Today I delivered two autobiography workshops at the Immigration Museum. The first one was to year 9 students at Dandenong High school and the second to Grade 6 students at Eltham Primary School.
The students first visited the museum exhibition on identity and Faith, Fashion, Fusion and then we undertook some writing activities delving into the nature of our identity, thinking about who we are, who we want to be, and how knowing our story helps us to deal with life's challenges.
Doing these workshops was such a pleasure because it draws on what I've been doing with the anthology, and it also highlights how much more natural and effortless these public speaking opportunities are since I've been teaching this year.
During the workshop I had a conversation with one of the teachers who asked me about why Muslims put their identity forward. Which was a great question because it in a sense addressed the whole issue of why is there an anthology about the experiences of Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia.
He said 'I'm Christian and I don't ever say that about myself.'
And I said 'Well no one asks you.'
I explained that I never tell people that I'm Muslim because in fact I am not. I am of Muslim background and this means that this is a part of my identity and who I am, but that I always qualify that I am not practicing, and I only engage in this discussion because people put me in that position.
With me the conversations goes something like this.
Random stranger: "Your name is interesting. Where is it from?'
Random stranger: "Bosnian. Does that mean that you are Muslim?"
Me: "Muslim background."
Random stranger: "So why aren't you covered?"
Me: "I'm non practicing."
And while I don't mind these conversations and having the opportunity to engage in dialogue that will clarify misconceptions about Muslim people, it just underlined why there is the need for the anthology and the voices of real Muslims telling their stories and their experiences. So I told him to read the book and hopefully we both walked away with a wonderful shared experience. For me it was an affirmation of the importance of what I'm doing and for him it's an understanding about understanding that identity is not just what we are, but what people put on us.
I'm going to be delivering another round of workshops at the Immigration Museum on identity during the Melbourne Writers Festival on Thursday the 28 August 2014. And I'm also on a panel with Demet Divaroren on Wednesday 27 August 2014 about Growing up Muslim.
*A big thank you to Jan Morley at the Immigration Museum for live tweeting the workshop and photos.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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