Today my workplace has foisted upon me “Cultural Diversity Day”. There have been about two weeks build-up to this grand event, with momentum over the last couple of days growing to fever-pitch amongst the organising teams. We have been asked to bring in items of food from our cultural background, wear culturally identifying garments (or supply them to be hung on display), bring in items of cultural interest, and so forth.
This has left me totally bewildered, and to a certain extent, depressed.
I don’t have a recognisable cultural identity. Nor do I want one. Most especially I don’t want anyone to force me to have one.
Let me explain.
I was born in Australia and as I live here permanently I consider myself Australian. My parents were born in England and New Zealand. They don’t particularly consider themselves English or New Zealanderish. My father probably considers himself more Rhodesian than English anyway, as that is where he grew up, but he’s definitely Aussie these days.
Their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born in England, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Poland and Belarus. Aside from my English grandparents on my father’s side, the others would probably have distanced themselves from their national identity. Why? They were culturally and ethnically Ashkenazi Jews.
Their Yiddish culture permeated my upbringing, in terms of language, food, identity and heritage. Yet that is not me. I do not identify as a Jew, as I believe religion is divisive and creates barriers to equality and harmony. I enjoy the influences I grew up with, but I don’t cling to them.
And so, as a first generation Australian who does not have an ethnic or religious identity, how do I contribute in an event at my workplace that wants me to label myself with a culture? Hard call, and one that does not make me very happy to have to do, despite wanting to contribute even in a small if not token way.
Yet I came up with a compromise. I brought in some lively, uplifting, happy, “freilach” Klezmer music. Music of my ancestors. Music I can identify with, that does not have a geography, does not have a specific ideology, that does not label me anything, and most importantly is universally loved and is most definitely cultural.
I am more than a label and I don’t want to have to choose one, or have anyone hang a label on me, as labels are restrictive and can be divisive.
This Cultural Diversity Day at my workplace has been very powerful for me and has allowed me to reflect deeply on who I am. It will be interesting to see how the day pans out and how I feel at the end of it. First and foremost though, I am Michael.