Why are people so unkind?
– A Cypriot-Greek-Australian daughter’s perspective
“When I have kids I won’t be strict with them like our parents. They can bring home any nationality they like – as long as it’s not Chinese,” Mary declared, thumping her fist on the table like she had made law.
Mary is my first cousin, and she had made this statement to me and to four other girl cousins twelve years ago at a cousins’ reunion party; that statement has remained with me ever since. Not because it was outrageously racist. I had come to expect comments like that from most of my cousins. I have a fairly large group of first and second cousins who have followed the traditional Greek-Cypriot path, which is: barely pass high school, stick with friends of the same cultural background, marry young and to someone of Hellenic Greek Orthodox religion, and have children no later than 28 years old.
My sister and I have felt like the outsiders in these sorts of situations. We sit there listening to things like, “When is she going to get married, her time is running out; When is she going to get pregnant, her time is running out; She brought home a Croat?! A Muslim?! Is she stupid, or what?” The few times I’ve piped up to offer a differing view, they’ve slapped me down with, “Here goes the Professor” or “Ange you’ve lost touch with the real world, go back to your books.”
Andrea, my sister, has tried other tacts, but only manages to rev them further. In response to Mary’s ‘ban on Chinese’, Andrea said, “But Chinese are good in bed. I reckon we should ban our kids from bringing home Swedes, they’re too tall and blonde.” Mary took Andrea on with, “I’d prefer a Swede over a short-ass Chinese.”
And then the other cousins, Anna, Vicky, Stella, revved their engines with, “The Chinese I can handle, it’s the Arabs… Yeah, what’s with all this Halal business, meat is meat… Chinese and Japs and that, are quiet, not like those loudmouthed Lebos and Turks!”
Over the years, I’ve learnt it’s better for me to shut-up and give my cousins this small platform. After all it doesn’t impact on how I live my life and my fundamental views. I’ve never echoed the social and cultural views of my parents. The dutiful Greek-Cypriot daughter’s path I strayed from as soon as I started University. My first serious boyfriend was a student of architecture and a Muslim. Sharif Abraham dominated my love life for nearly four years. He was a proud Egyptian who believed in the Koran and told my parents so when they met him across their kitchen table. My mother shook the bible over his head and ushered him out the door with me bellowing behind her stout back, “I will never leave you Sharif.” Eventually we broke up over the need to sexually explore beyond ourselves, rather than apparent religious differences.
Although my sister and I have carved lives away from those of our cousins, their views mirror those of our parents and grandparents whom we love. We can’t help but want those that we love to love us in return despite our choice of partner and lifestyle.
Mary’s 12-year old statement haunts me when I see Andrea struggling with an RSVP to a cousin’s wedding invite. Andrea asks me, “Should I take Dane?” Dane is her Samoan boyfriend. I say, “Yes,” because I know that she would love to take Dane. “But he doesn’t want to go, I want him to go, he feels like they’ll all be watching him, calling him nigger, and what’s she doing with him…” Andrea holds the RSVP card in one hand, in the other she has the pen and she’s looking up at me for the answer beyond Yes and No, the answer that will make her feel confident as she holds Dane’s hand and they walk into a reception room filled with hundreds of eyes fixated on difference.