What Does It Mean To Be Asian-Australian?

Growing up, I was always confused about what the term “Asian-Australian” meant, and today I still find it hard to define the term succinctly in a single sentence.

Why? Firstly, the word “Australian” itself is a complex term. It fundamentally refers to someone who has Australian citizenship as outlined on a piece of paper. When we call someone “Australian” or “Aussie”, we usually (rather stereotypically) refer to one who loves meat pies, Aussie Rules football, speaks with a plethora of Australian ockerisms and never hesitates to have a drink to wind-down the week. Being “Australian” has also come to mean giving everyone a “fair go”, encouraging individualism and having a relaxed outlook on life.

The Australian flag(s) flies high in Melbourne's Bourke Street. What does being Australian mean, and what does being Asian-Australian mean? Photo by Mabel Kwong.

The Australian flag(s) flies high in Melbourne’s Bourke Street. What does being Australian mean, and what does being Asian-Australian mean? Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Secondly, the word “Asian” itself is also a complex term. When we describe someone as “Asian”, we often (rather stereotypically) think of one who speaks fluently in their mother tongue, speaks broken English, is bad at sports and is extremely studious or hardworking for no good reason. Being “Asian” also means adopting a fairly conservative way of life, appreciating team membership and respecting tradition heaps.

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The Diversity Dictionary (II)

The “Diversity Dictionary” are posts where I try my very best to explain in plain English common words and phrases that we often come across while reading articles/papers/stories about multiculturalism and diversity. It’s always good to learn new lingo as learning is always good. It’s educational. Part I can be found here.

“Us” and “Them”

This phrase is used to compare people, in particular comparing people of different ethnicities or backgrounds.

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One of the ways to be less afraid of and understand the ‘Other’ is to appreciate their cultures and even learn their language. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Henri Taifel and John Turner have linked “Us” and “Them” to the concept of social identity theory which is the idea that a person’s sense of self is based on their membership of social groups such as class, age and faith.

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The Diversity Dictionary (Part I)

There is no shortage of discussion in the media and academia today about multiculturalism and diversity, including the many topics related to these terms (e.g. ethnic minorities and their rights, international students, languages, racism).

Google both words, or better still, chuck them into Google Scholar’s search engine and you’ll see what I mean.

When we read about multiculturalism and diversity, certain sets of words and phrases pertaining to these topics often repeatedly spring up.

Words/phrases relating to the subject of multiculturalism can be have complex, multiple meanings. It's just like how every Chinese character has various connotations. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Words/phrases relating to the subject of multiculturalism can be have complex, multiple meanings. It’s akin to every Chinese character having various connotations. It’s also akin to how each and every person has varied personalities, traits and reactions. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Most of the time, these words appear easy enough to grasp and understand at first glance. However, many of them are in fact complex and vague conceptions – they are ambiguous terms with multiple undertones that one can easily misunderstand.

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The Dark Side Of A Vibrant Chinatown

Chinatowns in Western cities across the globe are constantly dubbed as not only sites that are a home away from home for the Chinese living here but also multicultural hubs.

Hubs where non-Chinese locals can meander about, appreciate Chinese lifestyles/food/products and chat with their Chinese community members. Hubs that promote camaraderie amongst people of various races.

The back of the front entrance of Melbourne's Chinatown. The arches embody traditional Chineseness, but also stereotypical notions. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

The back of the front entrance of Melbourne’s Chinatown. The arches embody traditional “Chineseness”, but also stereotypical notions. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Or so many of us think. There is always more than meets the eye and as clichéd as it sounds, we should never naively judge a book by its cover. Even Chinatowns.

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