The Maligned Immigrant

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a little while now, and aside from a short Twitter rant, I haven’t really felt the need to write anything lengthy about it. But in light of what happened this week in Moorooka, and the increasing amount of rhetoric I’ve been reading and hearing about (im)migrants, both here in Australia and overseas, I feel like this is now necessary.

Those of you who know me, or who have been following along my blog for the past year, know that I don’t have the best relationship with my parents (mainly my mother). There are several reasons for this, which I won’t go into right now – but suffice it to say that despite my issues with them, I will defend them as fiercely as I can, especially in the wake of bullshit racism. My parents are both originally from East Malaysia, were born into Chinese families, and both came here to Australia to study after they finished high school. Mum, ever the high achiever, seemed destined to pursue high education overseas. Dad, though intelligent in his own right, only managed to pass English by the skin of his teeth, thereby guaranteeing him a spot in Australia. They studied here when tensions around “Asians” as a collective were quite high, and when they returned, a few years later, to start their family, it seemed like nothing had changed.

Dad, though not the most political of people, recounts hearing the rhetoric John Howard was spewing when he was in the Young Liberals, and maintained a staunch hatred of him through his prime ministership. They were here through the Pauline Hanson years, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that would have been like. Mum gets tight-lipped when Hanson is mentioned, and Dad gets so angry that even words fail him. They both quietly expressed their dismay at Hanson’s re-election this year, and said nothing else on the matter. But I can’t help but think that the resurgence of racism against “people who aren’t Australian” has hit them harder than they make it out to be.

Somehow, the prevailing narrative of the immigrant or the refugee has become one of laziness, one that professes fears of leeching off the government, but at the same time, also taking jobs away from “Australians who deserve them”. Narratives of fear are far more effective than those that promote positivity, and in the past couple of years, this has become abundantly clear. It has become a way to maintain supremacy in a world that is catching up to them, bullies attempting to put down those who are different, or those who may threaten their previously uncontested span of power.

My parents are not lazy. Mum has run her own business for 25 years now, and Dad worked as a real estate agent until I was born. They have not received a drop of government money, and my sister and I have not either. My parents worked hard to make sure my sister and I were able to reap the rewards of growing up and being educated in a first world country. They pay their taxes, and after complaining a little about the changes to Medicare that seem to happen every year, Mum digs in her heels and refuses to give in. This is just my parents’ story, and I’m sure there are many other renditions out there. And yet, this narrative of fear prevails. It may have even worsened.

I thought my parents lived through years of (casual) racial vilification so that this country could be a safer place for their children. I thought their suffering was worth it because we had learned from the mistakes of the past, and that we had embraced the label of being a multicultural country. Not so, it seems. I barely ever hear the word ‘multicultural’ any more, even though it seemed to be a staple of my childhood. We have, somehow, again been reduced to stereotypes of our cultures, our greatest contributions to the Australian landscape coming in the form of cuisines that are inevitably mangled and Westernised. I am angry that precious little seems to have changed. I am angry that I haven’t ever felt safe from physical and verbal jabs, often at my expense, and at the expense of those I love. I am angry that these narratives of fear are more influential than our actions could ever be.

At the moment, Mum and Dad are still permanent residents, courtesy of the fact that Malaysia does not allow for dual citzenship. So whenever I vote, I feel as if my vote is worth more than just the slips of paper I’m marking and the democracy sausages cooking outside. I am lucky enough to have a say in this country I love, this country I call home, and so I am not just voting for myself – I am also voting for my parents. I vote in the hope that my parents can feel validated in their choice to move away from their families and their stable jobs to start a life of their own, and to provide better lives for their children.

In 1996, the year my sister was born, Pauline Hanson declared that Australia was in danger of “being swamped by Asians.” Twenty years later, I almost wish this were the case. But the screens we watch and the pages we read are still predominantly filled by white Australians. ThisĀ needsĀ to change, and should change, but I am almost certain this may take yet another twenty years, or maybe even more. Until then, I hope we can begin to (yet again) discard the mantle of the maligned immigrant. I hope we can all just be Australians.

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