Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

By Lynne Hume; Jane Mulcock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Doing Ethnography in "One's Own Ethnic
Community"
The Experience of an Awkward Insider

Val Colic-Peisker

I finally succumbed to my "Croatianness" upon arrival in Australia. This was an unexpected development, as I left my country to escape—among other calamities of postcommunism—the high tide of nationalism. In the face of war, the politics of identity had become unbearably simple: we were divided into "good Croatians" and "enemies." I did not feel I belonged to either of these categories. In Australia, however, my Croatianness was imposed on me in a novel way. I became a person who speaks "with an accent" and was repeatedly asked where I had come from. I soon realized that my "ethnicity," evident in my accent, had become one of the most noticeable markers of my identity, at least in superficial social encounters.

Many migrants to Australia from non-English-speaking countries resent being asked, "Where do you come from?" They feel that the question defines them as outsiders. I always regarded such inquiries as "small talk," perhaps even signs of friendliness, but I sometimes resented my interlocutor's utter ignorance about my country of origin, once revealed. Several months after I arrived in Perth, Western Australia, a small incident made me feel like a second-class citizen for the first time: I encountered a large map of Europe in a university library that did not include Croatia. Instead, there was a blank dark blue area stretching from Slovenia in the west to Bulgaria in the east. The cartographers did not bother to draw in the countries in between, which were at war at the time the map was printed (1993). I hurried away, embarrassed. I was a person from a nameless land, from a country that was not even on the map. This event made me think about how migration had changed the way I felt about being Croatian. I was more willing to be a Croatian in Australia than when I was in Croatia. These thoughts were the embryo of my research project on the migration experience of Croatians in Australia.

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