Navigating different cultures and communities

Being a migrant or the child of migrants means having multiple cultures to engage with.

This can be both exciting and challenging.

Some people we spoke with said at some point, they had to adjust their way to ‘fit’ into school or surrounding environments. Many people talked about how ‘balancing’ between multiple cultures was important to them.

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When I went to Newcastle, in general, that place is a very white place. It’s very different to going to…I liken it to going to a Westfield in Western Sydney, in Parramatta or Penrith. Then you go to a similar store in Newcastle, and you’ll struggle. You’ll have to squint your eyes in the distance to try to find somebody who’s not white. So that’s the kind of place Newcastle is. And when you go to university and go to those kinds of degrees, it’s even harder, those professional degrees.

So when I went there, when I developed a friendship group, when I was in the process of developing one, I copied their cultural settings to try to fit in. And it meant that I was a bit averse to discussing church, church being a key point in Pasifika life, part of Pasifika identity. So I avoided talking about church or religion, Christianity, just for fear of ridicule, but that’s because it was just not on the agenda for them.

There was no understanding, even if I were to talk about religion. And I recognise that was a part that was lacking for me. I just kind of disengage from a Christianity point of view, engaged with Christianity also through a white lens because the very nature of Newcastle, the congregations were whites and the whole structure of the services, the English, all cultural aspects, funerals, birthdays, they were white or Anglo.

So I really regretted that, but in some ways I don’t think I would have been able to develop the friends that I was able to, in the end. I did also become more averse to using my name, my actual Tongan name. There were situations where I remember ordering coffee and I just knew that every person would get it wrong and I’d have to spend a lot of time to try to get them to learn my name, say my name properly. I remember saying James when they asked for my name, just because I couldn’t be bothered. So I used the English translation of my name. So that’s just an example of how I kind of put away my language and culture just to survive. And I think it was something that got introduced when we had family from New Zealand coming over, family from Sydney coming up to Newcastle. Culture got introduced. We had Tongan food in the house again. Yeah, it was good. I enjoyed that, but it was in small doses.


Us Islanders, we always get told, “Be humble, sit down!” But it’s like, “No, don’t do that.” Because then we go into our professional spaces, we go into the real world and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’re too much.” And you see other people that are too much and they’re going places. So, it’s just unlearning the things that we were taught, or just flipping it, switching it. Yes, you can be loud, but not too loud, like party-loud. Because we’re loud in our parties, but we’re not loud in our workplaces. You know what I mean? We’re loud in all the wrong areas. We’re loud on the sports field, but we’re not loud in our work place when we want a pay rise.

So, just learning how to do that, learning how to…and even our parents, like my Dad was like, he got offered a pay rise one time and he said, “No, thanks.” And it’s like…but I think a lot of the times, the reason why we’re like that, because you were taught somewhere. Someone told you that. Someone has made you believe that we need to be humble and just take what we’re given, whereas no, I feel like us Pasifika, we should always be the head, not the tail, because we have so much to offer.


I grew up in a Melanesian household so I still carry myself in that way. I know that I still have those values today. I’m courteous to others even if people treat me a bit rudely I’m not going tit for tat and get them back. I think it’s a Pacific thing, you’re just courteous to people. You really care about your relationships with other people and maintaining them. You work and you study, but you always keep in mind why you’re doing it and that’s pretty much to give back to your community. I think for me, another challenge I’ve had in wanting to really honour my culture is to really articulate, well, what is my community now because I’ve had such a strange turn of events in my life where I’ve lived in a lot of different places.

It’s really made me have to reflect on what does community mean to me. It’s really a no-brainer for me, my community is first my mum’s Island, my mum’s village, my family there. And her home, where she grew up, that’s my home first because they’re my first family in a way. Then I think my second community is the Solomon Islands itself. I think that as Islanders who have migrated out of the islands, there’s still a big feeling of you’ve gone to study overseas and everything, but can you really call yourself a Solomon Islander if you haven’t given back, if you’re not contributing in some way, shape or form back to the country or at least back to your people back there.

Then I think my other community is just the Pacific Islander community in general, whether they’re here in Australia or in the region. Just wherever I am if I come across an Islander, that’s still my community. I always try and do my best to give back or connect with Pacific Islander communities. Which is why I’m part of the Pacific Climate Warriors here in Melbourne as well. Which being able to find that community no matter where I am in Australia or the world, that’s where I find a lot of Islanders feel most safe and most comfortable. Even if you’ve never met each other, you just feel like, they’re my people. I think part of a huge reason, a huge part of what I want to do in my career is just to make sure that I’m practicing and living in a way that honours my Pacific culture, my Melanesian culture first, which is based on those values of giving back and honouring the original…how do I say it? The original community, which is my people back home. But I guess if you’re an Islander in Australia, that’s your family, whatever that means to you. No, I think that’s a really important thing for me.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer
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