Monday, 23 August 2010

day 13: family

i've been writing about privilege & the things i'm grateful for over the past couple of weeks, and it would be easy to take the message from this that we shouldn't complain because we're so much better off than most of the world. at least a reasonable proportion of the people who are able to read this blog would be.

but that would be an incorrect message to take from this series of posts. yes, we should - no, i'd go even stronger than that and say we must - be grateful for what we have and work hard to ensure that others also have similar opportunities. but that doesn't mean that we should be silent about injustices or unfairness in our own lives. even the most privileged person may be subject to something that is manifestly unfair in one aspect of their lives. it's not right to suffer in silence, because to accept injustice is to promote oppression. if we allow ourselves to be oppressed, then we allow others to be oppressed.

i do accept that not everyone has the strength to fight back at all times in their lives, and sometimes the consequences of fighting back or even complaining can be pretty severe. people have to fight when they are ready and able. the point i'm making is that privilege in one area shouldn't lead to silence in another.

the topic for today is family. i've touched on some issues around family when i wrote about
birth. family can be quite a double-edged sword though, can't they? sometimes they drive you up the wall, but other times you know you never would have survived without them.

i never had any extended family around me while growing up. no-one even remotely close by. i think our nearest rellies, and they were pretty distant ones, were in malaysia. so i never had any meaningful contact with cousins, uncles, aunts, or grandparents until i was 12. this was the first time i went back to india, and that was quite an experience which was filled with culture shock & homesickness for nz.

but until i went back, i never fully realised what i'd been missing out on and how lonely an existence it is to be a migrant in a strange land. it's not like i was living in a land full of brown people who spoke urdu, which i can imagine what it must feel for white nz'ers travelling to aussie or uk ie everything is reasonably familiar, the people look the same and the language is pretty similar. but for brown people coming to a land peopled predominantly by white people who have a totally different culture, who don't understand or identify with your religion and traditions, yeah that's something else altogether.

family, and especially extended family, give you a sense of place and belonging. at least within the family, you are generally "normal" - the traditions, culture and religion are generally shared. i know that's not true for everyone, but it's true for a lot of people. it wasn't true for me. i may be indian-looking on the outside but i'm pretty kiwi on the inside, and cultural framework is so different from the one i found in india that i found i never could really belong to that place. and while i did develop strong emotional ties with my family, i don't think i could ever properly fit in. i didn't feel comfortable with that lifestyle, and love really doesn't conquer all.

because i mix mainly with migrants, i find a lot of people who face that similar isolation. though things are quite a lot easier now, nz being a much more multi-cultural place, and there being many more established communities for migrants to slot into. but the distance from family, the homesickness and longing for the familiar - familiar faces, familiar food, familiar sounds and languages - that's all pretty constant.

the hardest thing for migrants is when family members fall ill back in their country of origin. their parents may be dying, or a brother/sister has had a heart attack or a severe accident. and they are stuck here, far away in a little corner of the world, knowing by the time they make it back, their loved one will probably have passed on. that awful ache of knowing that you weren't there for the last precious moment, that you never had the chance to say goodbye, that's when you feel the distance most.

the funny thing is that people who have their extended family close around them are often busy feuding and falling out. they never seem to appreciate the value of what is close by. that's just human nature in a nutshell though.

as an adult, my close family are mostly overseas though i'm lucky to have my parents nearby. the isolation continues, and while friendships are precious, they aren't quite the same as family.

i'm thankful for the bonds i have with my family members, and the times we share together. i'm thankful for my children, and the love we share between us. i'm thankful that i'm able to keep in regular contact with family members, and to see them regularly even though it never feels like often enough.

i think about all the families that are torn apart, sometimes by circumstances beyond their control, other times by choice. i think of those who are estranged over and are unable to support each other. i think of the families who haven't been able to work together as a unit, who have been disfunctional and have struggled, whether due to poverty, abuse or some other reason. i think of our senior citizens who live in retirement villages and resthomes, many of whom don't get to see their family much at all.

action points for today: befriend a migrant family in your neighbourhood, welcome them to your home and see if you can't develop a bond of trust and mutual support, and find a way to include them in the local community. if you have family close by, appreciate them. if they are far away, try to keep in touch. if you're estranged from someone close to you, see if you can't take a first step towards reconciliation. if you have some spare time, perhaps you'd like to volunteer with refugee services to help a refugee family settle in nz.

if you are someone who is isolated from their family, or has suffered in some other way in relation to family, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

No comments: