Stories of diaspora and identity

A couple of years ago, I was asked to help a woman, Audrey Fernandes-Satar,  who was writing a book from her PhD thesis on her and her family’s experience of fleeing their native land of Goa, and the journey from there to Mozambique and finally, Australia. She had created a body of artworks around this theme. I remember that a couple of years before, I had been to a paper she gave at the Curtin postgraduate conference, where she showed slides of her artwork and told some of her story. I remember being very moved, and standing to give her an ovation (I was the only one who stood to clap, but I didn’t care). These words are from the abstract to her thesis:

In this project I bear witness to the oppressive policies of the fascist government in Portugal and the effects of displacement and exile. I bear witness to how identity and culture can serve as a vehicle of empowerment, how experiences of belonging can germinate and take root, post diaspora.

Audrey’s book, After the Last Ship, is soon to be published by Peter Lang. I have been step by step on this writing journey with Audrey, and have found it a most moving and enlightening experience. I can’t wait to read the book in print, and will review it here.

Meanwhile, here is a lovely piece she has sent me about the experience of writing the story with my help:

On Writing

I was born into language, the stories that my grandmother and other mothers passed on to me filled my life. They were accounts that defined the world around me… the stars the oceans the earth… I lived through times when these histories were broken others replaced them, supplanting them and obscuring them.

I slowly learnt how to forget what I remembered. Never imagining myself as a writer, or a poet or a storyteller.

Then I came to writing as a researcher, finding this a safe place from which to write, somewhere where I could hide my voice behind ‘ theory’.  The question that haunted me was – How to write, to whom and why?

I have worked with Christina Houen for almost two years, adapting my thesis into a manuscript to be published. It is titled After the Last Ship. Her guidance has been crucial to tease out the stories obscured by academic writing. She gently posed questions and asked for more. I had to dig deeper. It was not easy. She waited to hear back from me many times. I had to wait until the anguish and the tears dried. She waited as well. The story unraveled slowly, it shaped the manuscript.

I know I was born to be a storyteller.

Audrey Fernandes-Satar, October 2013

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8 Comments

Filed under diaspora and identity

8 responses to “Stories of diaspora and identity

  1. Christina, what a wonderful endorsement of your work, support and belief in Audrey’s story. It is such an important but sometimes unacknowledged part of the writing process. Congratulations to you, and to Audrey on the telling of your story and its imminent publication.

  2. Thank you, Marian. I love this sort of work, and would do more of it willingly. teasing out the hidden stories, the pain and grief and joy behind the words. I’ll pass your congratulations on to Audrey!

  3. Wonderful, Christina! Bless you for helping her get her story out. Such stories help us empathize with others as well as expose history we’ve never heard of before. I hope the publisher includes at least some of Audrey’s art.

  4. How lovely, Christina. This resonates with me on multiple levels. I too am writing about diaspora and identity and exile, an academic exegesis about the voices I hear and do not hear, and memory and monsters. I would love to read this happy collaboration of story teller and journeywoman.

  5. jenni Hibbard

    This book sounds revelatory and I will be keen to read it!
    A few Tibetans have put their stories into a book “The Eclipse of the Spirit”, not complex, just simple descriptions and stories of their displacement and the (what they see as a temporary) eclipse of their culture, their spirituality which is their identity.
    It is so important that these people who have stories of ‘displacement and exile” are able to express their changing life framework and to be heard.
    The thing that always is so heartening is that these people can still feel a passion for life, peace, love, even amongst the grief, loss and trauma.
    Well done!! and this is a rather beautiful face of humanity…..

  6. Thanks, Jenni. I”m glad you read this post. Yes, Audrey’s story is profoundly moving and revelatory, because it tells it from the heart, informed by theory but not dominated by it. The Eclipse of the Spirit sounds special; I’d like to read it.
    Yes, people who’ve lost their homelands have so much to teach us about honouring the places, the people and their cultures that they have come from, and cherishing our own.

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