Knowing one’s identity is such an integral part of a young person’s journey, how they’re guided in their early years of life shapes the way they will see themselves in what is now a world that is such a melting pot of cultures. My husband and I are on this part of our journey with our teenager.
Before I begin to elaborate how we are trying to muddle through it all I'd like to give you a bit of context with regards to our family dynamics. I have a blended family. When my husband and I met, I was a single mom to a 3 and half year old. As most single parents will tell you, how their child reacts to a new partner plays a crucial role on whether the relationship survives or dies a quick fiery death. Ours took 2 years to work on before my daughter came around to the idea that this man intending to share our lives was an alright guy after all. My daughters biological father has always been in the picture when it came to their father/daughter relationship so the conflict I sometimes reflect back on now with my daughter was the idea of having to accept that there could possibly be another man who was going to be around permanently and how her feelings of loyalty towards her biological father would factor into it all. Now more than 9 years later, so much has changed for my daughter and to her Dad is now the man that she took so long to warm to; Dad is the man who picked her up from Fiji and brought her across to the UK; Dad is the man who’s taught her how to ride a bike; Dad is the man who showed her how to throw a mean uppercut should the need ever arise; Dad is the first person she goes to whenever she needs a voice of reason and most importantly Dad is the person Nau married and out of that union, she is now an older sister to two younger siblings.
My husbands heritage is of a mixed background. Yes he is Fijian and quite proud of it too however when you trace his family tree, his paternal links are from here in Newcastle. His maternal links however are from the same part of Fiji that I’m from, by the time we realised this and he was told that we could potentially be related it was too late.. as they say kissing cousins and all. I take solace in the fact that we are so far removed from being too closely related due to the fact that he is a Geordie Fijian and as such couldn’t possibly be a part of the Amazonian Fijians of Tailevu North. His family history is one we can trace and recount from both sides for our children, This is mainly due to his older siblings making the concerted effort to get to know who they’re descended from, which I think is an amazing thing because as the saying goes, inorder to know where we are going, we must know where we have come from. My family history is one I grew up hearing about, so if you asked me who my cousin twice removed is I’d say I married him… Just kidding! I have always had an innate ability to retain information, so when my grandparents from both sides of the family would recount family history I would soak in all this information and I now find myself telling my children whenever they ask with such clarity that it makes me appreciate all those years and time I spent growing up by my grandparents side.
Being a blended family means, in addition to my husband and I’s family history we also have another member who also has a story to tell about where she comes from. I have been truly blessed with such an open-minded and understanding spouse who encourages the need for my teenager to learn about her biological family history. Any other man would have felt emasculated in a situation such as this as it is quite a difficult position to be in. But I feel that for parents who might be in similar situations, the only way that this would work and have a positive outcome in it all is to establish the fact that the step-parent is the “now” for the child and that relationship needs to be nurtured so that it is secure enough for both so it is able to weather the conversation that will be initiated from the questions pertaining to family history. A few might disagree with the approach that we as parents have decided to take and that is to teach our eldest where she comes from but we felt that it was important that she knew that side of her family in addition to knowing about her Dad’s (my husband) and mine. You see my teenagers family heritage is one that is so deeply entrenched in the Fijian culture itself as a whole. My teenager is descended from a family that not only was the driving force behind our being ceded as a country to Great Britain but also our gaining independence from our colonial masters. She carries their last name and is also named after their family with her first and middle names, this in itself further cements the different interwoven layers of a young Fijian woman’s identity that my teenager grapples with. The intricacies of the traditional protocols that entails one of her birthright is a conversation that we find ourselves having more and more of lately. On one hand she is fiercely proud of the man who has more or less brought her up and considers her his own regardless of DNA, but on the other hand there is also the underlying need to learn about the traditional roles and her identity as a young Fijian woman.
Last Friday I attended a Fijian Women in the UK Networking Event and heard a young Fijian woman articulate so eloquently her own experience as a young person who has grown up in both Fiji and UK and how it was important for her to maintain both her Fijian identity whilst at the same time celebrating the diversity of being a child afforded the opportunity to grow up abroad. It resonated so deeply for me because it made me realise that the journey my child has with trying to figure out how to celebrate her own Fijian identity was not an isolated incident. That inorder for me to help my child acknowledge and be proud of both my husband & I’s heritage and that of her own biological family, there was a need to be well-informed about our history as a whole. There was a need to also be well-informed about the traditional protocols all sides of our families entailed without undermining either my husband or I.
Being so far away from home makes this all the more challenging for us as parents as we are the ones who are at the forefront of teaching our children about their family history. It’s now on us as their parents to teach them all that we can and when we come to a point where our own knowledge is exhausted, we then have to take it upon ourselves to speak to other family members who can continue the history education that our children deserve. Fijian culture is such we can trace back our forefathers at times 5 even 6 generations back and although our history has always been one that is relayed orally through either traditional dance or song, the clarity I find with how it remains constant throughout is a testament to how fiercely we guard our identity as a people. This is something I find that I’m always reminding my children about, that we are descended from giants and inorder to be able to mirror the notion of being the quintessential young Fijian person, they need to know how these giants we are descended from, overcame barriers and also lived through struggles so that we would be able to live the lives we lead today.
I’m at peace knowing that my own confidence in knowing who I am and where I come from as a strong Fijian woman is one that will allow me to enhance my own childrens knowledge on their heritage. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”