As Rose Richani finally sits down, her smile fills my phone screen, and she winces slightly. When I ask her what’s wrong, she tells me matter of factly about a torn ligament and maybe a fracture she’s picked up in a game of soccer.
We begin our conversation about broken bones and end up speaking about broken identities.
“I was born in Australia and I grew up both here and in Syria,” she says. “While I see this as a privilege now, a very complicated privilege, it didn’t always feel that way.”
The magazine editor gets comfortable in her couch chair and I feel like a child sitting in a classroom, as the teacher gets ready to read the book you’ve been waiting for all day.
We are meeting long distance to talk about the in-between of being in a minority community in Australia and how to both keep a culture alive and piece together your own identity, while around you the mainstream media only seems to speak to one audience.
“It was sometimes, and still can be, hard to exist in one place and feel fully accepted without swapping parts of yourself, on a loop,” she says from her home in the Brisbane suburb of Gumdale.
Lota takeaway represents all the shops that were home before it and before me.
We only speak for an hour, but in this short time the 26-year-old takes us travelling across the globe, from harvesting olives and grape vine leaves in her grandfather’s small Syrian village, to the Brisbane takeaway shop owned by her family.
“I grew up in Brisbane and the Lota takeaway shop was much more than a takeaway,” she pauses.
“Lota takeaway represents all the shops that were home before it and before me.”
I can almost see the memories on her face before she tells me.
“It represents the inherent migrant mentality of working hard to create a pleasant reality for your family and the generations they’ll carry. It represents hard work, community, privilege and freedom. It made travelling back and forth between all our homes possible.”
Three years ago Rose founded Jabalna, a publication that features the stories of migrants and refugees who currently call Australia home. Originally created as a Druze community magazine with the aim of allowing Druze youth to maintain a connection to their history and culture, Jabalna – which means ‘our mountains’ in Arabic – has evolved to include the voices of migrants and refugees from all walks of life.
“Ironically, we often criticise our communities for the way they project their fear to uphold tradition and culture, but fear is one of the factors that triggered my desire to create Jabalna,” she says.
“At the time, a lot of elders in our community, many who helped found the small Druze communities across Australia, had passed away. This allowed us to reflect on how easily life can fade, and how it is up to us to preserve a culture that is already struggling to survive.”
The Druze faith originated in Egypt and stretched across the Middle East. It is a small religious sect that has been maintained for centuries and is characterised by an eclectic system of doctrines. The Druze numbered more than 1,000,000 in the early 21st century and live mostly in Lebanon, Syria, and occupied Palestine, with smaller communities in other countries. They call themselves Muwahhadin (“unitarians”).
Rose produces and distributes Jabalna out of her own pocket and there is always a personalised thank you note hanging from the string that holds the package together. Jabalna is shipped internationally, and as she tells me of some of the kind interactions she has had with readers, it becomes apparent that many migrants living in the diaspora find comfort in the magazine.
Without the stories of the ‘other’, the unknown remains that way… and those kinds of introductions and realisations are the only way we move forward as a nation.
As a University of Queensland journalism graduate herself, Rose knows the significance of keeping community artistry and storytelling alive. We stop the interview shortly, interrupted by a doorbell. While she checks who is there, I flick through the pages of my own copies of Jabalna. Multilingual poetry, book reviews, short stories, essays and even Instagram responses are featured. A sense of community seeps through the entire magazine, all of the stories connected by a love-hate relationship with identity politics and a yearning to go back to a home… or just to figure out what a home is.
She returns and tells me that by the second edition she had noticed that the experiences and questions that Druze community members were expressing were identical to those of other minority groups in Australia.
“Without the stories of the ‘other’, the unknown remains that way, until you meet the mysterious ‘other’, until you hear their stories and their voices and think, oh hey, so you’re a person, cool. And those kinds of introductions and realisations are the only way we move forward as a nation.”
Listening to her speak, I’m struck by the way that she seems to be a manifestation of migrant stories and communities. It prompts me to examine my own story, and the way it’s interconnected with the stories of those who came before me. I tell her this.
“I feel like I understand myself more when I understand everyone around me,” she says.
“It’s so important for people of multicultural backgrounds to have a platform for their voices because if that platform doesn’t exist, most of Australia would be silenced. We’re a multicultural country, we grew up hearing that in school, on TV, on the radio. But what we saw didn’t always portray that.”
The publication which features pieces in a variety of languages, reflects the experiences of ‘in-betweeners’ who are often balancing two realities that couldn’t be more different. No translations are offered.
“We can’t accept each other if we can’t communicate, and sometimes this communication includes encountering and respecting a reality that you’re not a part of. It gives some insight into the experiences of kids in the diaspora who have juggled these realities,” she says.
Speaking to Rose is refreshing, especially in light of the ‘Who Gets to tell Australian Stories’ Report released by Media Diversity Australia in 2019. The report highlighted that there was not only a lack of diverse stories in the newsroom but also a lack of diverse presence.
I joke about the dream of getting the well-known, sleek ‘journo bob’ once I officially graduate but we soon realise the joke is sad. I tell her I never want to see her cut her curly hair. The newsroom could use some curls anyway.
“Sometimes it feels like being Syrian isn’t enough,” she says. “I’d have friends with assignments on Syria come to me for advice, information, quotes. But, after consuming so much media that offered an analytical and distant view of the Syrian crisis, it almost felt like I wasn’t the right source. As if some professor who had studied the history of Syria and its conflict would know more than I would.
“My identity is immediately politicised in these situations, the human stories pushed out to make room for statistics and political opinions.
“We are missed stories, missed angles, missed headlines. I hope Jabalna is a step towards recovering these experiences and representing a true Australia.”