Connecting The Cultures

Words & Art by: Caitlin Johnston

Some would say since I’m a Sagittarius I easily connect with people. This is mostly true. However, growing up bi-racial confused things when anxieties surrounding my identity tested how I connected to my family and my cultures.

For all my bi-racial babies out there, I’m sure this sounds familiar. You attend an extended family gathering and looking around you feel a little out of place. It’s always discomforting when you look too white for one side and too dark for the other — always standing out in those group photos.

Only in the last one to two years was I able to visit where my parents grew up. We went to Mauritius where it was humid, tropical, and we spent every day by the beach. The following year we cut to an Irish winter, exploring the roll- ing countryside, trying to warm up with pints of Guinness. Having felt out of place in Australia for over 20 years, I was hoping for a lightbulb moment. A moment of feeling at home, of recognising features of myself in family members and hoping to see all the dots connect.

Alas, I didn’t experience a conclusive, exciting firework moment in either of the trips. Instead, it honestly felt like I was just adding more mess to it all.

Recently though, lockdown has given me a few things: temporarily moving home to my parent’s house and copious amounts of free time. During this free time, I was able to dust off my pile of ‘to read’ books and finally crack into Avan Jogia’s collection of poems and stories entitled Mixed Feelings. A particular quote from Jess Gianatasio struck me;

“I’ve recently discovered that we are the glue. We are the bond, the adhesive, the cement in the middle. Who would have thought that a child could move continents? We blend cultures the way we blend families, through time and through love.”

Doesn’t that just hit you right in the feels? Sure, that one line didn’t magically heal years of identity crises and that outsider feeling I some- times get, but it’s a nice sentiment that encourages me to view my cultures not as clunky and shambolic, but instead, as beautifully blended.

While spending time at home waiting for lock- down to ease, I’ve decided to embrace a child- like curiosity, to stop denying my confusion and to learn as much as possible. This has included rummaging through my parents decaying photo albums, sitting with a cup of tea and bombard- ing them with questions, begging them to tell me stories from their childhoods, researching (aka. Wikipedia-ing) more about the history of their homelands, awkwardly face-timing family from overseas, and just progressively becoming prouder to be mixed-race.

From all this action, I’ve recognised some specific activities that have helped me own my cultures more. It’s noting down the recipes of my mum’s favourite Mauritian meals, it’s learning my dad’s beloved Gaelic sayings, it’s asking my Mauritian aunties to make me a traditional Sega dress, it’s learning to play my dad’s Irish Bodhrán, it’s participating in some Mauritian traditions, it’s shamelessly listening to classic Irish pub music, and it’s being one of the few humans on this planet to forge these specific connections.

There’s a simple loveliness in keeping alive the seemingly unimportant elements of my parent’s foreign cultures.

A fellow bi-racial friend once told me that on our bad days it feels like we belong nowhere, but on our good days we belong everywhere. Here’s to more good days! But on those bad days when you feel like a pile of pieces that don’t fit together, remember that we mixed babies are whole, multifaceted, beautifully complex beings.

So, I leave you with this: you’re allowed to reconnect to those cultures you only felt half a part of. There will be no lightbulb moment that extinguishes all identity doubt, but slowly and surely the dots will connect.

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