Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Mixers strive to outgrow outsiderdom

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Fardowsa Mohamed says she has found a place where she belongs.
Fardowsa Mohamed says she has found a place where she belongs.

"I fell in the night-time" is, in many ways, a typical blog of a bright, funny young New Zealander. The writer shares her scorn for "girl version" Lego and "cardboard infused" school uniform pants, and her admiration for Silence of the Lambs. She writes "about dogs and my dad and my best friend's boy problems" even though she'd like "... to write epic poetry about war".

But a less-typical post is called "things I'll miss: Mixit": "Mixit is my home, truly ... I cannot even begin to describe how much it has changed my life," she writes. "Every time I listen to the Tracy Chapman song (Fast Car) and she sings that line, 'And I had a feeling that I belonged, and I had a feeling I could be someone,' I think of Mixit."

The writer is Fardowsa Mohamed, the New Zealand-born daughter of Somali refugees who, impressively, is about to become an Otago medical student. Mixit is a community programme for refugee teenagers at Corban Estate Arts Centre in West Auckland, teaching things such as songwriting and acrobatics every Saturday.

Confidence is the aim, and creative arts are the means. The kids go from not looking others in the eye (as a mark of respect) to piping up (respectfully) with their own opinions.

And - Mixit's biggest drawcard - they see their mates. As Mohamed's blog suggests, belonging is important. Like the children of many migrants, Mixit participants, or "Mixers", are "caught between, not from here or there," says Mixit producer Wendy Preston. And for refugees in particular, years in transit create a "double whammy" of dislocation.

The Mixers' earliest memories are often of refugee camps; some were even born into families who were already refugees. It's hard to represent your Eritrean culture to outsiders "when your first memories are of Sudan", says Preston.

Refugee journeys were the theme of Crossroads, Mixit's ambitious outdoor performance last weekend, which contrasted motley colourful costumes and retro suitcases piled high on trolleys with the industrial cylinders and homogeneous concrete blocks of Wynyard Quarter's Silo Park. The show was upbeat and comic, but the group touched on some of the frustrations and dangers of their pre-Aotearoa lives. Nobody can relax properly while they're waiting, and this was well-depicted by the group swaying to a dreamlike melancholic track and occasionally starting awake, only to hear an announcement that "all flights have been cancelled".

But, in the finale, they all joyously reached their destination. The reality is more complex - problems such as post-traumatic stress mean that even refugees who reach safety have a tough time (and for many, New Zealand is not the end of the line but merely another staging post).

That's where Mixit comes in. Empowerment is key, says Preston. She gives references to Mixers for after-school supermarket jobs, and mentors a small youth leadership group, one of whom - Graciano Aganze - is now on the Mixit Charitable Trust. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aganze couldn't speak English when he arrived here in 2010. Now it's his seventh language, and he's training to become an electrician.

- NZ Herald

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