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.
We all have different stories. Culture is a shared experience but over time stories change, and we’re always learning about our culture. And so it’s not a crime to not fit stereotypes in order to be fully “Asian” or fully “Australian” (two very broad terms).
When I left Malaysia and moved back to Melbourne for the tail end of high school, I took with me my shabby Cantonese. Over the last few years, it has become shabbier, but I still feel in touch with my heritage. Each year, watching lion dancers prance around Chinatown during Lunar New Year celebrations downtown Melbourne mesmerises me: crimson shades, dins of drums, dragons jumping in pairs – all speaking volumes to me about Chinese culture. I always smile, eyes drifting over the more-non-Asian-faces than I can count watching beside me too.
Being on the receiving end of racist and stereotypical remarks makes us Asian Australians feel like we don’t belong here. But everyone has their own opinions and different levels of education. A few months ago, as I was enjoying a leisurely weekend stroll in the city, a Caucasian guy came up to me and yelled in my face, “Hey chink. Chinky!”. Shocked, I paused, and walked on. Soon he was a block away from me. Then forgotten for the afternoon.
We have a choice to not take racism to heart, a choice to be proud of our culture while respecting others. As Grace over at Texan in Tokyo says, “No matter what you do…people will be personally offended. Always forgive.”
It’s uncomfortable, scary, lonely, embarrassing and confusing to be Asian Australian. Australia is still a nation typically defined by a white face and research shows Asian Australians go through identity denial because of this. At the beginning of university I avoided eating aromatic fried noodles for lunch with my non-white tutorial mates, choosing pizza instead: I longed to “be more white” and socialise with Caucasian Australians. I don’t talk with them anymore today. I was a racist against my own race, left red-faced and it got me no extra friends back then.
There is no one Asian Australian identity. We hold at least dual identities and some of us might feel closer to typical Asian values, some Western values, others caught in the middle. Some of us might be okay with this. But for some Asian Australians like me, we feel conflicted a lot of the time – the status quo Down Under makes us feel invisible.
Australia is a nation of migrants yet we don’t often get mentioned in mainstream media (Waleed Aly on The Project is a start), and in the public sector too. Then again, many Australians are shy talking about cultural differences – our Asian ethnicity, Australian nationality – out in the open. Maybe we’re afraid of racist insults. Maybe we fear certain races that we affiliate well with will think less us. So how can we Asian Australians begin to find the confidence to be, well, Asian Australian?
Perhaps we simply have to dig deep for the courage to stand up for ourselves and our culture. The more I blogged and shared stories about being Chinese Australian, the more I felt I could admit I am Asian Australian. The more I wrote about being Asian Australian and the great things about living in Australia, the more I repeated the stories I’ve lived back to myself – realising that they are a part of me and nothing can change that.
Confidence, comes from having self-worth, which comes from being positive and positivity is contagious. This year, it has been encouraging seeing a few bloggers jumping on my blog and championing this diverse world we live in, saying no to discrimination through sharing their own stories of who they are in the comments section.
Finding the Asian Australian identity. Or our cultural identity. It’s about learning to be comfortable with who we are. Believing we have a voice. It starts with us.