Elminur Mahpirof

My name is Elminur and this is my story. 

My great-grandparents shared their story, my grandparents shared their story, my parents have also shared their story, hoping for change. Now it’s me. Here I am, experiencing the same inter-generational injustice. But I should not have to, I should matter regardless of my story, and I should matter with or without my life struggles.

I belong to East Turkistan. A land currently occupied by China. I was born there, and if given the chance with the possibility of a free life, I would leave everything I have in this privileged version of my life to be back on my home land in a heartbeat. 

When I was 10 years old, my parents sat both my little sister and I down, and announced that we were going on a holiday to visit our great-uncle in a foreign country called Australia. My imagination ran wild, and far with excitement. So far, I’d only ever heard about over-seas travel from my parents, and that one class mate who often travelled with his family.  I couldn’t wait to share this excitement with my friends. My parents then shared with us that we were expecting another sibling to join our family. My sister and I decided then and there that if our new sibling was a boy, then I’d look after him, and if it were a girl, then it would be my sister. Mom and dad laughed with us, but told us to not share anything with our friends, especially about our sibling. I agreed because I did not understand why, and to be honest, didn’t really care to know why. 

In February 2009, I arrived in Adelaide with my younger sister, and my pregnant mom. Our father joined us in late 2010, and finally met his only son. We began restarting our life. 

When I was 14, now an Australian citizen, I found a translated letter written by my mother on my behalf, while we were seeking refuge to be in Australia. In the letter, my mother described me, her first born’s experience of living in East Turkistan. My mother described in detail the injustices and the false history about my reality and my people that I was fed as a child in class, all while I was on MY OWN home land. She talked about my fear of learning about my religion, my rejection of my cultural identity and the scary future she envisioned for me because of the fear that our previous government and dictators drilled into me and the other children in East Turkistan, also known as Uyghur children. My mother concluded the letter with her hopes for me and her future children to live in a society where I would be a proud Uyghur, with sound understanding and practice of our beloved religion – Islam.  

The content within the letter written by my mother unveiled my distaste towards my cultural identify. Her letter contained a part of my history, although I’d argue that it was not how I viewed my life, it was the truth none the less. I realised that despite living in freedom, and far, far away from my oppressors of my homeland, I’d been oppressing myself. Until then, I have been suppressing my cultural and religious identity even in Australia because the communist government taught me that my cultural heritage was not worth cherishing, and I believed them. Even years after my family had rescued me from them and brought me to Australia. I’d been doing the work of my oppressors. 

So from that day onwards, I decided to learn to own my own story. I became passionate about the importance taking ownership of how my history shapes me. And I no longer allowed my past trauma to dictate my future. I decided to proudly claim my cultural identity, I became a true Uyghur. 

When I was 17, a proud Uyghur, it was my time to refine my understanding of Islam through the way I dress. I’ve now been in Australia for six years, with three younger siblings not just one, and recently graduated from high school. Just as I was about to go shopping with my sister and a couple of our friends, I decided to experiment with my clothing style. I wrapped my hair in a black and white scarf, and covered my semi-modest clothing with a long cardigan. My father observed me with amusement, and mother who did not wear the scarf at that time with confusion. Throughout the entire day, I prepared myself for confrontation, for people to tell me to remove my headscarf. But my friends or anyone that I paid attention to at the mall didn’t care less. So I decided to observe modesty as per the teachings of Islam, because I wanted to, and because I could. 

At 20 years old, together with a handful of fellow Uyghur youth, we founded POET – People of East Turkistan. A social youth group dedicated to take part in bringing freedom to our home land. A land where if not myself, then the younger generation can learn about and embrace their cultural and religious identity. To simply be a free Uyghur person. I chose my field of study at university to benefit my Uyghur community and the wider Australian community, and once we return to our East Turkistan. I spend my time at my Uyghur language school so I can instil a sense of belonging within the Uyghur community both for myself and my younger siblings.

Being in a country like Australia allows me to embrace my true self. In turn, I am able to help those around me thrive and be proud of themselves and their achievements. I spend my time not only working to empower people within my cultural community, but I also try to be as open minded and patient when learning about the cultures of those around me, as well as the Australian culture. 

When we are comfortable with ourselves, we are then able to value the contributions of those around us. For me, an Australian does not have a face, I am Australia, so are my white skinned and brown skinned neighbours. 

All of these decisions, realisations and my short lived life experiences continue to shape my everyday life here in Australia. I will continue to actively speak out against injustice so that the future generations of my people will only have to share their history in a textbook, be compassionate towards the experiences of their ancestors, without living in the cycle of trauma. 

I began my story by telling you that my great-grandparents, my grandparents, and my parents have been sharing their story of political, cultural and religious oppression. 

Now I’m working to end this cycle of oppression and experience of trauma through sharing my story, although I should matter even without my story.