Love Letters to my culture
Confusion. Overload of information. Language barriers. Culture shock. Lost in Translation.
Intimacy of letter writing. Handwritings like portraits. Vulnerability.
Journeys. Travel. Luck. Surprise. Getting lost. Emigration. Growing. Developing. Learning. Failing. Fear.
Love Letters to my culture
Connections. Meaningful ones. We all crave to connect with someone in a meaningful way. To be listened to, but more so – to be heard. To be seen, but more so – to be acknowledged.
When you are bound to leave a familiar setting to enter an unknown place, you have to re-learn how to be, re-adjust and reshape your worldly views. At the same time, during this raw adjustment phase, you are holding on even tighter to anything that even remotely reminds you of comfort and safety of home. It gets easier with every new change, but for so many Latvians who found themselves moving their whole lives to the UK, it was the first experience of that kind. Holding these interviews revealed just how confusing and even daunting this transition to a new country and culture was, but the strength of a community and likeminded people outweighs the negatives.
It also threw me back nearly 11 years, to the time when I was going through exactly the same. The complete and utter culture and language shock is what I remember the most from the first few months in the country. Despite getting excellent grades in my English classes at school in Latvia, I was simply not prepared for this move. It was such a different culture to what I had known and it took about 2 years to get fully comfortable with it. Within this time there was an inner battle going on of being confused and scared, not wanting to be confused and scared, and trying to push myself as much as possible to integrate into the new ways of life. I have to say that I did feel very welcome and my fellow students’ and teachers’ attitudes were the most positive and encouraging, it was just my own obstacles and insecurities I had created in my mind that held me back at the time.
And in some way, the people who I had talked to shared similar struggles, weather it was at a workplace, school or just general day to day life. And it’s what this piece is really all about. The sharing of struggles, the confusion, the inner battles, the trying our best to improve and learn, getting lost in translation and most of all wanting to be heard and connect. That’s where the hand-written letters come in – this intimate portrait of a vulnerable self. You transfer the thoughts that you sometimes cannot say out loud onto a piece of paper. You send it. And you wait in hopes it will be read and replied to. I see this means of communication as something very powerful, because the amount of effort that goes into it is so much more than a typed up text on a screen and it goes beyond the said word in a way that it becomes a visual art work – your thoughts are not fleeting words anymore, they are exposed for a willing eye to see and read.
The aspect of journeys is another important part of the project. Just like the people, who have emigrated from their home countries, the posted letters gather different marks, rips and prints on their way to the recipient. Most times they are invisible marks, and most times they are the most important ones – the hands they have gone through, the places they have been are far more important than the stamp the letters were assigned at the beginning of the journey. Because in the end it is what we absorb and experience through our journeys that counts – all the marks, rips and prints – the good and the bad.
This piece of work reveals the complex layers of what an emigrating person feels like on so many occasions. Especially if it’s a move to a country where they don’t speak your language. At first, the audio piece doesn’t make any sense – it’s just a confusing mix of chatter. But then one’s brain is starting to shift to a familiar sound and language and you focus on that. That’s how it happens when you’re surrounded by people who don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs, or you’re scared to do so – you’re trying to focus your mind on something familiar and safe – you find connections that help you grow and become more confident. I really enjoyed involving the group of British people that I work with in the same Erasmus project, here in Seville. Their broken Latvian reading portrays the language barriers which are often faced by Latvian people and not the other way around, so hopefully this does shine a light on what it feels having to be surrounded by a language you don’t know. The Google translate audio layer is a great metaphor for getting lost in translation – being called ‘darling’ or ‘love’, for example, is a pretty standard thing in the UK, but for a Latvian person it might just seem a little bit inappropriate before they happen to learn about the British culture and its norms.
In terms of peoples’ responses – I wasn’t utterly surprised of what I heard. I was able to see a pattern of emotions and experiences the Latvian people went through throughout the years of adjusting and creating a new home away from home. Many said that they had struggled at the beginning, but then little by little adjusted to the new way of life, and feel that the diversity of cultures is what makes this city so great and have integrated really well here in Peterborough. One person said, “There’s nothing perfect in this world and that’s why everything is so interesting! Culture, our or other people’s, makes us special, unique and different. I have always loved telling people where I come from.” Another wrote, “To your question about if I’ve ever felt like I don’t belong to Peterborough – If you mean as an immigrant, than no. Honestly I’m not a patriot of Latvia and I’ve accepted and gotten used to this country and it’s culture and I feel good.”
Some thought that there could be more of different events and platforms for celebrating diversity. One wrote, “Cultural life, of course, is important and I think there could be more song and dance concerts in the city centre by other nations and cultures, with market stalls as well, as because there are really so many different people from different cultures in this city – that would be truly interesting, for us to get to know one another and understand people around us.” A person who’s lived in Peterborough for over 10 years said, “Other cultures! They’re telling us that there are so many in Peterborough, but when and where can we see them? How do we get to meet them? I do not know of any platforms, where we could find that.”
Nature is very dear to the people of Latvia and even in Peterborough they love spending time in nature and even growing their own vegetables. One had written, “We are renting a small garden from the Peterborough City Council for the second year now and it gives us so much joy to see our self-grown, healthy vegetables. As well as for our children it is a chance to get involved in the gardening process and to understand how the vegetables are actually grown. Gardening, soil and fresh air also very positively improves mental health.” And another said, “My favourite place in Peterborough is the Nene Park. Why? Because there I can feel like I’m in Latvia, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. All around there’s nature, trees, green grass, the freshly cut grass smell. “
To summarise these reflections – Latvians are nature loving people that are proud of their culture, food and traditions and they love to share that with other cultures – if only there would be more opportunities for this to happen!
Special Thank You to:
Letter writers – Zane, Dita, Līva, Iveta, Iluta, Sigita, Diana & Joshua
Letter readers – Rebecca, Helen, Mat, Jen & Joel