Think of the Portokalos family in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding films, and you get a glimpse of the joys and pitfalls of multi-generational living. The movie revolves around Toula, a middle-aged woman and her big, loud, and interconnected Greek orthodox family. There are hilarious scenes of chaos and fun embodied in shared meals, nosy relatives advising on everything under the sun, and generational tensions between parents and children. This light-hearted romantic comedy uncovers the challenges and beauty of inter-generational families as Toula navigates the cultural differences in her journey of self-discovery and love. The complexities of multi-generational families lie in balancing the individual and the collective.

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Throughout the film, we see these nuances in Toula’s story as she navigates living and walking between vastly different worlds. Greek culture versus middle-class American culture; her own ambitions and dreams versus cultural traditions embodied by her parents and wider family. The communication clashes common in inter-generational living are captured perfectly in a scene over the phone where Toula and her mother discuss dinner for her family (nuclear) and her boyfriend Ian’s family. Her mother states that she’s peeling more potatoes, confusing Toula, who asks why she is preparing so much food for the small gathering? Her mother responds, “the family is coming”. Toula pauses, then nervously stutters, “the family…….you invited the whole family”. This classic miscommunication example is followed by a funny scene when Ian and his parents meet Toula’s parents… and about 30 other family members. Minus the romance and owning a Greek restaurant, the film’s familial themes echo aspects of my multi-generational living experiences.

Growing up in Tonga, living in a large and intergenerational household was normal. Both my parents grew up in big families and multi-generational households. Our family was no different. Mum and Dad were never short of babysitters when work or community engagements arose. And my grandparents would teach about life through stories and, funnily enough, through chores.

As a child, I would follow my grandmother around as she did her daily chores like weaving a fala (mat), using lou tofua, known
as pandanus leaves, or weaving baskets out of coconut palm tree leaves. In helping with tasks, my grandmother would explain the purpose and utility of these items in our home and culture. She would reiterate that despite the laborious nature of these tasks, there is joy in putting one’s hands to the plough and sharing its fruit. Such as the completed woven mat can be used at family events, and woven coconut baskets carry tuberous crops from our plantations.

My playmates were siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Our neighbours were extended family, which meant accessing cups of sugar, popping by for a meal or having an extra pair of helping hands was never far or few. This village-like setting continued when we migrated as a family to Aotearoa New Zealand two decades ago. My nuclear family would be amongst the dense cluster of my paternal grandparents and extended kin residing in the same neighbourhood, and living ten minutes from one another.

In Pasifika cultures, like my Tongan and Samoan heritage, living with the nuclear and extended family is perfectly normal. It’s also common in parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Multi-gen- erational living is culturally standard, and socially acceptable. The collective underpinning of these cultures (similar to my own cultural heritage) locates the self, identity, and family living arrangements in kinship and family ties.

But they are my family, and in them I see the people who have poured into me; who continue to love me through all seasons of life, and who have shaped me into the person that I am today. Wherever I go, they are there.