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Belonging in the Diaspora:
Comparative migration stories across England, Australia & New Zealand

What's this study about?

Our sense of belonging is shaped primarily from our place of birth (location), by the people who raise us (ancestry) within their traditions and beliefs (value); these are perhaps three of the most basic characteristics for ‘cultural identity’. Drawing on thoughts from Derrida to Foucault we can position the paradox of ‘identity’ on a spectrum that shifts between traditional schools of thought that identity is ‘reductive’ (Ruthrof, 1988), or really that which can ‘reconceptuliased’ (Racevskis, 1987).


This research project into cultural identity does not aim to make an exact theoretical abstraction of this dilemma but rather to channel Hall’s (1996) sense of revival locating ‘identity’ as “recognition of some common origin or shared characteristics with another person or group, or with an ideal, and with the natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on this foundation” (Hall, 1996: p.2). Given that humanity is now constantly in a state of geographical migration, it is noted that identities tend to change as we adapt and adopt our initial belief systems and values to accommodate for more characteristics that make our present-day evolved sense of ‘self’ (Heisler, 2001).


This research project would like to examine three different cultural groups (Chinese-Australian, Ukrainian-New Zealand & Caribbean-British) to understand what aspects of cultural identity remains constant to people who have migrated from the homeland to better understand why some values persist over others.


Case Studies & Researchers:

Trinidad & Tobago | England - Dr Melissa Jogie

The Trinidadian-British study aims to examine how spatiotemporal elements have impacted on cultural identity, by seeking to investigate how over time and location what elements of the original identity people choose to keep closest to their sense of belonging, and that which will be passed onto their future generations as a sense of their ‘traditional homeland’. Drawing on the current works of globalisation and cultural changes for the Caribbean (Premdas, 2011), this arm of the project seeks to do a closer investigation of the adaptations that have been made to Caribbean migrants who have only ever relocated in London.

The research collected in the form of five interviews with women from Trinidad capturing their relationship to the homeland having left over two decades. The narrative weaves a complex expression of companionship in the hearts of fellow citizens and nostalgia for the celebrations of Carnival, Christmas and Divali. Critical or significant markers of time like the 2008 financial crisis, or Sept11 and the fall of the Twin Towers in New York and the Tottenham riots in London were used triggers to elicit responses to how participants felt dynamic shifts of their relationship to the homeland, the new land and the importance of personal and cultural space. 


England-Trinidad: 'From La Trinity to London' (2021)

This interpretative mixed media on canvas board was derived as an interpretative analysis done with Trinidadian born visual artist Michelle Tappin-Davis and Trinidadian born UK based researcher Dr Jogie.


It tells the story of five migrant women, all Hindus, who migrated from a common district in Trinidad to London 15-25 years ago in order to pursue alternative career paths, but who still cling to fragments of the lives that they left behind through cultural and religious traditions from their native land.  

Central to the painting is The Temple in The Sea located in Waterloo, Trinidad. The actual temple was built stone by stone by Siewdass Sadhu, a poor labourer and Hindu devotee, over a period of 25 years, against all odds, who started the construction by walking one stone at a time out into the ocean in periods of low tide. Thus it is a testament to the ‘leap of faith’ undertaken by these migrant women. 



Artist:  Michelle Tappin Davis

Jogie_Trinidad_2021 (2).jpg

The temple is surrounded by red, white and black jhandis [Hindu religious flags], the colours of the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago. Five Scarlet Ibis, one of the national birds of the twin-island Republic, leave their flock below the lush green canopy and fly towards the glittering Christmas lights decorating the distant London Bridge. The difference in the time-zone is also indicated as, at dawn, the Scarlet Ibis rise from their roost in the Caroni Swamp in a synchronous ballet but at sunset, they fly at different times. 

The cultural traditions that warm the hearts of the migrants are also represented. The domino [mask textured into the base of the canvas] is iconic to the Trinidad Carnival, which represents the fun-loving nature and carefree spirit of their compatriot while the brilliance of the vegetation and the ocean evokes their longing for the calmness of the beaches and nature resorts. The high relief areas at the base of the painting were created by mixing hand-made paper, dyed with saffron and embedded with dried petals, into the paint. The saffron represents the traditional spice used by all Trinidadians in their recipes. The petals are a keepsake from Trinidad and the hand-made paper is a testament to the traditional values revered by the migrant women and still maintained in most Trinidadian families. 


China | Australia - Dr Daozhi Xu


The Chinese Australian study aims to examine the cultural identity of Chinese immigrants to Australia and their belonging—in cultural, social and emotional senses—to the land in which they currently reside. It seeks to reveal the ways in which Chinese Australians through the entanglements arising from the landscapes of work and living inscribe themselves into the land, ‘physically, sensually, emotionally and cognitively and socially’ (Dominy, 2003). Particularly, it will investigate how Chinese immigrants’ sense of belonging is posited within a wider debate between mainstream (mainly European) settlers’ claim of sovereignty and Indigenous people’s traditional connection to country. 


China-Australia: 'Don't Speak for Me' (2021)


“White people always tell us what to do. I don’t like that,” an Indigenous friend told me in my studio. I painted this "Don't Speak for Me" (180x180cm).In the centre of the work is a plain white plastic chair, against which propped a piece of cardboard taken apart from a box. It reads: “Don't speak for me!” In the background is desert. Uluru lies across the horizon. Nowadays Indigenous people are still fighting for their rights, social recognition, and to break through “segregation". On Indigenous issues, please do not attempt to make changes. One should place a proper mindset before taking an action. In so doing, it may make a difference.


Some caring and compassionate people want to help Indigenous people make changes. They help Indigenous people in their own way. There is nothing wrong to care about them. But it often ends up making decisions for Indigenous people which go against their will. There is no lack of compassion in Australia for it is one of the countries in the world to take in the most refugees each year. But caring people may have a condescending attitude towards whom they care about. For the sake of "caring", a noble and civilised word, they seek to change Indigenous people to achieve their wishful thinking. Sadly, discrimination against Indigenous people under the guise of "civilisation" is widely accepted. But fortunately, Indigenous traditional culture is not completely destroyed by modern civilisation. 



Artist:  Zhou Xiaoping

Ukraine | New Zealand - Dr Corinne Seals


The Ukrainian New Zealand study aims to investigate how Ukrainians living in the New Zealand diaspora (re)conceptualise what “home” means to them and how this shifting sense of home influences and is influenced by their sense of belonging in New Zealand. This will extend work presented by Seals (2019), this time working with migrants of all ages who moved from Ukraine to New Zealand as adults, therein arguably utilising a greater sense of agency when seeking to negotiate belonging in a country in which they are no longer the original historical inhabitants.


Ukraine-New Zealand: 'Vytynanka' (2021)


Vytynanka are, as suggested from the name, based on the Ukrainian traditional folk art of Vytynanka: Ukrainian Art Form of Cut Paper Designs. 

Trees of life represent some major symbols of Ukraine and New Zealand such as Sunflower for Ukraine and Kiwi bird, Nikau Palm and Koru for New Zealand. 

I thought that Koru meaning is very symbolic for expats as it represents new life and new beginnings. I have chosen the red colour for the Illustrations as it is the traditional colour for Ukrainian and Māori cultures: one of the things our cultures have in common. A full slideshow of art available here.



Artist:  Natalyia Tsyganok

Funded by the British Academy:

This project is one of twelve proposals to receive seed funding from the British Academy following from the UK-AUS Knowledge Frontiers Forum (2019), which was held in collaboration with the Australian Academy of Humanities (50th Anniversary) in Brisbane (Australia). The British Academy approved a budget of £4,000 for this interdisciplinary collaborative project to be conducted across the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. 


Research Outputs:

The researchers on this project would like to thank the British Academy for the funding to conduct this piece of research. As part of our dissemination we have set up a Project Webpage which showcases all the findings from the project. If you are interested in obtaining more information, or co-designing a research project of a similiar nature we encourage you to please get in touch with Dr Melissa Jogie (Principal Investigator) here.  


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