Academic journal article Ethnologies

Zustreech or Encounters of a Transnational Kind: Negotiating Ukrainianness in Western Canada

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Zustreech or Encounters of a Transnational Kind: Negotiating Ukrainianness in Western Canada

Article excerpt

Cet article traite de la question de la negociation identitaire dans un contexte transnational, au moyen de l'analyse ethnographique des << pratiques ukrainiennes >> contemporaines a Mundare, petite communaute ukrainienne situee au coeur de la colonie ukrainienne, en Alberta du centre-est. Cet article porte sur la mise en scene du langage et des pratiques de l'association culturelle Zustreech, organisee dans cette communaute par des immigrants recemment arrives d'Ukraine. Tandis que la negociation identitaire entre les Ukrainiens locaux et leurs homologues du vieux pays s'alourdit de problemes de communications, a l'occasion de plusieurs evenements publics mis en scene par l'association Zustreech, de tels evenements parviennent cependant a alimenter de nouvelles experiences identitaires ukrainienne-canadienne.

This article deals with the questions of identity negotiation in a transnational context, through an ethnographic examination of contemporary "Ukrainian practices" in Mundare, a small Ukrainian community, located in the heart of the Ukrainian bloc settlement in east central Alberta. The article focuses on performative language and practices of a Zustreech cultural society organized in this community by recent immigrants from Ukraine. While identity negotiation between the local Ukrainians and their old country counterparts is fraught with miscommunication in the domain of various public events staged by the Zustreech society, such events do succeed in fostering new experiences of Ukrainian-Canadian identity.

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Bogdan: (1) ... and then [regarding the name Zustreech, or "meeting"] I was thinking, we all met here, Ukrainians from Yugoslavia, their grandparents and great grandparents, their roots, are from Western Ukraine; Polish Ukrainians as well; even korinni ["native," here meaning local] Ukrainians started to come out. And we are from Ukraine ourselves ...

Iryna: ... all the immigrants came together, those who still remember our collective subbotniks and with exclamations "hurrah" dived into work (2) (Pivovarchuk and Pivovarchuk 2001).

February 3, 1999. Another cozy evening at the Pivovarchuks, Zustreech headquarters. We are all around the kitchen table. This is the well known and debated Soviet, or Slavic, as argued by Ries (1997) ritual of connecting. The conversation is most relaxed when conducted in such a setting, and you feel welcomed to people's home. There are unwashed dishes in the sink, food on the table, coffee, tea. Bogdan, the host, makes sure all participants in this kitchen ritual attend to alcoholic beverages. There is zakuska, or appetizers, there is sausage. Iryna, the hostess, ensures we have enough food to go on. Mykhailo, a fellow villager from Ukraine on the (year long)visit to the Pivovarchuks, is preoccupied with his global travels from Ukraine, to Canada, and to the States, full of anxiety and fear to be rejected at the American consulate where he, Bogdan and Fred, a Zustreech member from Edmonton, travel tomorrow. Bill, a fifty year old local farmer, and Olena, a university educated school teacher from Ukraine visiting Canada with one of the Canadian NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), are in the midst of their own talk.

   Bogdan (to me): Look at this couple, Bill and Olena. She was about
   to leave the country and here Bill came into her life (Bogdan
   happily exclaims). They've got engaged yesterday. This is good. So,
   Olena can stay here now. This is good, too. We need fresh blood to
   build Ukraine here, right Bill? Look at them, they just have met, a
   month ago, at Obzhynky. See, our Zustreech (encounters) at work.

At some point struggling through the mix of languages, English, Ukrainian from Ukraine or rustic Ukramian from a local prairie hamlet, through topics, voices, I reach Bill with the question: "Bill, do your neighbours and you yourself want to built Ukraine here?" Bill looks at me, slightly puzzled, in the effort to understand what exactly I want from him. …

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