My Big Fat Migrant Upbringing

| December 8, 2012

Words by Mija Kovacic

Australia is pretty much the world’s hotspot for multiculturalism, and we all know it, so there won’t be a speech about how far we’ve progressed since White Australia laws and whatnot. What I will tell you though, is that getting to this point could be considered quite heartbreaking, and sometimes really lol-worthy.

[Clears throat] My family moved to Australia in 1994 during the Yugoslav War. It was really tough. From what I hear anyway, I wasn’t even two at this point so not like I remember. Anyway, this was a time when Australia didn’t have many international residents. In fact, people on our street were both so fascinated and scared by us that they constantly battled between peeking through our curtains, and moving houses. So what was it really like growing up as a migrant in Australia?

Mostar, Bosnia

Guilt-talk is a second language
We all remember when Converse canvas shoes and Adidas sneakers were like, THE shit, right? I do. Because for years I believed my life and all the unfair trials I had faced until that moment would be worth it if I owned a pair of either. $150 for a pair of shoes!? ‘Ridiculous’, my father would say. ‘You’ll get them dirty anyway. Look at the ones on your feet now. Disgusting.’ He continued to tell me the story of my unemployed grandmother saving enough coins to buy him shoes, with which he would walk through dirt, only to have her clean them for him that night with a toothbrush. Later that week a girl stood on my foot playing football (not soccer) and I stopped the game to cry at the grass stain on my shoe.

Dating is disastrous
“So tell me about your family? What are they like?” It could be one of the most dreaded questions to be asked when your family is as massive and flamboyant as mine. Dinners are loud and obnoxious, and given that we came here with nothing, we somehow always had enough lamb to feed the street (not like we could. They didn’t talk to us). It’s also really hard to explain how everyone was decked out in sequins, push-up bras, and big hair all the time. You also develop a some kind of superiority complex as a result of your parents and older relatives thinking no one is good enough for you (that’s the only reason I’m single now, you know). “Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” I ask. “No.” You’d understand everything if you did. 

Britney was my Queen
The 90s were the prime time for pop princesses and boy bands, and Britney Spears was all the craze with her midriff tops and low-cut jeans.  I explicitly remember not knowing what CDs were until my cousin gifted me Baby, One More Time for my birthday. Spending money on these things seemed a little trivial, as fun as they were. The next few years meant this was the only song I played. Dances were choreographed. I still remember them.

People holiday in Europe, you go to visit family you don’t know
Telling people you’re going to Europe for a month usually gets you a reaction of excited squeals and questions. “Where in Europe?! Paris?” Well, not quite. “I’m going to Bosnia.” You can just see the WTF on their faces because chances are, no one had even heard of the place at the time (if this is your first time hearing about it, I won’t hold it against you). Anyway, going back home for a holiday doesn’t really work like a typical holiday. You visit people you don’t really know despite their claiming that you’ve grown so much. You also know the language, but in a way that seems so different to residents’ that you may as well be mute because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. I once went to a café on the Neretva River, asked for chips with my meal, only to have the man tell me they are an established organization and to go to the super market for potato chips. ‘Oh…you mean pomfrit’, he scoffed at me when my grandmother explained Australian-Bosnians refer to it all the same.

Language barriers are more obvious than ever
I’m a little baffled that no one in my family has been hit with sexual harassment charges. Did you mean you wanted a large cock, or coke? You put how many homemade shits in the cake? Both true encounters. I also learned how confusing potato wedges and a wedgie are when my dad asked a young supermarket employee if she could show him hers.

Memes: Can't Tell If Accent...

Identity Crisis
It is quite confusing to grow up with your home culture being heavily Eastern-European and your social life being incredibly Australian. What the hell are you? Well, I’ve found that my presentation and music taste is the most out-of-line as can be with my family. “Please don’t do that thing you do at this party, Mija,” my mother says. What she’s actually referring to is that she and everyone else in the community consider me so alternative that they don’t know what to say when they see me. “Nice…hair?” The awkwardness eventually becomes amusing. While the conflict in cultures can sometimes be a little puzzling, it’s also incredibly fun. How else would a creature as immaculate as myself have formed?

Oh, and lastly, your favourite foods are literally not available in your hemisphere. It’s tragic, and needs no further discussion.

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Category: FEATURED, Serious Section

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