Drawing on innovative ethnographic research, Exile and Return Among the East Timorese explores questions of shifting identity and home, trauma and embodiment, belonging and return among the East Timorese abroad at this critical juncture in their lives.
2006 | 248 pages | Cloth $65.00
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Table of Contents
Introduction: "We can't hang Xanana there!": On the Politics of Representing Community
1. East Timor: A History of the Present
2. Leaving the Crocodile: The East Timorese Community in Sydney
3. Nation, Transnation, Diaspora: Locating East Timorese Long Distance Nationalism
4. Embodying Exile: Embodied Memory and the Role of Trauma, Affect, Politics, and Religion in the Formation of Identities in Exile
5. Locating East Timoreseness in Australia: Layers of Hybridity, Anchored and Enmeshed
6. From Exile to Diaspora? On Identity, Belonging, and the (Im)Possibility of Return Home
7. Conclusion: Independence Day: Looking to the Future
Afterword: January 2005
"We can't hang Xanana there!"
On the Politics of Representing Community
It is often said that East Timor's President Xanana Gusmão, former guerrilla fighter and national hero, is the Nelson Mandela of Southeast Asia. A romantic, saint-like figure, he became an icon for East Timor's cause, appearing on posters and T-shirts in his beret, reminiscent of the famous image of Ché Guevara. Every solidarity supporter had his picture on their wall, and East Timorese children graffiti his likeness together with messages of resistance. Described as "poet, resistance fighter and peace maker," Xanana has become a hero for our times. What a surprise, then, to find myself in a local museum in Sydney's western suburbs, mediating a dispute between museum management and members of the East Timorese community, the latter demanding Xanana's image be moved to a less prominent location.
In 2001 I was asked to curate an exhibition in partnership with two East Timorese artists and a group of East Timorese youth. The exhibition, "Leaving the Crocodile," was held at the Liverpool Regional Museum to celebrate the history of the East Timorese community in Sydney and to reflect on their present situation following the 1999 referendum that led to East Timor's independence. I worked with them for more than a year to collect items for the exhibition. The youth group also took charge of a video camera for twelve months, during which time they persuaded friends, family, and community members, in living rooms and at East Timorese community events, to be interviewed on a range of issues having to do with living in Australia and their thoughts about the future. After much thought and discussion about how the exhibition should be presented, we settled on a format for the display, centered on two separate rooms. Artworks produced by the youth group, visually articulating their identity issues as young East Timorese in Australia, would be on display in the first room visitors encountered on entering the exhibition space. The room would also include photographs documenting the nonpolitical aspects of the community from 1975 to the present. These included photographs of community groups over the years, cultural items from family collections, and photo-portraits and accompanying interviews with five selected community members. Those featured a community leader, a kung fu teacher, a fashion designer, a gay man, a young woman involved in the resistance, and José Ramos-Horta's mother. The group wanted this room to feel welcoming, to emanate a sense of warmth, hope, and joy. It featured a giant version of East Timor's crocodile icon fashioned from bright yellow paper napkins (made by a member of the community with assistance from the youth group) and a wall-sized mural of a sacred tree in magenta and sky-blue. The centerpiece was formed by six-and-a-half-foot wooden totem poles, with visual stories painted on them by members of the youth group.
The process of painting these poles is a story in itself. Most of the poles featured a hybrid combination of imagery from East Timor and life in Australia. However, one young man was somewhat embarrassed because his pole didn't have anything "East Timorese" on it; it featured some images from the Sydney Olympics and a dragonlike figure. Some of the girls thought that was all right; perhaps the dragon represented the Chinese influence in East Timor. But, in fact, he sheepishly admitted, the dragon was the symbol of his favorite soccer team. So even at the young age of seventeen, this young man was feeling pressure to identify with an ethnicity he didn't feel particularly attached to. We included the pole as it was, once I'd convinced them that they didn't have to show "ethnic" symbols if they did not wish to.
The second room contained historical photographs, artifacts, and documents pertaining to the Sydney East Timorese community's contribution to the independence struggle. The two rooms were split because there was a consensus among the group that they were tired of seeing the sad pictures from the struggle over and over again. They felt that now that East Timor was independent, perhaps it was the time to show a more hopeful side of the community.
The whole process of planning this very community-driven exhibition was amazingly enlightening. While we were working in the museum in the two weeks leading up to the opening, members of the East Timorese community would wander in and look around, offering suggestions on what was missing or what should be hung where, or giggle over old photos in which they recognized themselves or someone they knew. Many would bring in new photographs or items (although the cut-off date had long since passed), imploring me to include them, as they believed the objects or photographs were absolutely essential to the story. I'd either have refuse diplomatically or find an extra corner to squeeze the item in. In the end, the exhibition was crammed with all sorts of items, some of which held meaning only for the East Timorese community. The chaotic nature of the collection we ended up with drove the museum's exhibition designer crazy. As he was responsible for the overall aesthetic look of the exhibition, we had many arguments over the community's right to include what they wanted as against his desire to make it a visually clean and appealing space that foregrounded images that would appeal to the general public.
Which brings me back to the wonderful poster of Xanana Gusmão. Perhaps four feet high—in striking colors of red, yellow, and black—it featured Xanana in military garb and beret, looking like a brave resistance fighter. Behind its new glass frame it looked even more exquisite, so much so that the designer chose it to hang in the middle of a blank wall, the first to meet the eye on entering the exhibition space, flanked on either side by East Timorese traditional weavings. It was certainly visually striking, and the museum staff gathered around to admire the designer's skill at positioning it thus. And then, in wandered a group of East Timorese, who collectively exclaimed, "You can't hang Xanana there!!!" They were horrified. Because the image was in the middle between the two weavings, they thought it looked somewhat like a shrine. In such a prominent position, they were very worried that it would look like "we were all FRETILIN supporters" and that half the community would boycott the exhibition. The by now ashen-faced designer tried fruitlessly to convince them it was all in the name of aesthetics, and besides, didn't everyone love Xanana?
There are all kinds of disputes, dislikes, and complex political allegiances in the community, all beyond the usual view of the public, who are unaware that not all East Timorese love Xanana or have a homogeneous picture of themselves. However, the group was also worried that the poster would turn the exhibition into another political display, just mimicking those put on by the solidarity and independence campaign over the years. This was their exhibition. Eventually they came to a compromise. An alternative poster was found, not as striking as the first, but promoting the first democratic elections in East Timor. Xanana was shuffled off to the second room to appear on a wall alongside a range of other pictures, positioned so that it wouldn't look like we were supporting him over other people.
The opening day eventually arrived, but it too highlighted some complex politics of representation. We had invited a group of East Timorese youth to perform traditional East Timorese dances and had also asked the dance group from the East Timorese-Chinese community to perform. They were very hesitant when I invited them. One prominent member of their association said to me, "You don't want our dancers, do you? People will want to see real East Timorese dancing, not us." The Timorese-Chinese repertoire included a hybrid mix of Chinese and Portuguese folk dances, performed in gold and maroon Indonesian kabaya. I thought they were lovely, but the dancers were convinced they didn't belong at our exhibition. Eventually though, they acquiesced, and were so well received by the audience that they had to perform an encore. But one audience member was surprised. She came to me and said, "I thought East Timorese were dark with curly hair!"
In the end, the exhibition was generally very well received. But inevitably there were discussions and debates among members of the community who weren't involved in helping to put it together. The ubiquitous "grandmothers" wandered through, closely inspecting each and every item. Some of the old ladies complained because we had asked the young people to put the exhibition together. They felt that the young people hadn't "learned the culture yet," and therefore, how on earth could they possibly do a good job at representing the community? For them, culture very much equaled the high culture of traditional East Timor, not the quotidian, hybrid cultures on display. Similarly, some older members of the community thought there should be more artifacts that expressed "real culture": baskets, carvings, and weavings, that sort of thing. They were concerned that their culture was not being presented "at its best." Perhaps they felt that it was a bit like bringing out the "best china" when guests come over, rather than using the chipped and mismatched pieces used every day. In one section, we had set up a display in a suitcase featuring a child's dress, which was worn by one woman during her escape in 1975. We presented it in the suitcase surrounded by embroidered pieces, carvings, and other cultural items families had brought with them to Australia. Some East Timorese visitors to the exhibition said that we should have gone to East Timor to get "proper" cultural items, rather than the ones we found in the community. There was a sense of loss among them, as though the items available in Australia didn't quite measure up to the "true" culture of East Timor. There were also some objections from those politically involved, annoyed at not having received a more prominent position, or that the version of history portrayed did not fit with their view, or upset that certain individuals were not included. Others felt the struggle should have occupied a more prominent place, because it was "real" history.
The exhibition process reminded me in important ways that "community" is never seamless. Identities are often under debate; they change and are in process. There are always struggles around official representations of the "culture," arguments over who should have the power to determine those representations, and struggles over who gets to be included in its official definition. But perhaps most important, the exhibition process reminded me that, contrary to the way East Timorese have often been represented—as mute victims, simply there to personify East Timor's suffering—there is in fact a whole everyday world in suburban Sydney where East Timorese live, love, work, form friendships, relationships, alliances and sometimes disputes, where debates over identity and politics actually happen. There is a whole social world, which lies beyond the struggle and beyond the sad pictures of East Timorese as victims. At the same time, there is also a great deal invested by members of that community in holding dear their identities as refugees and their role in East Timor's fight for independence. East Timor's historic vote for independence in August 1999, following five hundred years of European and then Indonesian colonization, created enormous upheaval and confusion among the East Timorese refugee diaspora living in Australia. With so much invested in the "return" of East Timor, and many identifying so strongly as "exiles," the "return of the homeland" challenges the very basis on which many have imagined themselves since fleeing to Australia.
This book is about the small East Timorese community in Sydney, Australia, focusing on the period immediately following East Timor's independence. I draw on key debates on diasporic and transnational identities in fields such as cultural studies, contemporary anthropology, and cultural geography to address the two key aims of the book. The first is to explore the various dynamics that have shaped the cultural identities, both personal and collective, of members of the East Timorese diaspora in Australia. The second is to understand the challenges posed to these people by a newly independent East Timor. As refugees and forced migrants, who for the most part left East Timor fifteen to twenty years earlier, the East Timorese in Australia have an ambivalent relationship to their homeland. For this reason, issues to do with identity, home, and belonging have always been complex and often traumatic. Rather than having moved gradually from displacement to settlement, refugee communities such as the East Timorese might more accurately be defined as exiles. However, as the literature on exile has shown, the exile experience is no straightforward one. It is not a question of remaining an intact community in exile, awaiting the opportunity of safe return. The exile experience itself affects community and individual identities. Individuals, communities, homelands, and countries of refuge are always situated within and in relation to a changing grid of circumstances and power relationships. The question of "return," then, becomes fraught with ambivalence and contradiction. It is this ambivalence that forms the undercurrent of this book.
The research was undertaken in Sydney between 1999 and 2002, and in East Timor in early 2001. Much of my ethnographic study was conducted during the period I spent working as a volunteer for two East Timorese community organizations in Sydney's western suburbs. From this involvement, friendships inevitably developed, and I was privileged to be welcomed into many East Timorese homes and families and invited to many community events. The twelve months I spent curating the exhibition with the youth group made perhaps the greatest contribution to my understanding of the community. I learned a great deal during the process of meeting with and interviewing community members and collecting photographs, letters, cultural items, newspaper clippings, and documents from their homes. Inevitably, I spent many hours in living rooms hearing their owners reflect on the memories these objects evoked for them. The exhibition reminded me that, although I employ the term "community" as shorthand to refer to my research subjects, there is little basis to infer that "community" in this case is in any way homogeneous or all-encompassing. It is, unsurprisingly, made up of different subgroups, factions, and individuals who move between them, or don't identify with the "community" at all.
One of the more important choices I made when embarking on this research was to try to avoid as much as possible interviewing members of the community in the context of formal East Timorese political groups. There were a number of important politically oriented organizations in Sydney whose primary function was to advance the East Timorese independence struggle and to provide aid to those suffering in East Timor under the Indonesian regime. They have subsequently focused their efforts on the reconstruction of East Timor. Although I respect their work, I felt that they were not the place to "get to know the community," as it were, in part because only a small percentage of East Timorese were actively involved with them. While I spent time with and interviewed some community members who were active in politics, I tried to keep this relationship separate from the formal political realm. Similarly, I tried to avoid too much contact with the various Australia-East Timor solidarity groups. This may seem an odd decision, given my wholehearted support for the East Timorese cause. However, I sensed early on that individuals in the community moved between "official" versions of themselves in dealing with "outsiders," usually in the political realm, and a more quotidian Timoreseness that operates on the ground in the everyday spaces of suburban Sydney. Staying away from official groups also meant I was able to avoid getting caught up in factional disputes and avoid the trap of being perceived as in alliance with one side or the other. I was able, therefore, to have access to many different parts of the community.
The timing of this research is an important factor. The referendum that made East Timor's independence possible was held at the end of August 1999, followed by violence and devastation wreaked on the tiny territory for the whole month of September, until the arrival of the Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force. From November 1999, the East Timorese in Australia began returning home to visit, and large numbers of the key leaders in the community left to take positions in the new government. East Timor was formally granted independence on 20 May 2002, after two-and-a-half years of United Nations administration. For East Timorese in Australia, the referendum came as a great surprise. The period during which I undertook my research was therefore one of immense transition for the community, both physical and psychological. This book, then, must be seen in this light. It documents this important transition period, the twilight phase, if you like, between exile and whatever lies after. At the time of writing, the East Timorese in Australia were only just beginning to settle into post-exile patterns. It will be some time yet before this process has played itself out. Toward the end of the book, I look at how members of the community have responded to some of the difficult challenges they face in renegotiating a space for themselves in this new geopolitical landscape. Throughout, my primary aim has been to give a grounded ethnographic base to refugee studies and to contemporary debates on diaspora, ethnicity, belonging, home, and identity. Most important, I wanted to understand what happens when exiles, diasporas and refugees are able to go home. That is, what happens when imagined and real homes collide?
To answer this question, I traveled to East Timor in early 2001. Initially, I was reluctant to go, for several reasons. At that time, East Timor had been descended upon by thousands of academics, NGOs, UN civilian staff, and all manner of concerned individuals and organizations wanting to see first hand and participate in the creation of a new nation. I felt very strongly at the time that the last thing East Timor needed was another "concerned" researcher poking around the ruins of Dili. However, throughout my research, just about every one of my research participants urged me to go, and they were all eager to hear about my findings upon my return. Every person, academic and otherwise, would ask, "so . . . have you been to East Timor?" My original position was that my study was on the East Timorese diaspora in Australia, and that therefore there was no need to travel to East Timor. But as time went on I began to see an increasingly transnational (or translocal, as I term it in later chapters) character to the community, with much coming and going between the two places. I therefore felt justified in taking a field trip to Dili, where most Sydney returnees are living. I rented a room next to the central marketplace and linked up with a range of returnees, mostly interviewing them in their homes. Those I interviewed seemed very pleased to have the opportunity to pour their hearts out to someone neutral about the good and bad aspects of their return. Their stories appear in the final chapter to this book, "From Exile to Diaspora."
The words of my Timorese interviewees are a central feature of the book. I quote individuals at length and structure some chapters around them, in order to emphasize the centrality of their stories. Although I theorize fairly extensively about what I have seen and heard, in the end, the point is not to be "about theory" for theory's sake, but to set it in dialogue wit ethnographic material to find new ways to understand the experiences of those in my research. I have also used photographs quite liberally throughout to try to "bring to life" my research subjects. The photographs I have included are not there to provide material for a textual reading; rather, heir presence is intended to give a sense of color, shape, form, life, and bodily character to the community this book represents.
Naturally, as the researcher, I am as much present in this book as my participants. There was often a blurring of boundaries between friend, researcher, volunteer, activist, and advisor. I felt strongly that the relationship should be based on reciprocity. Many in the community gave generously of their time; in return, I offered my skills and volunteered with East Timorese community organizations. I acted as mentor, tutored East Timorese students, helped in fundraising, and helped organize community events. For example, the young woman who helped me recruit a number of my interviewees was tireless in her assistance. In return, I was glad to be able to help her develop a women's health information kit, which she was able to translate for use in East Timor, and to provide her a reference when she was seeking employment. A few times East Timorese parents approached me for advice on how their children might get into university, and I was pleased to be able to offer them practical assistance. All these situations helped alleviate the enduring sense I had of intruding into their lives for selfish academic purposes.
Such feelings were present throughout much of my research. I was very aware that this was a community that had experienced a great deal of trauma, and that I would need to employ a great deal of sensitivity in interrogating "official versions" of East Timoreseness. The issue of trauma was an important one. Because so much had been said about that aspect of the East Timorese, I felt that it wasn't my role to force my participants to relive their sad past. I therefore tried to tread very lightly in interviews so as not to bring up painful memories, unless of course the interviewees made it very clear that they wished to share them. Understandably, some people did not wish to be interviewed at all, fearing that (as in their past experiences with interviewers) they would be expected to repeat horrible stories. My hesitation also stemmed from my own discomfort with such stories. I found it very difficult to hear of the terrible experiences of those people I had come to know and like. A few times interviewees broke down after reflecting on painful memories of their own accord. I found this extremely difficult. I knew from my debriefing with a trauma counselor that I should try not to show my distress because the person might feel guilty for upsetting me. But those times when it actually happened, I found it hard to resist crying myself, and felt that I needed to hug the person, but was never quite sure (given the counselor's advice) if that was the right thing to do. Several times I cut short interviews and "changed hats," turning off the tape, reverting to the role of friend. Other times I would hide my distress, only to find myself in the car on the way home crying my eyes out. At one stage I was doing several interviews over an intensive period, constantly hearing sad stories, a period I found enormously distressing and stressful. For these reasons, I learned to avoid certain topics.
Except for a short section in Chapter 4, I chose in the end to avoid repeating these stories in this book, as similar accounts are well-documented elsewhere (see Turner 1992, 45; Winters 1999). I felt that it would simply be gratuitous to include them, but their pain and sadness permeate every aspect of the book. However, I also wanted to show how East Timorese lives are much more than the sum of their trauma. As a friend and researcher, I have also left out certain parts of interviews that might cause arguments or other problems in the community, because I judged that it was not my role to contribute unnecessarily to their difficulties.
Points of Departure: Refugees, Diasporas, and the Politics of Home
My research began its life as a study of a diaspora community who happened to be refugees. Coming from a cultural studies background and having wandered into cultural anthropology and, to some extent, cultural geography over the years, I came to the study of refugees in a very roundabout manner. However, I quickly discovered that it is a field dominated by sociology and policy studies. I believe my background outside the specialist field of refugee studies has allowed me to take a perspective that is different from the usual work in this area; for this reason, I feel I have developed some insights that may make a worthwhile contribution to the study of refugee communities and settlement.
I found the literature on refugees, return, and repatriation to be surprisingly scarce. That which does exist often focuses on mass repatriations of refugees from camps in the third world, to the third world, such as repatriation projects from neighboring countries to Rwanda, Cambodia, or Eritrea. There is little material available on the specific experiences of refugees living in Western "host" countries, nor on the question of return and repatriation of long-term refugee communities in the West such as the East Timorese, who have for the most part settled and integrated into their new country of residence, yet who still attach great value to their identities as exiles. Moreover, this body of literature on return and repatriation is, for the most part, devoid of the voices of the refugees written about, preferring macro-level analysis based on primarily quantitative data. A perusal through such material (see Bariangaber 2001; Black and Koser 1999; Inui 1998; McDowell and Eastmond 2002) reveals that with few exceptions authors do not feature the actual words of refugees interviewed (if they have been interviewed at all). Assefaw Bariangaber's work (2001) is a good example. A case study of repatriation patterns of Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, it is a quantitative analysis of how a range of variables (age, gender, ethnicity, reason and context of original flight) map onto the decision to voluntarily repatriate.
Certainly, this kind of macrosocial analysis is important for policy purposes. Work that explores how many and who will return home, and statistical sociological measures such as numbers in housing, employment and so on, are useful general indicators of repatriation issues, and are helpful in the allocation of resources. However, while offering a broad set of patterns, the lack of qualitative voice leaves unexplored the messy reality of life for many refugees. Such work is not able to offer insight into the kinds of dialogic processes that shape how individuals and communities make meaning of their situation, and it denies any intimate understanding of an individual's relationship to either the host or the original home. Such approaches cannot offer any nuance in understanding the experience and meanings attached not only to repatriation, but also to the possibility of return. I hope that my work complements this earlier body of literature by offering an exploration of some of the social, cultural and subjective processes at work and the complex and intersecting processes that affect a person's experience of exile and return.
The tendency toward voiceless macro-analyses of mass movements of people functions, Liisa Malkki argues, to render refugees as "speechless emissaries" (Malkki 1997b). Malkki's pioneering work offers a challenge to the discursive and methodological language of much work on refugee issues. The language of humanitarian discourse (such as the literature reflected on above) has a tendency to treat refugees as its "object." In Malkki's view, this discourse functions to dehistoricize and universalize refugees. Refugees are not seen as individual, specific persons who act in the world, who have families, friends, personalities, goals, narratives and so forth, but are framed as "pure universal victims." In this way, argues Malkki (224), such discourses deny those in the refugee category the opportunity to be seen as historical actors rather than simply mute victims. As a result, such studies have the effect of silencing those individuals they want to understand. The most far-reaching effect of such representational regimes
is the systematic, if unintended, silencing of persons who find themselves in the classificatory space, "refugee." That is, refugees suffer from a peculiar kind of speechlessness in the face of the national and international organisations whose object of care and control they are. Their accounts are disqualified almost a priori, while the languages of refugee relief, policy science, and "development" claim the production of authoritative narratives about the refugees. (234)Instead, work in this area must insist on acknowledging the human suffering, narrative authority, historical agency, and political memory of the subjects (rather than objects) of research and assistance (234). Following Malkki's formulation, I attempt to present East Timorese experiences in this way, by making use of lengthy narratives drawn from interviews, and focusing on the intricacies and shifting patterns of meaning-making with respect to identity and belonging, exile and return.
Despite the reservations highlighted by Malkki, there are insights from the literature on "returning" that are useful in framing some key issues of relevance to this book. Allen and Morsink's important collection, When Refugees Go Home (1994), argues that it is imperative to treat the category "returnee" with caution. Rather than an undifferentiated mass, returnees are in reality as diverse as any other group. They caution that research into repatriation must recognize the particularities of each group and those within it. In the same volume, Stein (1994) warns that many "returnees" who voluntarily repatriate do so not because of some long-held yearning to return to the homeland but in response to a deterioration in conditions in the country of asylum. Conversely, a growing literature on return indicates that for many groups an end to conflict does not necessarily precipitate a desire to return. For example, research on Eritrean and Bosnian refugees by Al-Ali, Black, and Khoser (2001) indicates that Eritrean refugees who have citizenship rights in their European host countries are overwhelmingly reluctant to return to Eritrea. However, the continued maintenance of ties to their homeland challenges the notion that their wish not to return home indicates a desire to cut off from it.
These findings are equally important in the East Timorese case. They remind us that one must focus both on conditions in the homeland and on a refugee's experience in the host country. This is especially imperative in the case of refugee communities such as the East Timorese who have been living for a protracted period in a wealthy country such as Australia. Moreover, as McDowell and Eastmond note, recent critical ethnographic work on refugee return questions the dominant discourse among relief agencies and policymakers, which posits that repatriation is the most favorable and natural solution to exile. This newer work questions the basic assumption of this discourse on the grounds that it draws on increasingly discredited essentialist notions of a natural link between community, culture, and place (McDowell and Eastmond 2002, 1).
Similarly, Malkki (1997b, 65) points out that naturalizing the link between people, identity, and place leads to a perception of migrants and refugees as "displaced" and therefore pathological subjects. Objectifying refugees in this way leads to the perception of them as an undifferentiated mass, requiring intervention to "lay down new roots." While keeping in mind the centrality of different kinds of power and capital to the achievement of home, I want to avoid the trap of equating the East Timorese experience with powerlessness. Refugees are too frequently represented as helpless subjects requiring expert intervention. In contrast, I wish to explore some of the processes by which East Timorese are managing, in very active ways, their own sense of belonging. Although at the time of writing it is early to ascertain how the transition from exile will play out, there are some emerging trends that I believe are signs of some of the ways East Timorese people are attempting to reconfigure a sense of home now that the category of exile is no longer available.
In the course of my research I realized too that I was not just studying a refugee community. The East Timorese are refugees living in a wealthy Western country and, most important, are refugees who now have the opportunity to return. This reinforced the worth of enlisting perspectives from my "home territory," the study of diasporic and transnational identities. However, with a few exceptions (see Al-Ali, Black, and Koser 2001; Fuglerud 1999; Kaminsky 1999; Wahlbeck 1998; Zetter 1994), diaspora studies emanating from anthropology, cultural studies, and so on have not so far taken into account experiences that are specific to diasporic communities made up of refugees. With the exception of work in Jewish studies, the field of diaspora and transnational studies has not yet fully explored the interconnections between issues of trauma, the symbolic centrality of exile, questions of long-distance nationalism, and the implications with respect to the reality of return. Moreover, although the "homing desire" is often read as central to the diasporic experience, only rarely do we see a case where the return home becomes a real possibility. I believe this is the most important element of this book. For all the symbolic rhetoric of exile and return, what happens when it shifts from the realm of the symbolic to the practical, messy and contradictory ground of reality?
With respect to terminology, there are a number of terms I use throughout the book. Echoing Robin Cohen's notion of the "victim diaspora" (Cohen 1997), I use the term "refugee diaspora" to describe the East Timorese in Australia. Cohen has developed a typology of "diaspora" that includes victim, labor, trade, imperial, homeland-oriented, and cultural diasporas. He suggests that the African, Armenian, Palestinian, Jewish, and Irish diasporas most closely match the profile of a classic victim diaspora. Victim diasporas are characterized by a decisive "break event" in their histories, such as slavery, forced exile, or massacre. They usually cling to a collective memory and myth about the homeland and seek to ensure its safety and prosperity when it is in danger (54).
Based on Safran's classic model (1991), the East Timorese case conforms to those more general features of diaspora described by Cohen, which include a strong ethnic group consciousness; a sense of empathy with other co-ethnic members; an idealization of the homeland and a collective commitment to its maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity, or creation; and the development of a return movement (Cohen 1997, 26).
I use the term "refugee diaspora" for several reasons. First, I employ it to flag a connection to both refugee and diaspora studies. I also use "refugee diaspora" rather than "victim diaspora" to reflect the fact that the East Timorese in Australia themselves generally prefer the term "refugee" as a self-descriptor, and because I believe this term highlights the fact that East Timorese are "recent victims." The fact that East Timorese have only recently fled their homeland suggests firsthand experiences of trauma rather than the more mythologized version in some of the other groups, such as the African or Jewish diasporas, that Cohen includes in his "victim" category. I also support Werbner's more anthropological view that diasporas are "communities of co-responsibility," expressed through material gestures such as charitable giving and political mobilization (Werbner 1998, 12). With Werbner's concept in mind, I take up Tölölyan's manifesto on diaspora, published in the preface to the first issue of the Diaspora journal. Following Tölölyan, I invoke the notion of diaspora to explore the "traces of struggles over and contradictions within ideas and practices of identity, homeland and nation" (Tölölyan 1991, 3) in the East Timorese refugee diaspora.
I also use the terms "exile" and "community of suffering" throughout the book. I employ the term "exile" principally because it has functioned as an important identity marker for members of the East Timorese community. I use it to signify what Rushdie has called the "dream of glorious return" (quoted in Naficy 1991, 287), a dream, Naficy argues, that remains alluring only as long as it remains unrealized. What is interesting about the East Timorese case is that, due to real political events (gaining national independence), the East Timorese in Australia and elsewhere have had to make a shift from "exile" to "diaspora." The first is an identity forced upon a group, the second has an element, I argue, of voluntariness.
I argue throughout the book that the dream of return has been maintained and reproduced through what I term the East Timorese "community of suffering." Following Werbner, I deploy this concept to describe the particular kind of community formed in the face of physical or symbolic violence toward a group (Werbner 1997a, 235). Werbner argues that the important aspect of ethnic violence is that it targets "the body, the body politic, the material bases of physical and socio-political reproduction, and the emblematic representations of subjectivity, personhood and society" (237). In the East Timorese case, violence against the body and body politic occurred through ritualized torture and violence perpetrated by the Indonesian military against the populace, subsequently revealed in smuggled photographs shown to members of the diaspora. Such practices symbolically and affectively bind the pain of the individual victim to the fate of the ethnic collectivity. Violence against one is violence against all. Similarly, the military tactics of dispossessing East Timorese of land and banning the use of local languages in schools represented orchestrated means of violating communal symbols and property. Such violations, Werbner argues following Bhabha, result in a sedimented memory of common suffering which becomes the shared affective-symbolic resource for future solidarities founded in "victimization and suffering" (238).
Outline of the Book
As Foucault (1974) and others after him remind us, all histories leave sediment that influence the present in complex ways. There are three key historical layers of relevance to the East Timorese community. The first of these is the historical context of East Timor's 500? years of colonization by the Portuguese, followed by invasion and occupation by the Indonesians in 1975. The second is the period of living in Portugal and then Australia; the final layer is East Timor's "return." Each layer has left traces that affect how East Timorese in Australia experience their present identities. I track these layers in the opening chapters to set the scene for the more theoretical exploration of the complex and shifting patterns of East Timorese identities in the diaspora. In Chapter 1, "East Timor: A History of the Present," I provide a background—from Portuguese colonization to Indonesian occupation and finally independence—and give an overview of some of the t social and cultural categories formed in Portuguese Timor prior to 1975. Although the chapter is primarily descriptive, I insert, where I can, narratives from East Timorese that offer personal recollections of these histories. It is especially imperative to recount this history in the East Timorese case because the complex patterns of colonization, occupation, and migration have left shifting and sometimes contradictory marks on the way East Timorese understand and make meaning of themselves and their situation today.
Chapter 2, "Leaving the Crocodile," presents a series of accounts from East Timorese refugees in Australia about their flight from East Timor and their early experiences in Australia. I sketch some important community background, including numbers and settlement patterns, and an overview of the key issues in the community, such as East Timorese politics in Sydney, the differences between the Timorese-Chinese and the wider East Timorese community, and information on important settlement issues.
In Chapter 3, "Nation, Transnation, Diaspora," I begin the theoretical analysis. My aim is to map some of the "imaginative resources" that have contributed to the collective imagination of the East Timorese community in Sydney. That is, I explore some of the primary content of what Appadurai (1996) and Werbner (1997a) have called the "diasporic public sphere." In addition to mapping the "cultural products" and symbolic production of the East Timorese diasporic public sphere, I take up the important work of Gupta and Ferguson (1997) to explore the intercommunal and transnational links entailed therein, and the implications of these on the shape of East Timorese diasporic identity.
Although I keep the body present throughout the book, I make central questions of embodiment and affect and explore their role in East Timorese identities in exile in Chapter 4, "Embodying Exile." Here I consider the performative dimensions (protests, church rituals, singing and dancing) of the political campaign for East Timor's independence. The chapter looks at how these have created a context for "retraumatizing" bodies and memories, channeling them into a political "community of suffering" and contributing to a heightened sense of the morality of exile identity among many in the community.
Chapter 5, "Locating East Timoreseness in Australia," shifts the focus from the political to the everyday. Following Nederveen Pieterse (2001), I introduce the concept of "disappearing boundaries" and explore the interaction between what Gerd Baumann (1997) calls "dominant" and "demotic" discourses. I take up these concepts to explore narratives from five East Timorese of various backgrounds, drawing heavily on in-depth interviews to look at their complex patterns of belonging and identity. I consider how these identity patterns form at the intersection of a range of relationships such as class, place, Portugueseness, Chineseness, or Australianness.
Finally, Chapter 6, "From Exile to Diaspora?" draws together conclusions in previous chapters to reflect on questions of home and return now that East Timor has gained independence. I introduce a number of characters whose stories articulate different experiences of the possibility and actuality of return and explore how these might connect with some of the issues to do with questions of exile, hybridity, and transnational and translocal sensibilities. Who is returning and why? How have they experienced return? How do those still in the diaspora experience the possibility of return, and how does this sit with former exile identities? How does the post-exile situation mesh with questions of home and belonging? How do the reality and possibility of return challenge meanings attached to East Timoreseness among the diaspora and returnees? I consider these questions to reflect on how the possibility or reality of the "return home" has impacted on senses of self, identity, home, exile and belonging experienced by members of the East Timorese community. Following Appadurai (1995), I introduce the concept of translocality as a way of articulating what I see to be an important trend emerging in the East Timorese community. Rather than any mass repatriation, there appears to be an increasingly translocal involvement in both East Timor and Australia. I argue that translocality can be read as one mode through which East Timorese who are still in Australia and those who have returned are actively renegotiating a new sense of "home" as a means of dealing with some of the difficult issues of partial belonging that former exiles inevitably face.