How I’m Inspired To Call Myself Asian Australian

A few months ago, I got to meet the person who inspires me to call myself Asian Australian and be a writer – dancing violinist, Youtuber Lindsey Stirling. I was very lucky and managed to chat with Lindsey before lapping up her energetic performance at The Corner Hotel in Melbourne.

Me and Lindsey Stirling at her Melbourne show. She inspires me so much. Photo: Rob Bright

Me and Lindsey Stirling at her Melbourne show. She inspires me so much. Photo: Rob Bright

I never expected to look up to her. Her non-lyrical blend of music which is a mixture of classical and dub-step musical genres is (was) not my cup of tea; I’m not a fan of club-esque beats. One day while taking a break from writing an article, I chanced upon her Zelda Medley video. Being a video game nut, I curiously looked up interview clips of her on YouTube and was immediately drawn to the optimism radiating from her personality.

Time and time again, Lindsey has said that it’s okay to be different. She also exemplifies this – wearing mismatched socks, long hair standing up and prancing around with a violin in hand:


Asian Australians. We’re supposedly different. We’re made to feel different. Alice Pung’s anthology of Asian Australian stories Growing Up Asian In Australia illustrates this very well. We stick out in a predominantly white Australia. We get teased “ching chong Chinaman”, teased for being too yellow or dark-skinned. If we don’t get bullied, people innocently ask us, “Where are you from?” When one feels different, one feels like they don’t belong.

People always point out my slight Singapore-Malaysian accent and say that my colourful fashion sense makes me look like an international student. When I first moved to Melbourne and barely knew anyone here, these comments made me feel far from Australian. At the same time, my parents said I had a good grasp of the English language, but I should improve my rusty Cantonese. Back then, I felt too Asian to be Australian and too Australian to be Asian. I felt like a freak.

It was during university that I developed the confidence to call myself Asian Australian. It was also around the time I discovered this inspiring quote from Lindsey:

You don’t have to conform to be accepted. The greatest value comes from loving yourself for who you are.

I met fellow Asian Australians in my classes who confidently went about what they wanted to achieve despite being told they couldn’t because they were Asian. I read diaspora academic texts for assignments, learning 1) the words “Australian” and “Asian” don’t have concrete definitions and 2) Australia is a fair-go nation, a nation historically made up of migrants like my parents. I realised you don’t need to be Caucasian to be Australian and speak Chinese to be Asian.

Do I fit the broad “Asian” or “Australian” stereotype more? Well, I majored in mathematics and cultural studies in my degree. In my spare time, I chip away at improving my piano skills and go to the beach. I like eating sushi and lamingtons. Inevitably, some of us fit the stereotype. Some of us fit the anti-stereotype. And like me, some of us are awkward and exemplify qualities from both character dimensions. As Lindsey says, we need to think of ourselves first to accept who we are:

We can’t live from the outside in, we must live from the inside out […] We have to decide that we love ourselves and then turn to others to make them better rather than always searching for validation from others to make ourselves feel better.

On the subject of overcoming obstacles, she offers:

To transcend, means not to get through something, or get past something. But it means to completely overcome something […] By finding passion, by sharing with other people, we are able to work from the inside out and that’s how we find happiness.

The more confident I felt being in my own skin, the more interested I became towards the topic of Asian-Aussie identities and decided to blog about it. Through my writing, I got the opportunity to talk to Kurunjang Secondary College about being Asian Australian earlier this year and I felt wholly Australian – Caucasian and Asian students listened to me intently with wide eyes. Shortly after this, I had a stretch of alone time and chose to wander around Melbourne’s suburbs far and wide. Everywhere I went, I kept seeing the mundane scenes of Malaysians, Indonesians, Italians, etc. shopping at Woolies and commuting on trams. It hit me they were going about their lives in Australia. Just like me. We’re all the same, as Lindsey puts it:

We rarely think of others as…people. They are more or less objects […] Individuals become people only when we see they have feelings, personalities and passions.

I’ve come to proudly acknowledge I’m Asian Australian and I hope other Asian Australians do the same too. Through writing, I want to encourage us to all get along, connect us all. Stigmatisation and words we don’t want to hear will always be part and parcel of life, but who cares what others think? In a world with different cultures, everyone is unique and entitled to their own opinion – so we should respect differences. For this epiphany, I thank Lindsey Stirling.

Who inspires you? What’s your favourite quote?

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47 thoughts on “How I’m Inspired To Call Myself Asian Australian

  1. Nice post to read. From a pragmatic perspective, if we see our future in Australia, we are stakeholders in Australia’s future and seeing ourselves as Australian is recognition of that.

    For me, seeing myself as Australian is very easy because I don’t think there are many prescriptions about how Australians are meant to be. I know there are bumper stickers like, ‘real Aussies drive utes’ but they only get attention because nothing is promoted instead (a mole hill on a flat landscape).

    I guess other people have trouble identifying with Australia for that reason (what model do you identify with?) With China, there are myths about how Chinese supposedly are and even if most Chinese are not like that, that model at least provides something to aspire to and identify with. (Unfortunately, it can also result in square pegs trying to force themselves through a round hole.)

    In Australia, we have a relatively clean slate to work with and all the best in what you do with it. We all have slightly different ancestries and we will all have slightly different futures but in Australia, the threads of our journey intermingle and I think that is what makes Australia such an interesting place to live.

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    • ‘Our threads of our journey intermingle’. Wise words indeed, RedEarthBlueSky. All of us Australians have a part to play in shaping our nation, be it politcally, socially or economically. There will always be different perspectives due to cultural differences, and these perspectives often surface one way or another (i.e. mass media, online media) and leave some sort of impact on our fabric of the Australian nation.

      I often wonder why Aussie bumper stickers, broad accents, bogan dress-sense, skipping kangaroos etc. are still heavily promoted as Australia and/or Australians. Maybe this is what resonates best with the rest of the world (but perhaps not hitting home entirely)? Don’t think we’ll see an Aussie tourism campaign that features Australians of colour front and centre anytime soon. The campaigns in recent years – including the Qantas ones in my opinion – are already vague enough.

      Excuse my naivety, but I’m not too sure what you mean when you ask me by model I identify with. I see it as a very broad question.

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      • When I said, ‘what model do you identify with?’ I didn’t actually mean you I meant people in general. I suppose I should have written, ‘What model does one identify with?’ but that would have sounded a bit too British.

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  2. After reading your post, I was reminded of a conversation I had in the car with a friend in San Francisco a few years back. Like me, he thought of himself as generation 1.5. Although born and raised in America, we managed to embrace the culture of parents while at home, but also assimilated well enough as an American. In a way, it felt like we had split personalities, but one could overtake the other depending on where we were or what we were doing. A good way to explain that is by illustration. He and I agreed that we weren’t Chinese enough to completely fit in the native Mainlanders or Taiwanese crowd but we were able to make good enough relationships. Likewise the same was true for ABCs that completely identified as Americans and refused to acknowledge their Chinese side – their lack of this made it hard for us to completely connect. So where do we stand? Well, it was obvious – neither. We stand by ourselves. There is nothing to say that someone else defines the standards. In fact it’s an advantage to be able to flip a switch and blend in with either side. We are that intersection between two circles. We define our standards and we define ourselves. Coming to that realization gave me a sense of inner peace and more confidence in listening to my own inner voice. There is no need to justify why I choose to do the things I do, or to think the way I do. I am simply being….

    -Brian

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    • I’m “ABC” too, but an Australian-born Chinese! spot on. There is really no need to justify who we are, the person and cultures we choose to identify with. As cliched as this may sound, we are who we are. When we come to accept ourselves as who we are, we have more confidence and time to focus on what we want to do – what we want to achieve and better ourselves in terms of characters. More importantly, we have more time to interact with others and encourage them in every way possible.

      You said it all and I can’t find anything else to add. A good way with words you have there. Loved how you ended your comment…Brian 🙂

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    • Choosing to identify with the motherland or forsake it is an interesting topic. Personally, I am a mongrel so I just have a lot of ancestral lines from all over the place not a motherland so to speak. Britain is one of those lines but I don’t identify with Britain. Maybe if I was pure Brit I might but then again I might not. I think environment shapes personality more than ancestry.

      I once had a chat to South African migrant to Australia of Indian descent and I asked him how he thoughts of himself. He had been to India and realized he was nothing like the people there. He didn’t quite fit in with the Indians of South Africa as he fought against Apartheid but many of them didn’t. In the end, he just saw himself as not-white because that was how he had been treated for most of his life.

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      • Thanks for clarifying the model question in your previous comment. Now it makes sense.

        That really is an interesting topic. Like you RedEarthBlueSKy, I too don’t affiliate my identity (Asian Australian) with the “motherland”. After some pondering, you can say that I base my identity off culture, tradition and values. Digressing a bit, I have yet to hear anyone refer to Australia as their “motherland”. Usually when we speak of “motherland” in Australia, it’s when we’re talking about ethnic minorities and their “native” country. I don’t know if Australians living overseas as short-term expats or even permanently think of Down Under as their “motherland”.

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  4. what the heck is an Asian Australian? its like a Mexican living in American calling themselves an Mexican American when an appropriate term would be Latino or Hispanic. Surely there is a proper designation for “Asian Australian”

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    • The term “Asian Australian” is a complex one. In general, it refers to someone born in Australia (Australian citizenship) who is of Asian heritage. There are many Asian cultures – Chinese, Korean, Japanese and so on. In Australia, we have cultural/migrant groups and people we refer to as Chinese Australian, Korean Australian, Vietnamese Australian etc. – and all fall under the umbrella term “Asian Australian”.

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  5. At the end of the day we are all human beings. Considering oneself as Australian, Chinese, American, English, African or anything else is all irrevelent, it is simply where we happen to be at that moment. Nobody has any proof that they own any part of the world they are simply living there. Therefore we are existing on the planet earth. I think more effort should be put into making the earth a better place to live for everything including animals etc. Every person is different irrespective of their blood ancestry and as such should be accepted and treated the same all over, a little more understand and care for others would go a long way. The fact that there are so many different types

    of

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    • Sorry ran out of space. Of people is awsome as it makes for such an interesting world.
      Mabel, I would like to give u a big hug too cause u are sooo cute.
      Cheers,
      Mike.

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      • I like your take on this “Who we are” subject, and I agree with all of what you say. We all live on the same planet, we are all people, so why not take the time to help one another and make our world a better place. Calling ourselves Australian, British, Korean, Chinese, African etc. is in a sense categorising us all – including some people in categories but excluding some. And some of us might not take exclusion very well, especially if it’s in the context of citizenship or race. However, sometimes ascribing names to a certain group of people/grouping people assists us in preserving cultural traditions (I’ve touched on the slightly on TheRiskyShift).

        We’re all cute, beautiful and unique in our own ways, which makes the world an even more interesting place. I think Lindsey Stirling is the cute one in the picture. Someday I hope she sees this post and all of the lovely comments. If you see me on the streets, say hi and I’ll give you a big hug 🙂

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  6. Very cool! Last winter, I actually stumbled on a gorgeous utube of her prancing and playing her violin in the snowy woods. Showed it to my son (then six), a musician (for real). I flagged her in my head in case I wrote a poem to go with the vid this year. =) How did you meet her?

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    • Awww, I hope your musical son enjoyed the dancing violin girl. I bought VIP tickets to her show and got to meet her for 5 minutes before she played. She is such a lovely person and made shy me feel very comfortable talking to her. I wish I told her how much she inspires me to write and be who I am today. Hope I get a second chance someday =D

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  8. Modern-day Australia is a migrant culture vastly different from that of the early days. Each migrant brings something of value to the melting pot, but there are unfortunately people in the country who have a mythical idea of what it means to be an Aussie. My husband and I come from an Anglo-Saxon heritage but were born and bred in Africa – we migrated to Australia in our mid-30s and have encountered our own share of racism – “when are you going to lose the accent”, “I’ve never met a nice South African”, etc, etc.

    Be yourself, Mabel, and be proud.

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    • “…a mythical idea of what it means to be an Aussie”. Very interesting phrase and thought. The conception that Australia is a country where mainly Caucasians live and dominate still exists today. So sorry to hear that you’ve had racism come your way. It must’ve been a very unpleasant experience especially when we know Oz is a migrant country. It seems to me that those who aren’t welcoming of non-whites seem to be very vocal about this and scream “racist” at any opportunity to get. I’m inclined to think there a good lot of people here are very nice and welcoming, just that they are the more quiet ones and don’t see the need to kick up a fuss over being nice. Or rude.

      Thanks, Bluebee. You be yourself too, and be proud 🙂 And thanks for reading this post. It’s my favourite.

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  11. Mabel I love the photo of you and Lindsey. 😊. You are a wonderful writer with much to say. I found this post to be heartfelt. My mother always inspired me – her upbeat attitude meant that life never got her down. My Mum was a practical person but she believed in having dreams and working at making them come true.

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    • Thank you, Maria, for your nice words. That was the first time I met Lindsey in 2013. Hopefully many more times to come 🙂 This is one of my favourite posts I’ve written.

      Your mother sounds like a go-getter: practical enough to stick to her values but determined enough to work hard for what she wants. Very wise. Not all of us will be lucky enough to make it big with our passion, and it’s not the end of the world.

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