To put my story in context, I am a Chilean Mapuche woman who came to Australia as a refugee and tried to ‘fit in’ by assimilating to a culture and way of life that – as a colonized individual – I was led to believe was not only superior to my Indigenous culture but offered me and my family a safer way of life. Assimilating was a tool for deflecting the pain I felt when I thought of my own Indigenous heritage as something I had lost, or that had been damaged and was no longer relevant in Australia, something that had compromised my safety and my survival. Alschuler’s (1996) reference to Memmi’s (1973) analysis of the process of assimilation resonated for me:
‘Fitting in’ via assimilation was a process of rejecting myself. It was not until I travelled back to Chile in 1995 that I began the journey I am currently on: realizing that, in Australia, I was living a life not as myself. My true self laid waiting for me in my culture, which remained rich, vibrant and relevant, a living organism in me. Reconnecting with my people, our land, our traditions, our rituals and our values has felt more fulfilling to me than any other act of assimilation I have attempted in Australia. I felt reborn in my peoples’ passion to politicize their struggles and rid themselves of colonization. Today, I feel profoundly spiritually connected to them and our land and, while I live in Australia, I no longer question how guided, welcomed and safeguarded I am by the Mapuche spirit.