“You’re not Italian!”
“Why do you say that?”
“You don’t look Italian.”
“See that woman there behind the counter, that’s my mother. The woman in the kitchen cooking your meal, that’s my Nonna”.
The look of shock floods their faces.
I walk away to the back of the kitchen to take a breather… “Stronzo”, I huff under my breath.
This was the most recent incident. But this is a constant recurrence for me, every time I step foot into that restaurant.
Yes, melanin pumps through my skin, and my textured curls bounce with grace, but not every conversation has to start with race.
I am Gianna Christella Hayes.
I contain a blend of two strong cultures.
I am African-American. I am Italian.
I am equally both.
I am equally proud.
Some context for you…
My mother and Nonna have a small family-run Italian restaurant in a predominantly white beach town in Sydney. I work there as a waitress a few times a week. That is where the story took place.
My mother’s side of the family migrated to Sydney from Naples in the 1980s, to pursue a venture as restauranteurs in Australia.
I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Sydney 9 years ago, at the age of 14.
Major culture shock? Major shock from the lack of culture seems more fitting.
I went out of my way to blend into my surroundings, to fit in with all the other white kids. Regardless, I copped the microaggressions, derogatory comments, exotification and of course people touching my hair... from kids in high school, to random people on the street; to university professors and bosses in my workplace.
I know most people aren’t coming from a bad place when they act this way… white people are curious, I get it. However, their judgments and ignorance are damaging. There’s a way to word things and there is a time and place to ask questions or to touch people’s hair. Simple.
“Where are you from?” Hmm.... quite a contradicting question coming from a white person right? Maybe they should ask themselves this question.
The truth is we are all immigrants unless you are an Indigenous owner of this land.