The places in which people contest and negotiate cultural diversity are themselves meaningful. Places hold cultures, histories and memories, and shape people’s interactions. A suburb of a city is one such place.
In our Identities article, ‘Making a place in Footscray: everyday multiculturalism, ethnic hubs and segmented geography’, we explore the meaning and experiences of cultural diversity in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. We interviewed both residents of Footscray and others who had close connections to the suburb about their everyday experiences in the suburb, particularly around cultural diversity.
Footscray is culturally diverse, both in terms of the number of people born outside of Australia and the range of nations from which people have migrated. While racism and racialisation form part of the dynamics of the suburb, Footscray, on the whole, is a place in which people embrace cultural diversity, and everyday diversity has come to be a defining feature of the suburb.
While the people we interviewed all valued the multiculturalism of the suburb, what they meant by multiculturalism and what they most valued about it differed. One of the Anglo-Australian participants said he had left a ‘white-bread sanitised’ suburb for Footscray. But it was not just a comment made by Anglo-Australian residents. One man from an African background said people ‘appreciate the diversity and how that diversity really works…’. Others talked about it in terms of ‘welcome’ and ‘comfort’ and contrasted this with other Australian places.
Many people made their place in the suburb because it has become a hub for one specific ethnic community. It was a central point within a network and had core social, cultural and economic activities. One man who had migrated from India described the dual roles these hubs can play. He said that you want the social connections of people from a similar background ‘so you are not alone’, but these hubs are also practical resources. Another person described how as a child they frequently visited Footscray because their parents who had migrated from Vietnam would come to shop, but also to be around their social networks.
Footscray can also be understood as a segmented locality. There are distinct precincts, Vietnamese and African most especially. But the collective memory of Footscray as a place of migrancy and a ‘safe’ place to express diversity was important in making community in the suburb. This collective memory provided an important resource for place connection, identity and connection. With this, a dominant theme that emerged was that while diversity was valued there was an acknowledgement that bridging these across networks was difficult and took time to develop.
Our study showed that place-making and belonging in Footscray is not merely about celebrating ethnicity or the result of ‘multicultural drift’. It is a story of purposefully engaging with ethnic diversity and, for many, working intentionally on these connections in place and making place.
Blog post by Nicole Oke and Christopher Sonn, Victoria University, Australia
Read the full article: Oke, Nicole; Sonn, Christopher C; & McConville, Christopher. Making a place in Footscray: everyday multiculturalism, ethnic hubs and segmented geography. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2016.1233880