Growing Up Asian in a White Mans World
There are many pivotal moments in one’s life that can mean almost nothing at the time. Sometimes the everlasting influence of a moment can only be understood once you’ve looked back and recall the emotions attached. A woman can reminisce on the first time she wore a dress and recognise that moment as being her first taste of feminism, a man can remember the many dates he took his wife on and pinpoint the moment he knew he loved her; and almost every adult can find innocent moments of their past and see the impression it left behind.
Overtime individuals evolve with lessons leant and mistakes made and looking back now at the mature age of twenty-four there have many experiences that have now left a permanent mark on both the character I am today and the legacy I leave behind. At age nine with a backpack on one shoulder I waited at a bus stop in the western suburbs of Melbourne; with a book in one hand and the leftovers of a packed lunchbox in the other I mind my own business like any other day. I drink a juice box like everyone else did and ate the remaining half of a peanut butter sandwich that my refugee parents made but never tasted.
All of a sudden a passing car screeches around the corner and a conditioned instinct is automatically felt, and so I held firm unto the straps of my bag and prepared myself to receive some sort of bigotry. Typically, angry drunkards or senile figures would now and then say ignorant things about race that would just roll off their tongues and leave at that- and by this point those sorts insults would not hurt anymore yet looking back now- this encounter was different- it may be the first time I learnt the difference between a meritless bully and a racist.
The man who seemed to have too much of time on his hands rolled down his window and shouted with the usual aggression “Go home- you don’t belong here” then followed his bullet words with a cowardly spit and drove off into the distance. When you grow up in a minority environment you simply just succumb to those sorts of behaviour but being much older now with a little more wisdom I finally recognize that moment as being the first time I understood racism and that saw myself as different.
Before then- the concept of racism and privilege were just words that were taught and never learnt. Before then it had never occurred that the vast and specific references to my ethnicity was racist- and prior to that I had just naively assumed that some people were mean and nothing more. Before then I thought I was just like everyone else.
I remember feeling confused on whether or not that taunt was aimed at me, but judging by the gentleman sitting alongside the bus bench tilting his head away as if nothing had happened I knew that this random act of malice was mine to receive. I remember thinking ‘but I am going home- I’m at the bus stop- what just happened?- did he really spit at me?’.
From then one- instead of seeking equality, “white” privilege became something I wanted.
When you are a child you do not necessarily see race as divide, it is something that is gradually learnt and sometimes even socially taught- white is better, blonde is prettier and minorities come second. I was the child of immigrants but also born Australian, I spoke one language indoors and another outside, and despite seemingly being raised in two different cultures I still did not know where I belonged - all I knew was that I was not like everyone else, but wanted to be.
Growing up as a first generation Australian, there was never any real representation. Understandably everyone in the media was Caucasian and the only ethnics we ever saw were either the point of scrutiny or in cartoons- here and there we would see an Asian on screen and find some sort of relatability but even then, they probably were characters of the supernatural or had some sort of theatrical fighting skills. To this day, ethnic representation is an on- going topic that is seemingly heard and discussed time and time again, yet somehow the issue of whitewashing prevalently remains. The same arguments are addressed, the expected apologies are press released and the cycle repeats with identical empty promises. I never saw people like me on screen and those outside did not want me- so who was I? and where do I belong?
Society was much different twenty years ago- multicultural restaurants were slowly being introduced, xenophobia was a political matter and western suburb children grew to believe that their race meant second place. In that twenty years though - society has flourished into a moral state that is much different where the variety of human characteristics from ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation are now being embraced. The other day I caught public transport to complete a university exam and as I sat with another book once more I thought to myself- who would have thought that the same kid whom got spat on at a bus stop for being a minority would be graduating with journalistic major.
A moment that once represented my first understanding of racism eventually flourished into the unsuspecting moment that motivated me to prove expectations wrong. We as a society have travelled a long way on the equality journey- nowadays it would not be bewildering to see mixed raced children playing together in the same school yard or to see different ethnic group tasting each other national cuisines and enjoying each others company. Yet despite the growth we have seen- there is still a long way to.
I am Asian and I am Australian. I am proud.