Monica and I are excited to be back working on a new season of the Hiraeth podcast. Did you get a chance to listen this week? If not, here’s a link to the first episode of season two. I (Sarah Bringhurst Familia) am joining Monica on the podcast as co-host, and we have some great interviews full of interesting stories lined up with people in Amsterdam, London and beyond.
And since it’s a time of new beginnings, I thought it might be nice to do a bit of a retrospective on this Hiraeth journey, where it’s taken us so far, and some things we see in store for the future.
During the summer of 2016, Monica Perez Vega posted in an Amsterdam-based online expat parenting group about a magazine she wanted to start on the topic of hiraeth: one of those untranslatable words (this one is Welsh) meaning something like longing for a home that no longer exists, or never was. Not surprisingly–in a group whose defining characteristic is that most everyone comes from elsewhere–the idea resonated with a lot of people. A few weeks later about a dozen of us met at Café de Balie in the centre of Amsterdam. It was one of those evenings of synergy that transcend individual ideas and talents to birth something entirely new. More than anything else, what I remember is the feeling that we were dancing together on the edge of something deeply personal, yet universal.
Since then, Hiraeth has coalesced as a core of dedicated volunteers forming what we call the editorial team, as well as many wonderful short- and longer-term collaborations with others who resonate with this concept of the search for home, wherever it takes us. The digital magazine you are reading now publishes interviews with artists, essays, poetry, and reviews of artistic and cultural events that relate to the search for home. Our podcast is in its second season, and we have hosted several events and participated in many more. We have both plans and dreams for the future; the former include another poetry and storytelling event on September 22, and among the latter are a gorgeous print magazine, a permanent artistic/cultural space, and sustainable funding forever.
As I look back on Hiraeth’s past two years, one of the things that strikes me is how much has changed in the world during that time. I feel almost silly remembering it now, but when we first started Hiraeth, I privately wondered how long we would even need an organisation focussed on normalising and celebrating stories of moving from place to place and welcoming newcomers into our countries and communities. Weren’t we already moving in the right direction? Love really looked like it might trump hate.
I know. The very optimism that keeps me going sometimes leaves me open to some pretty cruel surprises. Since the founding of Hiraeth, we’ve been through the 2016 presidential election, Brexit, dramatically increasing deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean, travel bans, border walls, and waves of anti-immigration sentiment across most of the developed world. Now, more than ever, Hiraeth‘s mission of stepping inside the stories of people who have crossed land or sea borders to a country not their own, for whatever reason, seems timely, relevant, and desperately important.
It is in this context of deepening polarisation, distrust and misunderstanding that Monica and I decided to use the new podcast season to take a hard look at culture and heritage, and how it is being used to divide us against one another and exclude those with different backgrounds. We also want to explore how we can use these very cultural traditions and celebrations, as well as art and education about heritage in a way that will bring our communities together and celebrate the beauty of our diversity. Finally, we will delve into the interplay between cultural and individual identity, and how the different places we live can change not only how we think and feel, but who we are.
The seed for this season’s podcast came out of an event Hiraeth was invited to be a part of last summer. With several other organisations and individuals, we took a deep dive into the Dutch Canon, a set of historical figures, events, and objects that every Dutch child is expected to learn about before the age of twelve. Many play a role in the larger history of the world and were familiar (such as figures like Erasmus, Rembrandt, Spinoza, Van Gogh, and Anne Frank), while others were new to me. But the common thread we found was that despite the diversity of the population of the Netherlands, the Canon tended towards a single cultural narrative, largely excluding the perspectives of those with racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds that differed from the “norm”.
While the Dutch Canon is specific to the Netherlands, every country has stories it tells itself and its children about who they are, who belongs as part of “us”, and which events, people and traditions are important. We want to explore those stories and the way we interact with them, whether through personal experiences, art, education, writing, etc. Do you have something to share? Get in touch with us! Every two weeks on Monday we will post a new podcast episode, and on the alternate Mondays I’ll publish a companion written piece like this one. Please join in by listening, reading, and/or contributing your own experiences. We can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.