COVID-19: a culture shock to ethnic communities

Multi-cultural family gatherings pre-Covid
Ester Gaolo's large Samoan family celebrating her 21st birthday (Image: supplied)

Peter Froio’s big Italian family likes nothing more than getting together over a dinner table groaning with good food and wine.

The 43-year-old owner of a small construction business from western Sydney says the COVID-19 restrictions have been tough. He explains:

“Our normal family gatherings would be full of greetings; handshakes, hugs and kisses all around.

“Kids playing together and adults engaging in close interaction, like a massive party.”

For many of Australia’s ethnic communities, who place great importance on big family gatherings, the isolation period has been particularly challenging.

“This time of year is traditionally wine-making season and when we make small goods like homemade salami as a family,” says Froio.

Gatherings pre-isolation
Peter Froio’s family: a typical pre-Covid gathering (Image: supplied)

It was particularly hard for Froio and his siblings when they were unable to help out or have face-to-face contact with their elderly parents.

Ester Gaolo’s 21st birthday party in mid-March was one of the last celebrations that her large, tight-knit Samoan family was able to hold before the long isolation period began.

“My birthday was actually the last day the majority of my loved ones saw each other [for a long time],” she says.

“The thought of my birthday being the last celebration my family and friends could possibly have together for a while saddened me.”

Ethnic communities hard hit by coronavirus isolation
Ester Gaolo’s 21st birthday party (Image: supplied)

The family are also devout churchgoers, and missed attending their weekly services, as well as their Samoan Congregational Christian Church (SCCC) conference at Easter. The conference usually hosts more than 2000 people from all over the world, and includes a sports tournament.

As well as missing family celebrations such as birthdays, reunions and baby showers, the Gaolos were unable to attend the annual Teuila Festival held in Samoa, due to international travel restrictions. The festival is one of the South Pacific’s major cultural events.

South African couple James and Ethel Adams arrived in Australia in December to visit their eldest daughter – and ended up getting locked down here.

They have seen bushfires and floods, and spent the isolation period in their daughter’s home in Penrith, in western Sydney.

Travel pre-isolation
James and Ethel Adams: their holiday took an unexpected twist (Image: Lindy Assur)

“We were just fortunate that it wasn’t difficult to be at home, because we were provided with everything we needed,” says Ethel Adams.

The couple have since returned to South Africa, on a special flight sent out to repatriate citizens holidaying in Australia.

One thing is certain: once the threat of COVID-19 abates, there will be plenty of hugs in the Froio, Gaolo and Adams families.

About Erin Assur 9 Articles
Current journalism student at Macleay College