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excerpt from the Interview with NATALIA PAYNE

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Date and Place of Birth:  Sept. 28,1980, Toronto, Ont. Canada a
Date of Interview:   June 17, 2021
Place of Interview: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Length of Interview: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Interviewer: Ariadna Ochrymovych
Language: English


Interviewer: do you consider yourself Ukrainian, Ukrainian Canadian, Ukrainian American, American Canadian?

Natalia: I think I would consider myself Ukrainian Canadian or Ukrainian American, I haven’t actually ever said Ukrainian American but I would consider myself a Ukrainian Canadian. I think I'm a Canadian,  I was born in Canada and my cultural background is Ukrainian and that feels like an important component of the type of Canadian I am and I would say the same is true as an American. Well actually in the States I think I would say I'm Canadian  but my family background is Ukrainian or that my mother’s family background is Ukrainian.

Interviewer: Where did you attend college?

Natalia: I went to Yale University and I actually did study Ukrainian at Yale. I've always felt a little bit of a misfit Ukrainian, I grew up very immersed in the culture but I didn't do a lot of the things that it seemed my Ukrainian peers were doing like being in Plast* or being in organized dance groups. I did a lot of Ukrainian dance but I was doing it with a motley crew of people who had left Virsky** and wound up in Toronto. I felt like I was engaged in the culture but I wasn't doing it the way other people were doing it and then at Yale I discovered that there was a Ukrainian language class taught by Professor Helena who, I think, is now teaching at Harvard but she had a little group students that would meet in a basement and so I took her class which was interesting and also very humbling…… we were learning Ukrainian from a book and I had no idea what the genitive case of a noun was.  I never thought about Ukrainian that way, it was just what I spoke with my grandparents. I can read and write Ukrainian but I'm a slow reader…

But I had that experience and then I was also part of the Yale Slavic women's chorus in my last year at Yale so we had a repertoire of songs from all over Eastern Europe but we had a few Ukrainian songs so I felt like I got to express my Ukrainian heritage there as well.

Interviewer: Do you know any family traditions, jokes, stories?

Natalia: My whole childhood was based on Ukrainian stories, Ukrainian jokes, Ukrainian songs and especially Ukrainian visual art. My grandmother is one of the foremost artists on pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs). She passed away over a year ago but she exhibited her eggs at lots of international fairs. I think she exhibited her eggs at Bill Clinton's pre-inauguration. She was considered a foremost expert on pysanky.

And one of the things that we always did with my grandparents was make up this kit, that was just one of the activities at Baba and Dido’s*** house because there was always pysanky stuff out.

I’ve always also felt that the landscape of Ukraine that I see depicted in the more representational Ukrainian artwork, that I hear described in Shevchenko’s poetry or that I hear about in folk songs always seem to celebrate the natural world and the abundance of the harvest, the beauty of nature, the beauty of birds. To me it feels like a culture that’s very rooted in a deep appreciation of the natural world and an appreciation of its beauty and also it's mystery.

Interviewer: How did your father feel about all these traditions?

Natalia: I don't know if  sacrifice is the right word but he must've felt a bit left out at times, with the three of us sort of speaking in Ukrainian and then switching languages when he walked into the room. But he's always been very supportive of our practising all of these traditions. He's always really loved and respected my mother’s family so I think he was interested and curious about it even though it didn't totally apply to him. There's parts of it he likes less than others. I think he's not a big fan of kutya**** but he does love the Easter traditional lunch so I think he's been a good sport and it's a question I ask myself. I'm not married but I'm dating someone who is a non-Ukrainian and it's an interesting thing to contemplate because I think I took it for granted as a child. A lot of people in my situation weren't learning to speak Ukrainian and weren't necessarily immersed in the culture and the art to the degree that I was fortunate to be. So I would have to ask him but my experience was that he's been very accepting and willing to go along with it.

Interviewer: Did your mother insist that you speak Ukrainian when you were with her?

Natalia: Yes, absolutely my mother would pretend not to understand my brother and I if we spoke to her in English which was very annoying because we knew she understood.

* Ukrainian Scouting Organization
** Renowned Ukrainian Dance choreographer
*** Grandmother and Grandfather
**** traditional Ukrainian Christmas desert