Dancing to the same rhythm of life
What happens when four Aboriginal elders and three Filipino women gather round the dining table and share each other’s life stories? A workshop that uncovers many similarities between two distinct cultures. Here are some excerpts from the report written by Deborah Ruiz Wall following the project.
In October last year, Deborah Ruiz-Wall, a long time advocate for the rights of Filipino and Indigenous Australians, led a workshop that gave women of Aboriginal and Filipino descent a chance to interact with each other.
Deborah wanted to find the answers to questions like; what do Aboriginal women know about Filipino women and vice versa? What do they know about social issues, such as racial discrimination and domestic violence, that have an impact on their lives?”
Aboriginal elders with Filipino writer and Aboriginal Filipino relations advocate Deborah Wall (2nd from right).
To facilitate the storytelling and performance writing workshop held at Redfern Community Centre, she invited Wollongong-based Australian-Filipina author and English professor, Dr. Merlinda Bobis.
The participants of the intensive three-day workshop were Aboriginal Elders Aunty Joyce Ingram, Auntie Sylvia Scott, Aunty Betty Little and Aunty Ali Golding, along with Filipinas, Bet Dalton, Miguela de Lara and Maria Elena Ang.
The premise was simple. Deborah asked all seven women to fill up a pre-workshop and post-workshop attitude survey to find out what their general impressions were, views on racial discrimination, reconciliation and what they hope to gain from the discussions.
The results were enlightening and revealed that the two distinct cultures share more common ground than meets the eye.
Aunty Ali and Merlinda Bobis.
“Put your hands on the table – look, our colours even look alike now.”
According to Deborah and Merlinda, what began as ‘telling my story’ evolved into ‘listening to her story’. The women found that they share the same joys and struggles. The project was a personal and concrete ‘reconciliation’ activity between Aboriginal and Filipino women.
“The laying of hands on the table and seeing this ‘alikeness’ is perhaps the greatest success of this workshop, and this is what we consider groundbreaking for participants in a personal sense,” said Merlinda.
However, she had to revise their initial strategy of a performance writing workshop as both cultures have a strong oral tradition of storytelling which is a more powerful and effective communication medium between the two.
“They’re no different from us.”
At the beginning of the workshop, all the participants’ identification of their common ground and differences were mere impressions but at the end of it, their responses showed more insight.
For example, Filipino women all recognised the Aboriginal women’s orientation to family — ‘like Filipinos’. In the end, both groups did not find much difference between each other, with the exception of language. Three of the four Aboriginal respondents had become painfully aware of the loss of their language in contrast with their Filipino counterpart who still have theirs. But bear in mind that the Filipino participants are first generation migrants.
Other highlights of the study included a shift from Filipino women not having a particular view on Aboriginal women to having a positive regard for them.
“They have retained their language. We haven’t but we are all women and all hurt the same.”
The Aboriginal participants also noticed that the Filipino women had a good handle of their language and used it to communicate. In contrast, they lamented the loss of theirs.
More similarities were found after the workshop. For example, the Aboriginal women had a growing admiration for the tenacity of Filipino using terms such as ‘pride, ‘over-comers’ and ‘strong’.
In the outset, the Filipino women didn’t have strong views about reconciliation between the white Australians and the Aboriginal people but by the end of the workshop, they said they were interested in supporting ‘reconciliation’ issues.
Deborah concluded that the results of the survey have “validity” only within the seven women involved. But there were lessons that can be learned by the wider community. For example, one Aboriginal respondent appreciated the importance of language in keeping a culture strong. Both groups also bonded after sharing their painful and traumatic experiences.
She recommends further storytelling workshops between Aboriginal and other Australian women from other backgrounds be explored by other groups.
* Excerpts from the research and report on ‘Storytelling around the Dining Table: a writing and performance workshop for Aboriginal and Filipino women’ by Deborah Ruiz Wall (Filipino Women’s Working Party) in collaboration with the participants and art workers.