Academic journal article Antipodes

Multicultural Identity and Matters of Gender in Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi

Academic journal article Antipodes

Multicultural Identity and Matters of Gender in Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi

Article excerpt

The purpose of this essay is not to provide a definitive statement on multicultural literature in Australia but to show how Melina Marchetta's fiction can open new spaces for debate. The novelist, being aware of cultural variations, explores a range of issues such as identity, home, the physical and psychological challenges, the search for cultural roots, and the position of the "other"; in Looking for Alibrandi, it is used with reference to women's position in a patriarchal framework.

Marchetta (1965-) sets her novels in the suburbs, addressing issues that confront teenagers in a multicultural setting. Multiculturalism in Australia has seen the country's core values shift due to the influence of diverse cultures that migrants have brought with them and the cultural practices that have been absorbed into the mainstream. Marchetta's novels reflect such adaptations and adjustments that are made both by the migrants and by mainstream Australians. Her novels also help us comprehend multiculturalism as creating tolerance and parity among varied cultures, languages, and religions that exist in Australia. The focus on multiculturalism in Australia encourages unity with diversity. As an island, it has provided an objective for migrants who have made it a place apt for promoting diverse cultures. Minorities have not completely adopted dominant mainstream cultural influences; instead, they have been influential in modifying the dominant culture. This is a positive sign that implies conglomeration of cultures and some adjustments. Indeed, such a feature makes one recognize multiculturalism as promoting plurality of cultures.

Multiculturalism pertains to two different worlds, the ethnocultural and the place of relocation. These factors contribute to the place of the characters depicted by Marchetta as ambiguous-neither Australian nor Italian or Greek or Chinese. As Stuart Hall observes, migrant subjects are often suspended in between; such ambivalence is likely to give rise to new meanings for minority communities.

The term multiculturalism originated in the 1970s in Canadian politics, where it was found convenient to replace ambiguous set of ideas, with the intention being to promote the cultural and economic concerns and interests of certain non-Anglophone categories, basically to counter the emerging weight of French Canadians. As Christian Champion has noted, in Canada, there was "a complex nexus between ethnic political participation, changes in the symbolic order, and the emergence of multiculturalism" (23). And the stereotypical narrative of Anglophone Canadians encouraging speakers of other languages into the body politic of Canada's glorious mosaic was simplistic. Australia, without another European language in a defined, Québec-like space on its territory, did not have this particular wrinkle to its multicultural policy, but the ambiguity about whether multiculturalism was inclusion or co-optation remained.

Multiculturalism is represented as an important container for the harmonious coexistence of two major nationalities or cultures, which in turn projects the integrity of the nation. Canadian multiculturalism is understood as a historic appeasement of a third, allophonic group caught between English-speaking migrants and French-speaking equivalents. But these conditions cannot be taken to pertain to an Australian context, because multiculturalism as a concept requires the acceptance of varied cultures in Australia. It demands the right of every ethnic community to establish its language and culture in Australia. Further, multiculturalism should not be confused with an inclusion of Indigenous Australians, as Indigenous Australians were on the continent before any Europeans arrived, and their history and relation to the Australian polity are different than that of migrant ethnic groups like Italians, Greeks, or Chinese.

It is within this framework that Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi can be understood. …

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