A few weeks ago, I met a Southeast Asian woman at a weekly mommy playgroup. She and I politely exchanged smiles, and I put my hand out for the all-American hello my name is and handshake routine. She looked quite surprised when I gave my introductions. But she was kind enough to reply, “I am <M>, and this is my employer’s son, <G>.” The conversation politely ended there, and I could sense the wall going up.
It was much in the same way when I met another new parent’s nanny/cleaner. I tried to strike up a conversation, but she quietly and politely walked away, tending to her employer’s children.
I see it all the time when I am walking on the street, in the grocery store, or anywhere else for that matter. I don’t know what it is, but for that brief, split second we make eye contact, I can sense a curiosity or sadness in their eyes.
Southeast Asian women in Cyprus are typically nannies, cooks, house cleaning ladies, or some have been known to be women from one of the “oldest professions.” They leave their families to support them financially from back home. To the Cypriots and perhaps other Europeans, they are considered second-class citizens.
I recently read on a Cyprus on-line forum from one Indian-British who posted a question about whether she should be concerned about discrimination based on the color of her skin. Many chimed in, but no one offered any valuable advice.
Even a wealthy South Asian woman mentioned that she has experienced so much discrimination here. She sarcastically joked that the “darker the color of your skin, the ‘s*$%@#*’ they treat you.”
Although I receive stares and unfriendly looks from various people on the street or in stores, I make the effort to give an all-American smile and say hello or good morning in Greek. But I find it difficult to watch Cypriots and other Europeans treat these women and other Asian ethnicities with such disregard. I wish there is a way to break the barrier of social class walls, and to have a conversation that is more than just the cordial hellos. I hope that my encounters with various Cypriots and other ethnicities is one small way to help build relationships with one another.