Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

I’ve been away for work for awhile now, and hope to bring you more on this soon. For now, I thought I’d share with you a post I had planned to  publish weeks ago, but haven’t been able to finish until now. Let’s talk about the sociology of Indian people in Australia, with a case study of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Melbourne.

Indian migration to Australia has a long history, dating back to the 19th Century,  with early records showing the British brought Indian servants (noting this may have included forced servitude). At the time of colonial Australia’s first Census, there were 1,800 Indian people in Australia. Today, Indian-Australians represent our fourth largest migrant group and they are also the biggest growing migrant group next to China, with their population doubling in the past decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In the most recent Census of 2016, over 455,000 Australians were born in India, corresponding to 1.9% of our population, though this does not include the second-generation (their children born in Australia).  Together with Nepalese-Australians, Indian people make up 76% of the Hindu population in Australia (noting that Hindu people make up only 1.9% of our national population).

Indian families gather at Diwali: Indian Festival of Light Oct 2014. Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia
Diwali: Indian Festival of Light, Federation Square

Continue reading Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Latin girl wears a painted face for Dia De Los Muertos

This video by Eddie G provides an engaging Mexican-American introduction to El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Eddie G captures how one community celebrates the dead, as just one step in the “pyramid of life.” In describing the symbolism of the colours of a symbolic altar, one woman says:

[In Spanish] “The yellow is the beginning of life. The red is the momentum of the blood. Green represents settling down, starting a family, working, and helping the community. Blue represents the sky. The elders reminiscing and talking about their memories. That’s all we have left. The top is white. That’s death. “

The Day of the Dead has grown in popularity in the United States and in other places outside Mexico. Non-Mexicans may be attracted to the colourful costumes, the skulls, face-painting and the “cool” allure of death. Yet the significance of this spiritual festival is more than just about death. It is a symbol of post-colonial struggles and a celebration of life.

Education researchers Dafina Lazarus Stewart and Adele Lozano (2009) see that the Day of the Dead is an important tradition that can help introduce students to intercultural experiences. In particular, it is an opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and draw connections between cultures of resistance amongst various other Latin American traditions, as well as a way to better understand the links between various Latin youth social movements around the world. The researchers write:

The concept of resistance is an important cultural/ political aspect of Día de los Muertos. Although the Latina/o population consists of diverse groups, most share a history of colonialism and oppression. It is commonly believed that Indigenous populations in Mexico refused to back down when the Spanish colonisers tried to force them to relinquish their annual Día de los Muertos ritual (Brandes, 1998). Many Latina/o college students are aware of this spirit of resistance and may draw parallels to their own struggles to pursue higher education in the face of institutional racism, financial hardships, and marginalisation within the academy. Día de los Muertos can serve to empower students as they recognize the importance of resistance, connect with their spiritual selves, and reaffirm the value of their cultural traditions…

The researchers note that to an outsider, the Day of the Dead seems to hold a morbid fascination with death and the occult. In fact, this festival actually draws on symbols of duality and profound spirituality, both of which are central to Mexican culture: “death is viewed as a continuation of life through the open acknowledgement of the reality of a spiritual, nonmaterial existence.”

References

D. Lazarus Stewart and A. Lozano (2009) ‘Difficult Dialogues at the Intersections of Race, Culture, and Religion,’ New Directions for Student Services 125: 23-31.

Continue reading Sociology of the Day of the Dead

bell hooks on Critical Thinking

“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” ― bell hooks

Black American cultural theorist bell hooks’ distinguished contribution to sociology has been to unearth the intersecting issues of cultural difference, race and knowledge within feminism. Starting out as a literature professor, hooks would go on to challenge cultural studies in the early 1980s with books such as Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. Her work shows how women of colour have been marginalised by power structures in society as well as by White feminists who purport to speak about the universal struggle of all women. hooks argued that mainstream feminism silences experiences of race, ethnicity and class.

For the past three decades, hooks has explored the representation of race in popular culture, and how this affects social relations and public education. In the seminal Cultural Transformation video series, from 1997, bell hooks explains the importance of critical thinking for women in general, as well as for racial justice. Her work has been adopted by feminists and cultural theorists around the world. Let’s take a look back at this work and its prevailing resonance two decades later.

Gif of bell hooks talking. Quote reads: 'Critical thinking is at the heart of anybody transforming their life.'

Continue reading bell hooks on Critical Thinking

Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

On the 8 August 2018, only four days after I published my last post on the social construction of migrant youth deviance in public spaces (Zevallos 2018a), there was an incident whipping up racist fear of ‘Sudanese gangs’ in the area where I went to school as a youngster. I had flown home for a workshop and then visited my family. They told me how the local gossip grapevine and local media were misreporting the event. Initial word-of-mouth said that between 200 to 300 Sudanese youth gathered at Watergardens Shopping Centre and were starting trouble, throwing rocks at police. While Nine News (2018) reported 20 to 30 kids vandalised property, ABC News (2018) reported up to 50 young people had come for a fight ‘over girlfriends.’ Riot police confronted the youth, and blocked the area. The next day, my family saw police on horses patrolling the Coles supermarket carpark (!).

All of this to stop Black children from gathering together in a public place.

In a week where we saw Nazi language used in the Australian Parliament, let’s delve into the use of scaremongering as a social control mechanism that reinforces political strategy.

Continue reading Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Silhouette of figures wearing baseball caps with the sunset in the background

This cartoon below by Charles Barsotti is a good illustration of the social construction of group deviance in public spaces. This cartoon points out how some social groupings can be given negative labels, such as a “cult.” The beliefs or the practices of particular socio-economic groups can are treated with suspicion by a dominant group where they do not conform to society’s norms, values, behaviour or appearance. Non-conformity can lead to the creation of stereotypes; that is, labels that simplify specific qualities of some people as typical of the group they belong to (hence the cartoon, where one wolf says to another, “We’re a pack, not a cult.”).

In most circumstances crowds that “blend in” and meet society’s standards of “acceptability” escape the stigma of social deviance. Cases where “ordinary” groups might be negatively labelled by authorities might occur during times of civil unrest, such as during political protests, or due to other political cycles, such as the lead up to an election.

Racial minority youth are often labelled as deviant simply for being in public. In the case of Aboriginal youth, even something as routine as being in a shopping centre is mired by harassment by security (Perry 2018: Powell 2018). In another example, Muslim girls have been forced to leave a school excursion at a public exhibition centre because other visitors felt “uncomfortable” (Foster 2017).

Let’s take a look at this problem of stereotyping racial minority youth in public spaces, focusing specifically today on migrant minorities. We’ll examine how labelling these youth as “deviant” keeps society from paying attention to pressing social problems, such as structural inequality and interpersonal gender violence.

Continue reading The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Interview: How to Deal with Microaggressions

Image of a Brown woman in the background with white paint smeared over her eye area

I was interviewed by SBS News on microaggressions. Below is an excerpt featuring my comments.

“When people point out the impact of microaggression they also hear ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ or ‘can’t you take a joke?’” says Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who has studied microaggressions in Australia. She says confrontation isn’t the best way out of these situations.

“There’s a lot of psychological stress when you’ve been injured by their comments and then they tell you what you experience is invalid.”

The best way is get the other person to be reflective. “Questions stop the other person because they have to think, rather than be defensive.”

“And you shouldn’t expect a minority to always speak for themselves, it’s on all of us to tackle together.”

Another effective way is to express disappointment if it was done by someone you know well.

“We know from research most people hold a positive view of themselves,” says Dr Zuleyka [sic].

“When you say “I always thought you were a reasonable person” or “I can’t believe I’m hearing this for you” it turns the mirror around.”

Read more on SBS News.

Learn more on racial microaggressions on my blog.

Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

Harmony and Anti-Racism

Crowd gathers at a multiculturalism event, including women in hijab and children playing drums

I was one of the speakers at an internal corporate event for Harmony Day. This day recognises Australian multiculturalism, but in many workplace and community events, this usually focuses on migrants and not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Harmony Day actually coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (a commemoration which does include Indigenous people). The former is a celebration, the latter is a call for anti-racist action and social change. Myself and the other speakers took our cue from the latter. This is what I said.

I was born in Lima, Peru. My family migrated to Australia when I was young. My identity as a migrant-Australian woman has shaped much of my early research career and continues to drive my sense of social justice and my work to this day.

Today I’m going to give you a sociological context for racial diversity in Australia, and how to promote racial harmony in our communities and our workplace. Continue reading Harmony and Anti-Racism

Word

Today’s Weekends With a Sociologist lunges us into the heart of Australian suburbia. There’s revelry in Australiania, a notion that I’ve never been especially comforable with, but we’re plunging in all the same! You’ll see there is much to cringe about, and more delights in store, in Jon Campbell’s Word. The Irish-Australian migrant artist lives in Coburg, an inner Northern suburb of Melbourne. The exhibition is based on his artworks that use numerous light boxes to emphasise the language of the working class in the inner Northern and Western suburbs of Melbourne, the typical signage seen along country roads, and Anglo-Aussie surf culture. Banners host Aussie venacular, pub menu items, live music posters, and peculiar messages familiar to locals.

This exhibition includes Stacks On (2010) and the 65 metre mural commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

Continue reading Word

Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Two people walk along the foreshore. In the background, other groups gather at the pier taking photos and looking around, while others are near a giant vessel. The sun shines brightly as it sets over the water

My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!

What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.

Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).

Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).

Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).

Continue reading Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish