Growing up in Melbourne in the 1990s, Laura Coriakula had never thought she would one day appear on a televised social experiment like ‘Big Brother’. If anything, she looked for ways to attract the least attention, and furthermore, longed to try change who she was.
“As a kid you don’t say these things, you don’t know how to articulate it. You would only feel them and have thoughts in my head of, ‘I want light skin, I want blue eyes, I want blonde hair’,” she told HuffPost Australia.
The now-25-year-old, whose father hails from Matuku Island in Fiji, was recalling the impact of facing racism during her childhood.
Schoolyard taunts from other students were regular. “I had lots of things like, ‘Why is your dad black? Why is your dad’s hair funny?’” she explained.
“He’s got an afro, and then I used to be so embarrassed of my dad, I didn’t want him to come to school because kids would laugh.
“I was seven or eight years old so I didn’t have any awareness or I wasn’t educated about racism. But I guess as parents you don’t expect your little children to be saying those things in school grounds, and we don’t go and tell teachers.”
Laura said she began asking herself, “Why does my face look like this? Why am I getting bullied for big lips or my body’s bigger?”
After attending four different high schools and even doing some schooling in Fiji because “I just never felt I belonged anywhere”, Laura moved to the US at age 19 to pursue a dance career.
“I feel like I only ever felt at home when I actually moved to the US, and I mean home in a sense of I felt comfortable with who I am with people who are not Fijian,” she reflected.
“Being a coloured person in the US, I actually felt better. There were more of us, there was more education and awareness. I felt so empowered there because my African American friends were just so welcoming and they were like, ‘Let me teach you how to be black’.”
The overseas move did take some time to adjust to in other respects such as America’s gun laws, leading to her fear of being in the “wrong time, wrong place” and getting “caught in a crossfire”.
“Being there and knowing how authorities and police operate, that was the hard thing because there’s really no justice,” she said.
“We can’t afford there to be bad apples within the justice system because that just does not work because those bad apples are what will kill you. There should be zero tolerance.”
After finishing up in the dance studios in New York’s Times Square, Laura would often come out and see Black Lives Matter protests underway.
“I was like that’s exactly where I need to be, I need to be standing here whether that’s my country or not,” she said about participating. “This is my people, we all look the same and it’s about supporting each other, otherwise once you start thinking ‘this is not my country or this is not my battle, I don’t want to fight’, you become ignorant and part of the problem.”
Laura is one of 20 contestants on the 12th season of ‘Big Brother Australia’ this year which is hosted by Sonia Kruger.
Contestants living in the Sydney house will choose who is eliminated each episode, but the winner of the final prize of $250,000 will be decided by the public.
‘Big Brother Australia’ premieres on Monday June 8 at 7:30pm on Channel 7.