I stood waiting for the tram at the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets, smack in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. The electronic tramTracker guide propped up on a nearby pole signaled that the next one was two minutes away.
I was just done with a routine, annoying appointment and had stepped out into the cold to head home. Melbourne was putting on its typical winter weekday afternoon show – slivers of light blue peeking through the white clouded sky and glimmers of sunshine squeezing between high-rise buildings, gently caressing the smooth concrete, tiled city pavements. Working professionals hurrying left to right and right to left dressed in somber black and grey office attire.
Looking around, I saw a fair few people – Asians, Caucasians, Indians, Middle-Easterners – waiting for the tram as well. Many of them wore sullen faces. Maybe they’re cold. The weekend’s three days away, maybe that’s why. How I longed for Saturday to be here.
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.
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.