# 66 The Cultural Divide

Actually, it makes it harder to change, because after years of being what I have become in people’s lives, there’s an expectation to continue to be that person even when everything about you has changed. Like going to your favourite restaurant and ordering your usual, then you find out they’ve just changed the menu.

People fascinate me, just as much as languages do. Lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to expand my circle of friends, simply by making room in my schedule. It’s often too easy to say that I don’t have the time, so I’ve been making space in my life for new relationships to develop. Not even talking about dating, that’s a different beast altogether. The first part of my story was the reaction to a decision that wasn’t my own. This time around, the story is my own creation.

There’s this small town resentment festering lately and I didn’t like it. The truth is, Whakatane is my comfort zone, and being here doesn’t give me a reason to change. Actually, it makes it harder to change, because after years of being what I have become in people’s lives, there’s an expectation to continue to be that person even when everything about you has changed. Like going to your favourite restaurant and ordering your usual, then you find out they’ve just changed the menu.

When it comes to living your purpose, it pays to surround yourself with like-minded people who will keep the flow going. Often this journey has left me feeling frustrated in my perceived isolation, when it was me who tried to do it on my own. It’s easy to assume that no-one understands you, and in turn create more stress and resentment.

Last night I was restless, so I texted a girlfried to see if she wanted to hang out. In winter, Saturday nights in Whakatane are a hit and miss socially. Most people hibernate in the cold, or they generally socialise within the respective sports clubs. Small towns have a seasonal social night life, and having lived here for most of mine, I take it for what it is.

We sat in my friend’s almost-beach-front apartment, cosy and sipping green tea. She is Canadian of Indian descent and have lived in New Zealand for several years. We are both single and in our mid-thirties, love solo-travel and of course...food. The cultural divide with our parents were strikingly similar, and often we spoke of our frustration, yet silent conformity up until our teenage years.

I’ve been lucky that my parents realised early on that the world I would grow up in will be very different to the one they knew - it didn’t mean they completely let me do everything I wanted to either. There are very strict deal breakers and conditions as long as I live under their roof, which to those with non-Asian parents may find alien.

I have a sneaking suspicion that most immigrant parents will hold out hope that their children will marry someone from their culture. It’s not a racist thing, I think it’s a generational thing, an identity thing. It makes sense to marry a person from the same culture - there’s an established knowledge base of traditions, language, food, and roles men and women are expected to fulfill in the home. Most of the time you don’t have to explain, they already know.

I guess believing in marriage still makes me somewhat traditional. Dating, relationship, marriage, house then kids in that order. That was the timeline I thought would be my measure of success. I had acquired four of them in ten years, then lost it in a split second. I guess I threw a spanner in the works? Where does that leave me in a culture where divorce is illegal? Next year, I will be the first in my family to be divorced, which to be honest really sucks.

Within each culture there are rituals or rites of passage, whether we openly acknowledge it or not. If you find yourself in a cultural shift as an adult, navigating through it can often be emotionally daunting. The isms of language, behaviour, gender identity - where questions lead to more questions, and somewhere along the way you feel like you’re losing your sense of self. Are you living your truth, or filtering and moulding yourself based on what you think they want you to be?

I feel labels sometimes oversimplify what can be often be a complex issue. I identify as Filipino, yet I also identify as Kiwi - a Kiwipino. The decision to choose this label assumes that I understand and will conform to what is expected of me in both cultures. Yet, what if there are opposing opinions from each culture? Deciding which parts to keep without bastardising them, to identify which resonates with me and adapt them into my personal identity isn’t easy. That’s something I’m working on, and that takes time.

What I have to remember in all this is to keep living my truth. Taking on other people’s expectations of me, that’s a heavy burden to carry and impossible to live up to. I don’t want to live the rest of my days scared of disappointing people, because let’s face it, it’s going to happen anyway. When we label others, how we see them is biased while that person is in that bubble.

Peel away the labels and let go of the judgement. Take away the regrets but keep the lessons. Yeah, I think that’s a good place to start.

Peace, love and chocolate.

Ronna Grace Funtelar

A thirtyish storyteller, hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.