Navigating Liminality - Guest Post by Francoise Danoy
Today, I am sharing the words of guest contributor Francoise (known more fondly as Frenchie), who has written about her identity as a multiracial woman. In this piece, Frenchie touches on issues of cultural misappropriation that she sees in her work as a designer. This is something we will be exploring further in our live broadcast interview this week. (For details, please see Patreon).
As with each of these posts exploring identity, this might be something that you relate to or something you find challenging. We will be exploring different contributors' approaches to navigating their own understanding of identity with each of these posts.
Each guest piece will be shared with the intention of creating a safe space in which the contributor defines and uses labels that feel right to them. I encourage you to read Frenchie's story with an open heart and if you have an identity story to share, I would love to give it a home here. Drop me your idea via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I was first introduced to the concept of liminality in my French Senior Seminar class in the book, “Lettres Parisiens: Histoires D’Exile.” In this book, two Muslim women exchange letters back and forth, talking about their experiences living in their respective countries. One is a woman who migrated to France and the other to Canada. Themes that popped up in their correspondences was the feeling like they never really belonged to either their country of origin because they didn’t fit the stereotypes or what was expected of them, or the country that they lived in because… they weren’t initially from there.
Liminality: “Betwixt and between here or there. Not fully transitioned from one thing to another. A doorway is a liminal space because it marks the boundary between inside and outside, between one room and the next. A caterpillar undergoes a liminal transition period when wrapping itself in a cocoon. A highway is a liminal space between starting point and destination. An airport is a transition point between here and there.”
Even though I no longer have a copy of the book (which I feel like I should rectify), their words still reside within me.
I identify myself as a Franco-Maori American-Australian. I was born in Australia to a French father and a Maori mother, then moved to the States when I was six. I grew up both in America and France. Because of this, I never fit in. I was constantly othered.
“You’re not American, you’re French!”
“You’re not really French, you’re Australian!”
“You’re not really Australian, you’re American!”
“You’re not American, you’re French!”
And the cycle repeats. (As a fun aside, I don't get "You're not Maori" because the response is often, "What's a Maori?").
Working as a designer, I’ve noticed that it happens every once in a while in the fibre community. One experience that that struck me was approaching a knitting magazine, offering to provide a design for their first publication, and was turned down because they were "looking for European Designers." This sent me down a rabbit hole of thoughts trying to figure out what their definition of "European" meant.
Other times, I see a yarn dyer from New Zealand launch a new yarn base using Te Reo Maori for the colorway and base names, with a collection of patterns from New Zealand designers. All too often there is not one indigenous designer among them.
All my life I’ve had to listen to other people place me into their narrow boxes and perceptions of what [x] nationality is. Sometimes they didn’t mean anything by it, but the majority of the time it was expected to push me away and isolate me. This leaves me in a cycle of one question: when no one wants you, where do you go?
Someone asked me, “If you had to choose one culture, which would it be?” To be honest, I cannot answer that. It is literally impossible. All of my cultures that I don’t belong to have played a part in my upbringing and perspectives in life. I suppose my culture would be the “Franco-Maori-American-Australian” one.
So how does my identity as a design professional fit into this?
The way I knit, the way I design, is often a reflection of myself. Knitting is not a traditional craft or art form to the Maori people, but I use the language and the motifs from the culture in many of my pieces, creating something new. Creating something that lives in the middle of the two communities. It has been a somewhat therapeutic experience for me: in the process of creating something that hasn't really been done before, it has allowed me to connect to my heritage and learn more about it.
So I don't think I'll ever be American-enough. Australian-enough. French-enough. Or Maori-enough. And I'm ok with that. My designs will continue to be as fractured as I am: reflecting the experience of living in diaspora and creating something "mixed" yet beautiful.”