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Being an In-Betweener: Carla Caruso on being caught between two cultures

August 29, 2018

About The Author:

Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, Australia, and only ‘escaped’ for three years to work as a magazine journalist and stylist in Sydney. Previously, she was a gossip columnist and fashion editor at Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser. She has since freelanced for titles including Woman’s Day, Cleo and Shop Til You Drop. These days, in between writing romantic comedy novels (sometimes with a touch of cosy mystery), she plays mum to twin sons Alessio and Sebastian. Her books include the ‘Astonvale’ rom-com mystery series (kicking off with A Pretty Mess), Catch of the Day, Second Chance, and Cityglitter. She’s also an editor of the Romance Writers of Australia journal, Hearts Talk, and has a foodie blog. Plus, she’s obsessed with running, horoscopes, fashion, up-cycling vintage finds, trashy TV, and cats.

Purchase a copy of The Right Place here 

WORDS || CARLA CARUSO

As a second-generation Italian in Australia, I’ve often felt like an ‘in-betweener’, caught between two cultures, and I’m not alone.

Australia is a multicultural place, and many people here have spoken about their difficulties growing up being ‘different’.

MasterChef star Poh Ling Yeow, who migrated from Malaysia aged nine, told Business Insider that fitting in, for her, took work. ‘I did such a great job of shedding everything that made me feel different that in my early thirties I had nothing. [Until one day] I actually got a little bit scared.’ Cooking helped her reconnect with her birth country.

Balinese princess and former wife of swimmer Michael Klim, Lindy Rama-Ellis, recently told 9Honey that she also felt like the odd one out when young. ‘I grew up in Tasmania and I was pretty much the only Asian person in my school, so I got teased dramatically.’ As well, Canberra writer Zoya Patel has just released a feminist memoir, No Country Woman, about being a first-generation migrant to Australia, from an Indian-Fijian background, and struggling to know where she belongs.

Whenever I hear stories like these, my ears prick up. I wish I’d known, when I was young, that my tale wasn’t so unique. Being of Italian ancestry and growing up in a very ‘white’ neighbourhood, I got the usual schoolyard taunts about my olive complexion and looking different. In primary school, I remember one girl asking what country I was born in, and when I said ‘Australia’, she told me I was wrong.

So, I’d live the ‘Aussie life’ at school, then go home to eggplant parmigiana for dinner and protective Italian parents who wouldn’t let me go on sleepovers or travel in P-plater cars. And every second weekend, I’d have a family baptism/wedding/communion to attend. And yet, once I was seventeen (with a fake ID!), and had discovered ‘wog’ nightclubs, I didn’t quite fit in with those Italian kids either because I hadn’t gone to a Catholic school and my dad didn’t give two hoots about soccer.

I’ve tried to channel some of this feeling in my new novel, The Right Place (Harlequin HQ)—about a contemporary heroine who inherits a market garden (like the one my dad grew up on as one of 10 kids!), and her nonna’s story in the 1950s, who’s just migrated from an Italian village and is trying to find her feet Down Under. I hope to have depicted that search for belonging, for both women.

For me, writing happens in between parenting my five-year-old twin sons. And recently, I got talking to another mother at a play café—as mums do!—with Thai, Iraqi and Spanish ancestry, who’d married (and divorced) an Italian-Greek guy. It got me wondering … which country would her son one day most relate to, or would he wind up an in-betweener like me? Maybe, for him, the right place will be wherever he chooses to make it.


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