ERIS GINO: People are People
After only a handful of interviews for The Pin there are certain themes already developing in conversation. Yes, the ‘where are you from?’ question grinds gears and people's assumptions about biracial and bicultural people often fall short of reality, but something that has surprised The Pin team is the seemingly innocent question ‘so, how’d you meet?’. We sat down with Eris Gino in Howrah, Tasmania to discuss that question, being a mother of biracial children and her take on race, identity and culture. Later in the year, you’ll meet Eris’ husband, Lawrence, and learn about his experience as a father and bicultural person. For now,
THE PIN: Where did you grow up?
ERIS GINO. I grew up here [in Hobart], ten minutes away in Lauderdale. It was great.
Do you remember what the main ideas were around race and culture when you were growing up?
E. No, I’m one of those colourblind people, I don’t see it. We had one Indian family in our school, that was it, nobody questioned it. They were just there, it wasn’t a big thing.
I remember when my son, Eli, was younger. My cousin had come to visit with her daughter, she was maybe five. They were leaving and her daughter gave my husband, Lawrence, a hug. My cousin said, 'oh, isn't that strange that she'd just go up to a black man and hug him' and I said, 'but he's not just a black man, it's Lawrence who she knows'. I'd be weird out if my son went up to men in the street and hugged them, no matter what colour they were but somebody in my won home, who they've met many times before, wouldn't be weird.
How did you meet Lawrence?
E. At a party. I went to a party and he was there [laughs].
I always find it weird how people say, ‘so, where did you meet?’. Because I’d never ask my white friend of their white boyfriend ‘how’d you guys meet?’. People always say, ‘so did you go to Africa?’ like it’s my mail order husband. Ebay, it’s great...just type in black husband. But that’s the thing, he’s just a person who I met.
Were there any surprise reactions from your family upon them meeting Lawrence?
E. No, I don’t think so. Last year my nan did this speech to her sewing club about how wonderful refugees are because of Lawrence. She’d probably never met another African face to face. But no, no issues that I know of.
Has your perception of race and culture changed as you’ve gotten to know Lawrence?
E. I think sometimes people use culture as an excuse to do things. A friend had four children to a man she’d been with for ten years. Last month he went back to Africa to meet his other wife and the new born baby that had happened on his last trip, which he hadn’t told his wife in Australia about. He said ‘oh, you just have to accept this, it’s my culture’. I think sometimes it can be a case of ‘hey, let me pick and choose this and say it’s culture’.
Like the media reports [about gang violence in Melbourne] recently, it’s like ‘oh, it's a cultural thing, they don’t understand our culture’. Actually no, they’re just young idiots fighting on the street. That happens everywhere, they’re just young idiots and that needs to be addressed but there is no cultural thing.
Have you had people say or make presumptions about your family?
E. Yes, lots!
In high school I just had African friends and there was this one girl who used to tease me and say, ‘why are you friends with all the n*ggers, aren’t you afraid you’re going to catch aids?’. She was a bogan and I was kind of scared of her. When Lawrence and I were moving out of our house the landlord told me someone was interested in renting the place and asked that I show them around...and it was the bogan girl...I was like, ‘oh my god I hate you’, but I showed her around the house. Then the landlord asked what they were like and I said, ‘nup, don’t get them’. So yeah, I got my own back [laughs].
People just say the most stupid thing about my kids. To me they’re my kids. It’s really weird, even some of my friends speak to Lawrence in a different way to how they’d speak to someone else. It’s subtle but I still notice it.
Do you think it’s important for your children to understand their heritage on both sides?
E. Yeah, definitely. We bought a globe today didn’t we Elizao? What country is daddy from?
ELIZAO GINO. Africa - Australia
E. Africa - Australia, and what country is daddy from?
ELIZAO GINO. South Sudan
E. Woohoo! We bought a globe today, because we found it in a shop and he was very intrigued. But yeah, it’s so important and I worry because there are a lot of single white mothers who I know here with mixed kids and their kids grow up with a loss wondering where they fit in. Especially when society is constantly pointing it out.
What are your fears and hopes for your children?
E. Just general stuff. I want them to be happy. If you’re relating it to race, I hope that people will be able to see them just as them. He’s Elazao, he’s not some little black kid.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
ERIS GINO. Oh gosh. Hey young Eris...I don’t know, there are lots of things. I can't think of any in particular. Sorry!
- This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo credit: Karen Brown Photography