Silvia Rojas spoke with Argentinian writer and academic Liliana E. Correa about the intricate dynamics of identity and belonging, her latest book, and creativity as a powerful tool for asserting our sense of self.
In the research article ‘El lugar de la memoria: Where Memory Lies’ you explore ‘sense memory’, a state of continuous negotiation of a present that doesn’t have a clear link to the past. How does this affect the perception of the future?
When I published ‘El lugar de la memoria: Where Memory Lies’, I wanted to find out what role artistic practices from the Latin American community, specifically in Sydney, played in the culture and its legacy, if any. I also wrote about how creativity carved space to help manage a sense of dissonance in relation to mainstream culture.
Now, the past may or may not shape you, your work or future. We can stay connected to our language and heritage as we apprehend a new culture. This connection sustains our present and helps envision a future that we’re part of. For example, my sense of self, memories, and experiences live within me, but I must rebuild a future that makes sense to me, includes me, and gives me purpose. Although I haven’t reached that point yet, I’m steadily approaching it. Becoming is a continuous journey, and I suppose that is the tension that we constantly negotiate.
Do you think a ‘transition between cultures’ ever becomes a full integration? Should it?
Many Latin Americans arrived in the 1970s to Australia and their Australian-born children see themselves as Australian Latin Americans. Recently, another type of Latin American migrant emerged: skilled student migrants who adopt the Australian lifestyle, add it to their ‘other identity’, and then pass on Spanish or Portuguese to their children. So, the idea of ‘full integration’ may take different forms.
Some artists argue that despite doing everything possible to feel as an integral part of this culture, they struggle to feel welcomed, accepted, valued or recognised. This seems a more political issue than a cultural one. Regardless of years spent here, questions like ‘why you left your country?’ persist. I hold a doctorate from an Australian university, and my children are professionals. Does that make me fully integrated? Mainstream culture, out of curiosity or ignorance, is constantly reasserting that ‘you are very nice, but don’t belong here’ notion. This is the colonialist discourse that never stops.
Creativity mediates this discourse. In my creative space, I can speak my language, reimagine my future, and challenge those who question my stay in this country. Art reflects, challenges and helps us understand our historical context. Creating eases dislocation, helps us process emotions, and shifts our thinking patterns.
‘My work aims to bring a deeper understanding of ‘the other’ while trying to capture a moment in history that we share with so many other cultures and languages.’
You’ve explored the art of various Latin American artists in Australia. What do you think unites them beyond sharing a similar cultural background?
An urgent need to create. We all share this desire to express ourselves creatively without labelling or categorising. Some artists arrived in Australia as established artists, musicians or filmmakers, while others are still emerging. The journey is continuous. You might graduate in skills, but learning never ceases. It’s that compelling impetus, the drive to create, that unites us.
Your bilingual children’s book La nena mágica (2022) is about a girl living between two cultures. How can this book help parents discuss their experiences with their children?
La nena mágica is a tool for parents or carers more than for the children themselves. A small child may not have experienced yet or be able to put a name on dislocation, living in between cultures and languages. The story can help parents explain emotions and talk about things that are out of the child’s control.
In the book, nature is the unifying power that helps overcome grief and create a deep human sense of belonging.
Nature remains long after we are gone. We are part of this earth, and I want children to realise they are intrinsically connected to nature, even if you leave and then return home.
For those who can’t return physically to a place, we have to generate a sense of ‘where your story goes is where your home is’. Imagination and creativity can form a sense of belonging not tied to a place but to anywhere in nature.
Some of us find home in the language we choose to express creativity — in words, sounds, songs, or drawings that remind us about our connection to the Earth. Taking care of nature means safeguarding the stories it holds.
How can this book speak to people who may not come from diverse cultural backgrounds?
La nena mágica touches on universal emotions and references, such as loneliness, grief, a need to connect to nature and childhood memories. It doesn’t matter if the child speaks English or Spanish or if the reader has not experienced what the character has been through: the core of the story carries universal emotions
How do you balance exploring personal themes with broader universal themes in your writing?
It is difficult [for all creatives] to find a balance—it is easy to fall into the autobiographical. It is in the editorial process when the true writing takes place.
It is by writing and rewriting and sharing the material with people you trust to get feedback that you find the story you want, or need, to talk about. The story comes from a personal space but you have to encounter it with newness. This is difficult, it’s a skill you have to perfect with practice.
What role do you see your writing playing in promoting cross-cultural understanding?
It is my effort to open a little window into our culture, to highlight that the journey for those coming from diverse backgrounds isn’t always straightforward. It’s also about showcasing that people like us exist in Australia and contribute to this culture while using multiple languages. My work aims to bring a deeper understanding of ‘the other’ while trying to capture a moment in history that we share with so many other cultures and languages.
Are there any specific literary works or authors from Latin America or Australia that have inspired or influenced your writing?
There are a lot of artists who have directly influenced my writing: Gloria Anzaldúa, Maroso de Giorgio, Liliana Heker, Alejandra Pizarnik, and many more.
There are certain references I return to, looking at them from different angles. You read them when you were younger, and upon revisiting them, you realise the depth of their work. For instance, Roberto Bolaño remains a master of short stories. Then, as I encountered Australian literature, names like Tony Birch and Alexis Wright stood out. Maria Teresa Andruetto, an Argentine writer, also left an impact with her fiction and children’s stories. You learn from the diverse writers you come across. Inevitably, one is marked by the authors of one’s generation, but finding new ones is such a nice journey.
What would be your advice for emerging writers?
Read widely, practice your art daily, observe the world around you, walk in nature and connect. Listen and pause to think.