Some of you may realise that I am not quite white and not completely brown.
My mother was born in Tonga which is a little island found right along side our more famous neighbour – Fiji – in the expansive South Pacific ocean. Mum’s skin is a sun weathered brown with black hair and dark brown eyes. My father on the other hand is a true blue Australian and from English stock with accompanying blonde hair (greying now after having to deal with four daughters?!) with piercing blue eyes.
So my sisters and I are the result of their union – we are half caste. Half Australian, half Tongan.
Having been born and raised in suburban Australia I always felt different from most other kids. You see I never felt completely accepted by either community. I wasn’t white enough to be Australian or I couldn’t speak or understand the Tongan language enough to be 100% Tongan. I was in this ‘twilight zone’ where I didn’t belong anywhere.
This is not a reflection on the job my parents did. They did a fantastic job and managed to raise girls successfully while making us feel included and accepted – it was just a gut feeling that you knew but not widely acknowledged.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. I was raised in a devout Catholic household and we went to Mass every Sunday and our Tongan Catholic community was very active and always held barbecues which kept us very close.
Being raised in a Tongan household meant that you had certain duties to perform as the culture is quite hierarchical. On the flip side having Australian roots also gave you a sense of ease as there is not as much importance placed on things that Tongans emphasise. On reflection, growing up it in that environment made things very confusing for me personally.
Being a young Tongan girl albeit half caste, there are cultural expectations that are placed on you. You obey your parents, daily chores are expected to be completed without fuss or promises of reward, firm discipline/getting a smack is normal and there are so many branches to the family tree it can be challenging to keep count of how many cousin you have 🙂 As with anything you always take the good with the bad with a pinch of salt.
During times of despair (such as a funeral) or celebrations (such as a birthday) having a certain structure within a culture can help with you cope. Being a hierarchical community your know your ‘place’ within the Family and community at large.
Within the Tongan culture you ‘rank’ higher if you are a descendant from the female rather then male line. Indeed your Father is the head of the household but the actual ‘rank’ within the Family and wider community comes from your Mother’s side! Sounds good to me 😉
We can also party! Our National Rugby League team – Mate Ma’a Tonga – played courageously during the recent Rugby League World Cup and the Tongan community worldwide was swollen with pride and enthusiasm – check it out here.
From all over the United States, the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in the Australian Outback to the humble homes in the Islands you can see the red and white flags waving furiously in proud support. Check out my friend Alan Latu’s popular video below! Not bad for a little Island in the Pacific 🙂
I love learning about all types of people and cultures and I come from a special mix myself! I used to see this as a weakness or that there was something wrong with me. Now I feel completely different about it.
This is an affirmation that I’m happy. Celebrate who you are.