Where I Belong
Linda Eisler is a Greens member, with a background in local council and prior to this taught in schools for over twenty years. Through her work as a Greens member Eisler has forged strong relationships with her community and believes in creating positive change through education and grassroots action.
MEET LINDA EISLER.
THE PIN. Can you describe your childhood and background?
LINDA EISLER. I’m the eldest of four, I’ve got a younger brother and sister the fourth child, a brother, was adopted. Mum and Dad met in Australia and fell in love. My nana didn’t want them to get married as people thought dad looked Aboriginal, he was dark with curly hair. In the end mum pushed for it and nana stood at the back of the church saying, ‘you’ll be sorry, you’ll be back’. Eventually nana gave in and invited mum and dad for Easter. Dad forgave nana and said, ‘she’s your mum’.
Mum was catholic and dad was atheist so we grew up catholic. We didn’t know anything about dad’s background from dad, only learning bits as we got older.
Did one culture dominate your family household?
L. Mum was the cook so we had mainly Aussie meals but there would always be salami and rollmops in the fridge. Everyone that came by used to be fascinated by this, at the time even salami was unusual.
Hungarian food was about as close as we came to understanding that part of our identity. I just felt I was a gypsy and identified with being Hungarian because I didn’t fit the mould of being English.
We’ve spoken with people whose parents instilled a sense of pride and understanding in their children about identity, is this something your parents did?
L. Dad never talked about his past. My mother told me more things about his family but for the most part nobody talked about it. His father had been in the ghettos and had survived, it was just too painful. My father always had an unsaid sadness and it was there with me too, it left me with a feeling of difference and of being an outsider. On the same token, because of my upbringing I felt like I had to make a difference. Everybody reacts differently and I am grateful for the pain and suffering of my father because it made me who I am.
You were previously a school teacher for over twenty years before heading into politics, do you think an understanding of identity and/or culture is important for young people?
L. I think we need to build acceptance of people and of who they are, what they believe in and where they come from. It is vital for self esteem.
A lot of young people today are joining with radical groups because they feel like they don’t fit anywhere else. These groups make them feel like they fit in with something. From my point of view we need to make people feel that they are a part of the community and they are welcome as they are.
How important is the language politicians use, such as words like illegal or queue jumpers, in how we identify and move forward?
L. That type of language is verbal violence. If I call you something like that, I’m doing it to attack you, which can be worse than physical violence. That type of language undermines who people are and their sense of worth and value.
It doesn’t matter how strong a person is, we can all be undermined and people crack and break. We need to work toward building happy, healthy and resilient communities. We can’t achieve this through verbal attacks.
Are there particular aspects of multiculturalism you think Australia is particularly good at and areas where you see a need for improvement?
L. I think when Australians get to know people on an individual level we accept them. One of the things I helped start in Canterbury (NSW) was interfaith talks. We were trying to work out how to get more communication across cultures and we’d have talks where we had people from different faiths such as Islam, different Christian religions, Buddhism and Aboriginal backgrounds cover different topics, such as spirituality. When you have people gather together and talk about their beliefs or practices you realise same, same but different. Situations like this are really good for educating people. Australians also embrace food, people love going to different places and eating different things.
Where we’re not good, people are territorial in Australia. A good example is the Cronulla riots, a belief that ‘this is our beach’. Interestingly we don’t acknowledge that it’s not even our place, this is the Aboriginals place and we’re not respectful enough of the country, environment and how it works.
Do you think it is possible for a person to belong to more than one culture?
L. Well, I do. When I think of where I belong I think more along the lines of where I fit intellectually. I don’t get along well with close minded people from any nationality. There are women who I admire, who do things in their community and are strong, passionate people, who come from all cultures. They’re the type of people I feel I belong with.
What are your hopes for your family and younger generations in terms of culture and identity in Australia?
L. I would love to know that they feel good about who they are, that they are resilient and that they are able to make a positive contribution to our society. I hope for them to be socially and environmentally responsible, and more concerned with building our community than building a bigger house or getting a bigger car.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
LINDA EISLER. I am a very strong personality and previously had no self confidence. If I could, I would have started doing vipassana meditation when I was younger, it has helped me find my solid core and to be more comfortable in my skin. It may sound like strange advice to my younger self but vipassana meditation has given me what I needed in life and allowed me to be happy and content with who I am.
- This interview has been edited and condensed.