Talking about language is confusing. Mother tongue, first language, native language and so on, we all define these phrases differently. And each of these definitions aren’t wrong at all since each phrase holds different meanings for each of us.
The other weekend I thought about this as I walked through the shopping centre near my place. Walking briskly, I passed by the stall selling organic beauty products, passed right in front of a middle-aged-looking Caucasian female stall attendant.
“Ni hao!” she exclaimed. I slowed my walking speed. What? She’s assuming I understand Chinese. Assuming that Mandarin is my mother tongue, which isn’t. It’s Cantonese. No, wait. My family speak Chinese too…so it’s also my mother tongue…
When it comes to choosing a dish that represents Australia as a nation, us Australians have always been divided on this. There are so many foods we associate with our country. A few months ago, the Asian Cup 2015 tournament hosted by Australia chose the meat pie as Australia’s favourite food. But a few years ago, 8,000 Australians voted roast lamb as our national dish, with the meat pie coming in second.
As a kid, I never ate meat pie. In fact, the first time I had a meat pie was about five years ago. One afternoon while walking around a shopping centre, I was hungry and on a whim bought a snack-sized beef pie from Michel’s Pattiserie, a rather fancy, pricey bakery. The pie was piping hot and as my teeth sunk into the semi-crispy brown crust, and a savoury taste filled my mouth. Couldn’t decide if the meat tasted like beef. I chewed.
I’m not a fan of sour foods. But my mum is. Whenever she’s back in Malaysia, she buys loads of sour lollies from the dried fruit-lolly shops there and asks me why I don’t want any. I don’t like tom-yum laksa or fish head curry either.
As an Asian person living in Australia, being Australian has always confused me. It’s something I’ve struggled to put into words. What is “Australian” exactly?
When I was a kid and up until university, I remember my Chinese-Malaysian dad saying to me countless times, “You were born in Australia. So you are Australian.” The older I get and the longer I live in Australia, the more I realise being Australian is more than just having an Australian citizenship certificate in your name.
The longer I live in Australia, the more I notice certain things about Australia and Australians around me. Being Australian is about being laid-back, easy-going with the ‘she’ll be alright’ attitude. Many places where I’ve worked here I’ve seen my colleagues run out of the door 5pm sharp to live life.
As a Chinese person living in Australia, defining who I am as an Asian Australian has always been tough. If you come from a mixed family or have moved around quite a bit, you might feel this way too.
Growing up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, my fair-haired Caucasian classmates teased my brown eyes in the playground. These days, walking around Melbourne, I get asked “Where are you from?” a fair bit. And at home, I get nagged at by my parents for not having studied science or law at university. As Asian Australians, we ask ourselves: Where do we fit in? Where do we belong?
Yet I no longer hate myself for being “too white to be Asian and too Asian to be Australian”. Living in multicultural Melbourne for almost a decade, I realise there are signs telling us it’s okay not to fit in – because we’re all different.