The Wog Myth(s)

1/15, f/1.7, Portra 160 on QL17.

Like so many children of migrants, I spent most of my life rejecting my heritage. I was embarrassed by the annual sauce and sausage-making days, and just wanted a burger from the local fish and chip shop where they didn’t yell at you – “you cut the tomatoes all wrong”, “hurry up”.

This scene, from “Looking for Alibrandi” was not my life. I wonder if it was true for any first generation Australian Wog. For me, this is a myth.

There are a lot of myths about Italians.

MYTH: Sauce Day surrounded by family, music, good food. The reality of sauce day, for me, was that it was cold and wet, mum and dad were angry that they had to do it in the first place, they complained that nobody was helping them and there was so much work to do – you want to be around that? That’s right, nobody does.

MYTH: Extended, loving wog family that cooks together and laughs together. Mostly we yelled and abused each other, told one another that we were stupid and wrong. When wogs are at the dinner table and it sounds like we’re arguing because we’re so “passionate”, we’re actually arguing. Stop romanticising the violence. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, fun.

MYTH: Family is everything – until someone doesn’t get invited to a birthday. Then you stop talking to family for decades.

MYTH: The caring Nonna over the fence. These days, the myth of the lovely nonna who pokes her head over the fence to give her neighbours a jar of passata and cannoli is perpetuated by ads like these, and by my mother.

That person, the sweet “nonna”, she’s new. She was never around while I was growing up. Us wog kids got the shit version, then the nice new neighbours got the new, improved version, the version that doesn’t come with any of the baggage.

MYTH: Slow food. We didn’t, and still don’t, sit around eating for hours. Food hits the table and within 20 minutes we’ve had entree and main. There’s been at least three violent arguments, or we’ve sat around in silence, and the dishes are in the sink while we’re arguing about who’s going to do the dishes.

Being a wog in an age when all I wanted to do was fit in and eat a buttered Vegemite roll (not the fancy ones you get now from Baker’s Delight) was not the fun of these myths.

All I wanted was to be surrounded by cream- and jam-filled sponge cakes (not *shudder* custard and alcohol-infused wog cakes), grandparents who filled jars with buttery Anzac biscuits and whose fridges were full of real Coke (not Lloyds cola in refillable bottles), parents who hugged you when you fell and scraped your knee (instead of telling you to look where you’re walking, for Godssake), and an endless supply of friends who you got to hang out with over the holidays.

I feel a little sorry for myself, you know. I’m an only child, my mum’s family is overseas, my parents fell out with most of dad’s family at various stages of my life so I never had the full cousin experience. Both sets of grandparents were in Italy, and we didn’t have skype, barely a decent landline to call them with. Plus, NO KID liked to talk to their wog family on the phone in Italian back int he 70s and 80s – the line echoed, you never knew what to say, let alone say it in a language you were trying to reject. The loving nonna didn’t exist for me, not even over the fence.

What’s it like to grow up around extended family? What’s it like to feel the unconditional love of grandparents, aunts and uncles, to hang out with cousins?

I’m getting to know some of my family again, as an adult, now that their kids are adults and making their own lives. I wonder what it’s going to look like.