On what I thought it meant to be Australian:
When we’re growing up, we’re fed these ideals that we should follow, believe and aspire to be. Our schools do it. Our media does it. Our books do it. The educators and mentors we have as youth engrain these values into us.
And the values I’m referring to include egalitarianism. Giving everyone a fair go. Accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender. Acceptance. Pride. Patriotism.
We’re respected by the international community for our relaxed lifestyle. Our beaches. Our great coffee. Our sense of community and unanimity. The international community looks to Australia as a muse for multiculturalism and peace in society. We’re a mix of all different skin colours and stories from all walks of life. We have our own style, our own slang, and we’re all proud to be a part of this beautiful nation we’re so fortunate to call home.
In fact, there isn’t a way that I can describe a “true Australian”.
But that being said, I’ve also come to realise that my holding an Australian passport, being born in a hospital in Sydney, having an Australian citizenship and possessing an Australian drivers license doesn’t immediately make me Australian. No matter how much I try to justify to myself that my place of birth defines my nationality, I struggle to parallel my life to that of an Australian’s.
The cultural norms prided upon here in Australia have imbibed themselves in my life.
The fact that we shorten everything and anything we come across. Whether it be McDonalds becoming Maccas. Or avocado becoming avo. Even the suburb names around Sydney are fondly referred to with shortened monikers. Between mates, we’d refer to the suburb my high school was located in as Crowsie, short for Crows Nest.
Barbecues aren’t a stereotype. It’s a way of life. Regardless of if you’re vegetarian, vegan or a proud carnivore, in hail or shine, the barbecues will be running. It’s become a bonding ritual for all of us. To convene at a park or the beach or someone’s place, have the barbecue going and the stereo pumping. Having drinks passed around and just relaxing in the peaceful vibe we’ve created.
Inclusivity has been a huge part of my life. I know that in Asian cultures, as far as I’ve seen, girls are discouraged from getting dirty around boys. But for me, my childhood was spent running around on the sports fields at my school, playing AFL, soccer and more childlike games like Cops and Robbers or 44 Homes. I’ve always enjoyed playing a friendly match of footy with my mates. Running around and just enjoying the competition and team spirit we all foster, regardless of if we’re guys or girls. I was always encouraged to get involved with team sports and activities, and to this day, have always been so thankful that my parents never held me back from all the activities I was a part of.
But with all of this, I’ve still struggled to call myself Australian. Proudly and comfortably. Because the reality of all this is that our cultural norms and the values we’re taught are so shallow. Being considered Australian comes with a lot more complication.
I’ve grown up around a plethora of races and nationalities. But when I look at my closest friends, most of them possess either Indian heritage or East Asian heritage. And we’ve all come to connect being Australian with being Caucasian. Having fair skin that’s prone to becoming red in the sun. Having bright coloured eyes instead of dark brown eyes. Having blonde hair instead of jet black hair. Rarely being brought up in a household that speaks a language other than English.
Growing up so physically different to what I consider to be Australian has revealed the not-so-lovely side of what it means to be Australian. Things I hope and pray will change so that future generation bicultural Australians won’t have to deal with the hardships that I know so many of us have to deal with.
When we were taught that being Australian meant being inclusive, I didn’t realise that inclusivity didn’t stretch to including us if we were a different skin tone. I can no longer count the number of times where I’ve been told to go back to my own country because I have black hair and olive skin. It’s humiliating when you walk down a street in Sydney’s CBD and a man in his 30’s tells you to go home to your third world hell. It’s humiliating because I know I can easily be a smartass and retaliate by saying that I was born here, so I’d be returning to the hospital I was born in, or that the land isn’t anyone’s unless they have Aboriginal blood within them. But I’ve never retaliated. I’ve always just walked away and pretended I didn’t hear, because why give dogs more meat to chew on? It’s so humiliating that I’ve accepted myself as a second-class citizen because of my skin tone, when in fact, I was born and brought up in Sydney and I consider myself an Australian.
We were always taught that being Australian comes with living a great lifestyle. But I didn’t realise that came with a stream of racist jokes about my culture and how I’m so different. I didn’t realise I became the butt of all jokes because I don’t like drinking to get drunk. I didn’t realise that society would actually play into the stereotype that all Indian parents are hardcore and cruel and expect their children to just pursue academics. I didn’t realise that society has never expected me to become an all-rounded young woman because of my parents’ birth place. I love having beach days and barbecues with my mates. Playing footy and beach volleyball and going for walks and hikes. I love going on foodie adventures and drinking great coffee. But I also value the fact that my parents immigrated to Australia to provide a better life for themselves and for us, and the rest of our future family lineage.
It’s ironic to see how respected we are on an international stage for our said multiculturalism. When we really aren’t. acceptance of different races, ethnicities and religions goes above and beyond playing into stereotype. Eating a samosa doesn’t make you culturally aware. Nor does knowing when Chinese New Year is. It’s so shocking to see how misinformed our society is about culture and tradition that doesn’t stem from Europid origins. We sing it in our national anthem:
“For those who’ve come across the seas/ We’ve boundless plains to share”
But society still cannot fathom to accept those who don’t share the blonde/brunette hair, pale skin, bright eye combo.
It’s a misconception to suggest Australia is multicultural because my accent and mannerisms aren’t enough to determine whether I’m “Australian or not”. To be asked, “where are you from” is such a degrading question, because it suggests that no matter how Australian my behaviour is, I’ll never be called Australian. 18 years on, I’m met with disbelief when I tell strangers I was born and brought up here. I’ve been asked, “But where are you really from” as if my indication that I was born in Sydney is all a fabrication.
Whether our society will ever admit it or not, Australian society is so imbibed with racist preconceptions, regardless of whether it’s direct or indirect.
To be Australian means to apparently be upfront and bold and brusque. For me, that means hesitating when wanting to retaliate in the face of racism or to correct someone’s preconception about Indian culture, my lifestyle or my parents. For fear of upsetting or angering the individual. Because the liberty of free speech and defence of the individual is taken differently. If I retaliate against a racist or culturally derogative remark, I’m told to “suck it up because it’s a joke”. The liberty of freedom of speech has been taken to a whole new level here in Australian.
To be Australian apparently means to be armed with inbuilt assumptions. I can’t stress the number of times teachers, other individuals and strangers have commented on my choice to not pursue the sciences, or my upfront nature. It’s still a thing where people on trains will move their bags closer to themselves if I sit next to them, because my skin tone obviously suggests evil.
I thought being Australian meant watching this young nation flourish and grow and change with the myriad of races, ethnicities and cultures that are so fortunate to amalgamate on the shores of a beautiful country. I thought being Australian meant to love and accept regardless of race and culture and upbringing. I thought being Australian meant living a great life. I thought being Australian meant spreading positivity and inclusivity for all to enjoy and be a part of. I thought being Australian meant to be proud of the brilliance of having more than one culture, one religion, one language being spread across our shores.
I guess I was wrong.
And maybe, this is the fault of our educators. Because our educators are all so narrow and shallow and hardly ever suggest that Australia is a nation that comes with more than just bright coloured eyes, fair skin and blonde/brunette hair.
So isn’t it time we start seeing Australia for its cultural vivacity? Or is it still to early to understand that a nation can be successfully made up of more than one culture and still succeed.