I am A Coconut.
I do not see that term as being derogative or negative or as a put down in any way, shape or form although depending on how it is used can determine that. But that's what I am.
I'm 100% full-blooded Micronesian, originally from the Kiribati Islands, Tarawa, Betio Village. I was adopted and raised by a white-Australian couple when I was 4 years old. They already had a son who was a year older than me...They were told they couldn't have any more children which is why they adopted me. My adoption was officialised in April 1982. In May of that year, my little sister - their other biological child was born. By all accounts I had it good - I was given a good Catholic education and upbringing, I was quite smart and very social and loved sport and music and pretty much excelled in those things, playing rep sport for the state in softball and netball and playing the piano in Eisteddfords and concerts.
I think though, for me, I began to wonder about my culture because it was very obvious my family were white and I wasn't. I read books about Kiribati but that was it. Like most adopted children, I wondered which of my 'real' parents i looked like and if I had any other siblings out there somewhere. My parents told me my biological parents had died when I was a baby but I had one, possibly two sisters that they knew of.
Life changed when I was 14 in a not-so-good way and I didn't have the skills or knowledge in how to cope. I was in the psychiatric unit when I was 16 and 17, homeless by 18 and in a drug and alcohol rehab at 19. In all that was that sense that I didn't fit in anywhere. I felt false being around people - I couldn't tell them about my culutre or much about the people. I'd pretend I was from another Island that they would have heard of. I felt intimidated when I saw other Islanders around and wouldn't ever acknowledge them.
I went to a drug and alcohol rehab first when I was 19 and then when I was 24. The second time round at the rehab, the program had changed so it focused more on the individual's history. It was in there, for 14 months, that i came to the realisation that for years I had felt disconnected and was lost because I didn't know what my identity was. I couldn't say I was an Islander because I was Australian but I wasn't Australian because I looked ethnic. And I also acknowledged that sometimes the messages my mother gave me were mixed about my culture and about the people to the point that that's where I began to lose my cultural identity. The men were just abusive drunks. The women were fat, baby-making machines. From my mother.
In 2001, I went to Kiribati to meet my family. I will write a story about that later.
When I came back, I wanted to connect to the culture like nothing else. There aren't that many I-Kiribati people where I live so I did the only thing I could think of and that was to go to the club that was run by Islanders. That's where I met my Tongan boyriend. That will be another story later on.
After rehab in 2003, I went into the halfway house. From there I was given info about a group that was running courses in Pacific Island Culture.
I finally got that connection with my Pacific Island heritage when I met my dance group and two wonderful people, Lucy and Siua. That will be another story as well but to make it short, I learnt Island dancing, performed at various functions, festivals and even did a trip to Tonga with them to dance. I served as a toua at the kava groups and the Phoenix Performing Arts group pretty much were my 'adoptive Island family'. I went to Tongan functions with them, they introduced me to Island food and it was fantastic. Even though it wasn't my actual culture itself, it was the Island Culture in general I was experiencing in general and I honestly felt like I was connected again - to myself, to my culture and also being proud of the fact that I could identify with two cultures - mine and my Australian one.
And that is why I say I am a Coconut.