My Anglo-Celtic (Scottish and Irish), Asian and Mediterannean ancestors have combined to give me an appearance which could potentially be Greek, Maltese, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Middle Eastern, even Sri Lankan – or almost any nationality with olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes.
Being of mixed heritage in a multicultural country gives me an unexpected advantage: each cultural group sees me as one of their own, and in addition, I am often mistaken for a friend by complete strangers. It is not unusual for a person to come up to me, beaming, only to realise that close up, I am not actually the person they thought I was. I am often asked if I know that I have a twin.
Yesterday, I was at a Turkish kebab shop ordering some lunch for my family and I. I ordered two kebabs for my daughter and the Bear, who were sitting down, and a gozleme for me (a delicious spinach and feta flatbread toastie). At the sound of someone ordering a gozleme, the Turkish owner, a cocky, handsome man in his forties, turned around.
“Are you Turkish?” He asked.
I grinned, happy that yet another nationality was claiming me. “No, but maybe I was last life because I love Turkish food so much,” I said.
He nodded as if I what I had said made perfect sense.
“Can I have four pieces of baklava as well, please,” I asked, remembering how much my family love the sweet and flaky treat.
As he packaged up my pastries, he cut a sliver of another type of pastry, similar to baklava but with shredded wheat instead of filo, and offered it to me to try.
I smiled in delight and thanked him.
“Do you like Turkish coffee?” He asked.
“Of course!” I replied.
He barked an order to the kitchen and shortly after I was presented with a tiny, delicate espresso cup filled with thick, sweet, black coffee, strong enough to stand a spoon in it. I sipped it appreciatively, and the women behind the counter grinned at me; “You won’t sleep for a week after that!”
“You like olives?” Asked my new Turkish friend.
“Sure,” I said, sipping my coffee, “what kind?”
“The best kind! The best olives in the world, Turkish olives!”
Soon my lunch was presented to me, slices of gozleme, yogurt garlic sauce, a wedge of lemon and scattered with the best olives in the world.
What was just as nice was the feeling I had of being welcomed, albeitly briefly, into a different culture. In my 20s I had the brief privilege of working in a deli in the very multicultural Sydney suburb of Ashfield. Every day, I was asked by Greek, Italian and Asian grandmothers where I was from. At first I was confused.
“Australia,” I would say.
“No,” they would insist, “what nationality?”
After a while I realised that they all thought I was one of them.
Boyd Varty, a South African park guide, said in his TEDx talk, that his definition of harmony is “everything being uniquely itself, and by being uniquely itself, is also a part of a greater unfolding.”
That’s the true joy of the world for me – that our very uniqueness contributes to the overall harmony of the world. As borders blur, and the lines between once rigid cultures, religions and race collapse, we are realising that the things we have in common are more significant than the things that make us different.
I am eating gozleme and baklava because my government realised that the White Australia policy was slowly crippling our country, and decided to open our island border to other nationalities.
Like the flow of fresh water into a drought starved river bed, our country has thrived and flourished because we have opened our doors and our hearts. How can it be otherwise?
Don’t believe the fear stories fed to us by politicians and sections of the media who thrive on dog whistling and moral panic. Don’t let people with fearful hearts drag you in, in their attempt to degrade and ‘other’ our fellow human beings.
People who arrive wanted or unwanted on our borders, wherever those borders may be, are not ‘aliens’.
They are flesh and blood, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings. We cannot shortcut our humanity in the defence of the indefensible without serious consequences. If we have to dehumanise a person in order to justify brutal actions, then our own humanity becomes compromised.
We have plenty of examples to look back on of what happens when a group of people become dehumanised in their attempt to ‘other’ another group of people.
History never looks kindly on these people by the way.
If we view the world through the lens of the nightly news, it may look like it’s all going to shit. Unsurprisingly, an events show curated to sell alarm and outrage will create that effect.
However, if we choose to operate with the idea that we’re all in this together, and that there is more that connects us than divides us, we will get a whole different vision of the world.