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.
Nicknames. Name-calling. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes offensive. And other times we have mixed feelings about them.
Nicknames take on some kind of character or thing. Recently at work, my colleague Julien added to my long list of nicknames. Coming over to my desk one afternoon, boisterous Julien said, “Since you love monkeys so much, I’ll call you Cheeky Monkey Mabel. Cheeky Monkey!” I looked up from my desk, wondering if he was serious. And if the name would stick.
When we know someone well, we might give them a nickname out of friendship or love. Nicknames liven up the day, and sometimes it’s why we call each other by nicknames. When I shuffle through the office door in the mornings, eyes semi-closed, it’s actually quite entertaining to hear Julien chirpily say and smirk, “How is Cheeky Monkey today?”
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.
Standing in front of a bunch of people you don’t know. Feeling like a million pairs of eyes locked on you. Forehead sweaty, palms shaky. Speaking to an audience we’ve never met, or even to a group of friends, can be scary if we’re not too confident at public speaking.
Recently I got interviewed on a radio podcast on SYN 90.7FM and talked about the Asian entertainment scene in Australia (radio is public speaking – talking to an audience you can’t see, but can feel…). Although this podcast was edited, I thought it didn’t go too bad as I did string coherent sentences together. But I was never this eloquent speech-wise. As a kid, I always stuttered when I gave presentations in front of the class.
As an Asian Australian living in Australia, I get the question “Where are you from?” thrown at me quite a bit.
When I get asked this, I pause: it’s a confusing question. Where exactly is “from”? The place where we were born? Where we live? Our heritage? One of my favourite responses to this question is, “I’m from three countries. Guess” (I grew up in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore to Chinese-Malaysian parents; see previous post). It’s also an intrusive question that demands a very personal answer, maybe demanding that we give our life story away.
We usually feel the urge to ask the question when get the feeling the person we’re talking to has a different story than us, judging by the accent on the tip of their tongue, the colour of their skin, the way they dress.
When we were young, maybe we were forced to travel, travel for a better life and a better education. Growing up, I moved quite a bit: Melbourne to Malaysia to Singapore and back to Melbourne. My parents wanted to work in Asia, and so little me was dragged along with them.