Photographer: Julia Faragher
Making the move to this strange new country that you had only imagined, that you never knew existed before, was like a weird dream. It didn’t seem real.
Your friends and family made it seem like it was a great big adventure, almost like a holiday. You would get to see your dad more often and meet new people – that was an exciting prospect because it wasn’t yet reality.
Your parents claimed to have never experienced racism in this new country that would soon be yours, full of people who, prior to you living there, you assumed were aliens. Tall and pale, they submerged you into something completely different to what you were used to. They would grab your arm, spit at you, shove you, pat you aggressively on your head and remark on how small you were. They would ask you what “ching chong” meant, comment on the grossness of the snacks you brought with you from home and play games that taunted your very Asian-ness.
Your being Asian was at the forefront of how you were identified – not for your smarts like Rachel, not for how athletic you were like Brenda, but on your skin colour. It dictated the way that people spoke to you. Well intentioned parents often made reassurances like: “Don’t worry, someday you’ll sound just like my daughter.”
You’ll live in this strange and foreign country for 13 years and still get that same look from people; the look that tells you that you’re not from here. You’ll get people trying to guess what type of Asian you are, as if they were on a game show and if they figured it out they would win a prize.
You’ll get told that racism doesn’t exist.
You’ll get told that you’re too sensitive for your own good, whilst simultaneously being ostracised from both of the worlds you grew up in; one world will say that you are too Australian to be a part of it, and the other that you’re too Asian.
You’ll feel ashamed but justified in deciding you want to be less Asian. This decision is in an effort to finally fit in, in a way that all your white friends seem to do seamlessly. You’ll search up various face surgeons, hairstyles and fashions because you will not be satisfied the way you are. You don’t feel Asian, you feel more Australian than that, but for some reason you’ll have created a distinction between being Asian and being Australian.
You will learn to dislike all that makes you different without realising that these differences make you, you.
Slowly but surely, however, you will come to accept yourself. You will embrace your Asian-ness while holding onto your Australian identity – a feat you never considered before because your identity had never before been presented to you in a way that wasn’t a ‘one or the other’ kind of situation. Being told that you were this or that, either Asian or Australian, had never really allowed you to consider the idea that you could be both. Asians in Asia slandered you for being so white and disconnected from your roots, shaking their heads in dismay when they found out you only knew English; Australians in Australia jumping to conclusions about your nationality when you’ve been one of them the whole time, making jokes about the Chinese and then pausing to look at you because they were afraid of offending you, the “Chinese”.
You were never considered one of “us”, but always one of “them”. Different. Foreign. Other.
The “us against them” dynamic troubled you growing up, because your “us” was never an “us” for the people around you. You never had a solid national identity you could latch onto, or use as a weapon in the face of fear. You never had a ready answer when people asked, “Where do you come from?” because to be honest, you never really knew and you never truly will. You come from everywhere but also nowhere and people will always assume that wherever it is, it is not HERE.
You are told that racism doesn’t exist in Australia. But you know, for a fact, that it does.