The sweet humid air surrounded my body with the first step I took on the soil of my parent’s birthplace. It was an odd sensation being in a country new to me yet feeling so at home. I was 12 and had taken my first plane ride (a 13 hour one) with my parents to the place where they, their parents and grandparents were born, the Fiji Islands. I had cried before boarding the Air Pacific plane at SFO, not wanting to leave my cousin/best friend for an entire month for an island which shaped so much of my childhood, yet had never been. I had never traveled this far out of my world and was scared and naive of what was waiting on the other side of the world.
I was born in the Bay Area, California, but 90% of my family is from the Fiji Islands. I grew up with dual cultures, like any first generation American or immigrant child will tell you. It was a battle straddling the line between being American in front of your friends while remaining traditional, cultured and tied to your roots with your family. In this country I was born in I was constantly made to feel other. “Where do you come from?” “What are you?” While for my friends born from immigrant parents from India, I was never entirely Indian enough. Where did I fit?
It was that first breath of humid air, the hugs of my aunt and cousins at the Nadi airport, and the ride to her home through the sugarcane fields along the Sleeping Giant mountain that made me realize where I belonged. All of the stories I grew up hearing from my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents had told me melted into realization. This is where I came from. It’s the place that shaped my parents, who in turn shaped me. I didn’t feel other. Sure, I was the kid from America, but I spoke the same language, ate the same food growing up and had the same values passed on to me. I learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I felt a point of pride in my heritage that until then had never fully understood.
Those four weeks were a catalyst for my future. It gave birth to my commitment not just to human rights and equality but gave me a piece of my identity that wasn’t fully actualized. This was my heritage. This was me. I was no longer the other in Fiji. The islands had wrapped me in its arms in a way that America never fully had.
I cried again as I left the airport in Fiji. Shedding tears leaving behind my cousins and aunt that I had grown so attached to. The aunt who lovingly called me Radha Rani, fed me and told me stories about my dad when he was a child that I had never heard before. She made my ties to Fiji palpable. The hurt I felt leaving her and Fiji behind as a 12 year old much more immense than I would have thought. The pain of leaving this home that I became so attached to. This place that I had such a deep connection to. That connection which still lives in me in California.
The Fijian-Indian community maybe very small, but we are all tied together by certain traditions that are immediately recognizable by all. That includes music and today’s song of the day Masese by Kapena (originally by Fijian artistSakiusa Bulicokocoko).
Masese instantly transports me to the parties, weddings, and pretty much any get together that involved music when I was growing up. Forget growing up – this song is still played at every big family function.
It may not have always been the case, but I’m so intensely proud of my heritage and this song brings back so many fond memories of my childhood, family and island every time I hear it. I hope you enjoy it. Bula binaka!
One of the funnest aspects of growing up in such a diverse culture and community as the Fijian Indian one is, is the music. At nearly every wedding, party or family you were guaranteed to hear a handful of staple songs mixed in with whatever the current music was. That included Bula Malaya, a few other Fijian songs (which are still played) and UB40’s Red Red Wine at some point, most likely at the end of the night.
The blend of all these different kinds of music is something I took for granted at the time, but now I cherish it. Red Red Wine brings back so many fond memories of family parties and weddings, with aunts and uncles dancing with each other, while groups of cousins huddled in circles swaying to the music with our arms around each other.
So many fond memories tied to this song and that is one of the most beautiful parts of music.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would read a book about the Indian diaspora and the Fiji Islands. On the heels of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, on a whim, I decided to research books about my parents’ home country, the Fiji Islands. I expected books on tourism and travel, but never did I expect to find Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala.
The book is much more than just the journey of Indians from India to Fiji, Hajratwala specifically writes about her own family’s journey from Gujrat, India to the Fiji Islands, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and various parts of America. The author spent 7 years researching the book and interviewed 75 relatives in the process. The result is a stunning, in depth look at the Indian diaspora through Minal’s family.
A first generation child will always tell you how difficult the push and pull between your so-called American-ness and your family roots. It’s a constant battle straddling the line between being cool and American in front of your friends, while remaining traditional and cultured and tied to your roots with your family.
One minute you’re eating poori and kaddu at a family pooja and the next you’re out having turkey burgers and fries with friends (explaining why you don’t eat beef is a whole other issue).
Being Fijian-Indian and born in America brings up a whole other set of issues. The world we live in always wants to label us. Filling out those little race forms was always so confusing to me. Are you Indian? Are you a Pacific Islander? You’re supposed to fit in a neat little box.