Can Lithuanians Help Americans Make Sense of Their Roots?
Redefining What It Means to Be an Immigrant with Jurgis Did, a Colombian-Lithuanian Artist & Activist
September 25, 2017. America is the land of immigrants, and now one small nation, Lithuania – that counts over 600K Americans with Lithuanian roots – is on the quest to define what it means to be an immigrant, a Lithuanian, and both, in order to help build empathy and tolerance, among other things.
The initiative is called ToBeLT (To Be Lithuanian) and is led by Jurgis Did (Didziulis), a well-known Lithuanian-Colombian singer, artist and social activist who grew up in Philadelphia. ToBeLT aims to redefine what it means to be an immigrant. Done in a form of artistic pilgrimage to various Lithuanian communities around the world, ToBeLT is coming to LA for Lithuanian Days on Sept 30 – Oct 1 that attract as many as 6,000 participants, coming from various generations of Lithuanian-Americans.
“We know that America was built by immigrants, but many have distanced themselves from their roots, and buried their previous identities and sense of belonging to other cultures. Assimilation was the norm, but after assimilation people sometimes yearn for that little something that makes them authentic.” said Jurgis Did, the creator of ToBeLT initiative. “It’s for the most part easier and faster to integrate into American society if you leave your previous heritage behind. We are here to say that it’s OK to be both. They don’t need to conflict. It’s OK to be American and Palestinian or American and Nigerian. By embracing our roots, we can create a society that is more empathetic, more inclusive and more kind to those it sees as “different.”
ToBeLT project doesn’t seek to create a new artificial identity, but rather encourages people to explore their interpretations of who they are, accepting other possibilities. Respect, tolerance and empathy are the key values that allow everyone to question and assess their identity, according to the organizers.
“All my life, I felt like an outsider,” explains Jurgis Did. “My mixed heritage made certain that I was never truly among my own people. But after my first trip to the U.S. to meet all these other mixed families and expats with the same experiences and issues I’d undergone, I for the first time came to feel at home, like I belong. Now it’s clear to me that I am both – fully Colombian, and fully Lithuanian. These parts of my identity are not divided in halves.”
WATCH THE VIDEO OF JURGIS DID INTRODUCING TOBELT CAMPAIGN
Jurgis Did gave some advice to Americans who might be interested in reviving their neglected relationship with their roots. Here’s where to start:
- Find something that is nostalgic or gives you nice memories.Search for that one thing that inspires you the most; you might have inherited it, you might have been exposed to it as a child, something nostalgic, or in line with your family trajectory and heritage. If you like to sing and remember the song your Georgian grandmother used to sing to you as a child, you might want to think about learning more of your national songs.
- Practice your new passion. Only practice can make us good at anything, so spend time with your new passion, and learn it well. Make sure you enjoy it earnestly.
- Engage other people who have the same interest.You will need ongoing inspiration in order to continue with your new passion, so find people who share your fetish. Do it together. Find people to learn from, and people to teach.
- Find ways to make your passion travel.Maybe you are fine sharing your hobby amongst a few friends, but always know that you can make an impact and achieve even bigger satisfaction if you make it travel. So find ways to infect an even larger group of people with your enthusiasm, perhaps by creating a Facebook group and finding like-minded people in other states.
- Embark on a quest to develop your passion.This step is the most challenging, but it’s a normal part of the evolution. Once you have mastered your passion – be it singing, baking or anything else – seek to evolve it. We cannot simply repeat what we have inherited, it’s our task to make it even better for the next generations.
A modern, inclusive and positive identity is of vital importance for building a more understanding, tolerant society, and ToBeLT project seeks to bring a little dose of inclusive mentality to America.
ABOUT JURGIS DID AND TOBELT PROJECT
Jurgis Did (Didziulis) is a Colombian-Lithuanian, who has lived as a boy in Philadelphia, the U.S. He is Social Alchemist, Edutainer, Creative Campaigner, and a musician, having formed the famous Lithuanian InCulto band in 2003. His colorful background, ranging from Eurovision to EU consultant, allows him to transcend formats effortlessly and connect with audiences in arenas packed with thousands of people, corporate boardrooms, government institutions, and kindergartens alike. He is also a social activist, who uses music and adjacent art forms for social impact. His initiatives, that often combine his album or single releases, are full-blown campaigns exploring what it means to be human in modern times, and inspiring social change. He gave a TEDx-Stockholm talk on his program called “From Spectate to Participate,” which inspires the audience to be creators of the show through engagement and participation. More at: jurgisdid.com
ToBeLT is an initiative that searches for global Lithuanian identity through community-building pilgrimage. It seeks to bolster unity and empathy by cultivating inclusive and pluralistic identity that appreciates diversity. More at: tobe.lt