Monday, 22 July 2013

Remember Being a "Super Uke"?

Growing up as a hyphenated Ukrainian-Something in the diaspora has meant being a part of a smallish community, scattered thinly among a widely diverse world population.  Gathering together for the comforts of community, my people settled in rural environments, moving gradually through town living to urban centres.  Seeking economic opportunity, it has been important to integrate into the dominant culture linguistically and culturally, yet a small uniqueness remains.  For me, the romantic vision of my ancestral homeland has meant keeping the language, cultural traditions and faith of my ancestors.  Singing together, feeling the common heartbeat, dancing on language inspired rhythms of the ancients, and wearing embroidered shirts that told of magic and mysterious times when the hearth mother was the source of all comfort - these form my early memories. 

I remember the exciting performance trips with dancers, singers and instrumentalists who would trek through a series of small rural venues - to hear the appreciative applause, to see the beaming faces of people equally thirsty for the romantic vision of homeland.  Growing up I realize how small, indeed, these places were - halls holding perhaps 150 to 200 people.  It was a lot of effort, time and care to put these kinds of shows together - even moreso because it was an extracurricular event.  Parental support, families involved, communities galvanized to support the young people in their desire to maintain their ethnic ties.

Even now, performers of all sorts travel from the diaspora to perform in Ukraine, seeking the appreciative recognition of our one-ness in culture and nationality.  Seeking the homeland makes you think differently though.  We in the diaspora live a smallish life of Ukrainian-ism.  Coming to perform in small venues in Ukraine, you get a taste of that small town embrace, but "wow"  it is great to be something big and wonderful too.  What a rush to see people, like yourself, who welcome you as their own - their own countrymen - even if it is a native/foreigner experience. 

I suspect that people in a huge country like Ukraine, with nearly 50 million people whose dominant culture has been Soviet have a different perspective on things.  Today, everyone is seeking the economic freedom to step confidently forward with family life.  Political, cultural and practical issues are adapting to the times.  Will they have a nostalgia for the romantic visions of yore?  Will they spend their extracurricular time on heritage, culture and traditions we have cherished so long?  Only time will tell. 
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