quiet desperation to explore Turkey and to get a better sense of where my family came from. I cleared my schedule for the next year, bought a plane ticket to Istanbul and so began the turning point of my life.

Seemingly out of nowhere, I felt a quiet desperation to explore Turkey and to get a better sense of where my family came from.

Arriving in Istanbul was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes performed such an assault on my senses I’m not sure I’ve ever quite recovered from it. Using Istanbul as my base, I spent the year exploring the country, reconnecting with family and understanding how I got to be me. Suddenly everything just started making sense, such as why I’ve always insisted on sitting on the floor rather than using the perfectly good sofas and armchairs at my disposal (it’s a throwback to my Ottoman heritage apparently), and why I feel sick with worry if someone doesn’t eat in my company (What do you mean you’re not hungry??). The trip ignited a flame within me and I came back to Sydney feeling like a different person.

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Around 20 years on, I identify as an Aussie first and foremost, but the Turk in me is strong. When I’m feeling sad, Turkish music seems to soothe me better than anything, and I love to get together with my parents to watch old Turkish movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Every year, I head back to Istanbul and inhale deeply, holding my breath. I’m aware that breathe has to be enough to sustain me for another 12 months until I see Turkey again.”


“I was encouraged to overlook my Aboriginal roots”

Indigenous artist and Archibald Prize finalist Blak Douglas was born to an Aboriginal father and Irish-Australian mother, yet it wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he learned to finally embrace his true self. He shares his story below with SBS. 

"For as long as I can remember, I was taught not to celebrate my Aboriginality. My father was black so it was a confusing time for me, but it was made clear by my mother’s side of the family as well as the general community that I should just ignore that side of my identity and focus on the white.

It might sound strange now, but the early 80s was not that long after the referendum [amending the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people in the census and allowing the Commonwealth to create laws for them], and Penrith, the suburb where I was growing up was pretty much a country town back then. I used to wonder why my dad didn’t speak up, but we never really had that discussion. He was raised by a white family himself so it tends to stand to reason, I guess.

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I hung around with a few Koori kids at school but it wasn’t until I got to university in 1994 that I realised could have my own opinions and have a voice about who I am and who I get to be. I was among peers and an Aboriginal mob who encouraged me to stand tall and take pride in my identity and that was exactly the support that I needed.

"It might sound trivial, but when you consider what I’ve gone through to get where I am today, it’s no small thing.”

Eventually I got a job at an Indigenous Australia exhibition at Australia Museum and came across a didgeridoo that was played by Yothu Yindi in the Treaty video. It was love at first sight; after I got some lessons, got stuck into field recordings and pretty much bought everything that had didgeridoo in it.

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Friday night soon became all about getting together with friends and listening to music and trying to incorporate what we were hearing into our playing style. Not long after that, I began both painting and playing the didgeridoo professionally across the country and around the world, travelling to countries such as Canada, Italy, Vietnam and Japan. I performed at events from the Rugby World Cup opening to Australian Idol and although that was a thrill, there really is nothing more exciting than being able to play an instrument I have such a deep cultural connection with. It might sound trivial, but when you consider what I’ve gone through to get where I am today, it’s no small thing.”

Blak Douglas is currently showing a suite of artworks at the Something Else is Alive exhibition at Sydney’s Customs House until February 18, 2018. For more information on his work, visit Blak Douglas.


“Setting up my Cuba travel business helped me reconnect with my homeland” 

Loving two countries is never easy, but Ayna Davies has stumbled on the perfect way to satisfy her cravings for her native Cuba while being able to enjoy her Australian lifestyle. Ayna shares her story with Dilvin Yasa below.

"My background is a fairly colourful one; I was born in Russia to a Mongolian mum and a Cuban father and we moved back to Cuba to when I was two years old. Don’t get me wrong, living in Cuba in the 90s when the economic climate was particularly harsh wasn’t easy, but I have fond memories of my childhood. Something about the generosity of the people and Cuba’s vibrant culture never left me – not even when I left to travel after University.

It was while I was travelling through Mongolia that I met Nick, the man who would become my husband. He’s originally from Wales but was living in Australia so after a couple of years together, I followed him here in 2008. The Western lifestyle is a different one to what I grew up with sure, but I didn’t really begin feeling homesick until I was pregnant with our first-born and I travelled back to Cuba with Nick and his parents for their first trip there. Before we left I was adamant that I didn’t want to check into a hotel and do ‘tourist’ Cuba, but that I wanted to go home and wanted them to feel at home too. We did the odd touristy thing of course, but for the most part, we stayed with my family and I took them to places only locals would know about. It was on the way back from this trip that my parents-in-law said, “Would you consider starting a business where you show travellers your Cuba?” And so the idea was born.

Nick and I now have two children aged four and three, but in 2015, our third baby Experience Cuba was born. Nick and I meet with the travellers to get an understanding of what they want from their holiday and we tailor a trip just for them. Once they get to Cuba, my mother, father or sister run the tours so it’s all family run and authentic. Obviously it’s great that both Nick and I were able to leave our jobs [Nick was a pilot while Ayna was an IT consultant] to focus on this full-time, but for me the bigger benefit has been that I’m finally able to have my cake and eat it too. I used to travel back to Cuba once every four years but the business has allowed me to reconnect with my culture and family and friends back home and now I travel back every six months. Just knowing our children will grow up with an affinity for both countries and cultures means everything to us.”

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