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Longing to Belong

I arrived to Melbourne from Lebanon with my mother and younger brother in October 1976. We escaped the Lebanese Civil War and joined my older brother and sister who were already living in Australia. I was a teenager eager to get on with my life and make the most of the opportunities available in this new country.

I enrolled in year twelve in University High School and studied part time at night while working during the day as a salesgirl in a shoe shop. In 1978 I met and married my husband Keith Smiley. We have three sons; Raji named after my grandfather, Antoine named after my father and Martin named after Martin Luther King, my inspirational hero.

I began my working career as an on-call interpreter/translator with the Telephone Interpreting Service. Later, my interest in community work and multicultural affairs intensified, so I returned to study and completed my Bachelor of Arts in Community Development. I was always driven to work in a field that involved improving the status quo of the Arabic community. I wanted my own community to be like other ethnic communities that rallied together, combined their efforts and established themselves as significant entities that made a difference socially, culturally, and politically to the Australian landscape.

In the last twenty years I participated in a series of projects, campaigns and programs which contributed to creating better understanding of the Arabic communities by the broader Australian community. I served on the Victorian Multicultural Commission for a four-year term during which my commitment to multiculturalism was strengthened and deepened.

All along however, I became more and more intrigued by the concept of belonging. What does it mean to belong? How does one achieve a state of belonging? To me belonging is more than being a citizen and enjoying the rights and responsibilities that it entails. Belonging is an emotional experience, a profound process of attachment and bonding. To belong is when a migrant’s journey towards settlement finally reaches its destiny.

I have now lived in Australia more than I have lived in Lebanon, and yet my journey of belonging continues…

© Dalal Elhage Smiley
Melbourne, July 2006

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