"Growing up Asian in Asutralia"
And I finished it tonight.
I am exhausted but it was worth staying up way past bedtime to read it.
It's an anthology of short stories/ poetry about the experiences of well, growing up Asian in Australia.
There are a wide range of stories about people from many different Asian countries (Asian is used in the wider sense to include India and Pakistan) growing up all over Australia but there are common threads- bullying, mis-understandings, cultural isolation and dealing with stereotypes.
It was published in 2008 and a lot of the stories about when the authors were kids are set in the 1980s or 1990s.
When I was a kid.
Back then my primary school had about 200 kids.
I was in grade 2 when the first Asian kid enrolled. He was Filipino and spoke no English. Within a week he could swear like a trooper though I'm not sure he always realised what he was saying. He had an ESL aide. I was a lot older before I realised that ESL didn't mean going-to-the-multipurpose-room-for-one-on-one-tutoring. I cringe now to think of the racially based epithets that were his nicknames. Oddly, they were all racial slurs about Aborigines. And were used on any of the white kids who got very tanned over summer as well. I'm sure the teachers must have overheard them. Why weren't we educated about what horrible words we were using?
When I was in Grade 6 an Indian kid transferred to the school. He was genius level smart, played chess in every spare moment and everyone in his family had a very long name. I remember thinking India must be an amazing country with all those smart people everywhere and lucky they were smart so they could remember all those long names and wondering if the schools even bothered with playgrounds considering all the kids did was play chess...
By the time my sister went through the same school five years later there were a couple of Chinese kids (two Chinese restaurants in town so at least two families) and I think there was a girl who'd been adopted from somewhere...
But it was on the whole a pretty white Australian experience. Multicultural week we learned how to say Grandma and Grandpa in Italian, Greek and Dutch. I still remember thinking that Oma and Opa and Nonno and Nonna were so similar sounding those kids were quite unfortunate their grandparents weren't Aussie.
It was therefore a huge shock to go from that kind of town to Uni in the city and be surrounded by people from everywhere you could imagine and all just doing their own thing. Not walking around in national dress eating snacks from their respective cultures. The Asian students in my classes defied my long held overly simplistic and insulting stereotypes and ran the gamut from International students with westernised names to third generation Aussies with non-anglicised names. It was a very mind broadening experience. I became good friends with a girl whose parents had migrated from Hong Kong. We spent long afternoons studying Japanese together and shocking each other with stories of our childhood- things like my having a part time job from year 8 and her father tutoring her in maths a year above her grade level each evening left our respective heads spinning.
Reading this book made me think about all the different experiences there are under the umbrella 'growing up Asian in Australia.' From living in Chinatown in Sydney or Melbourne to being the only non-white face in your primary school in a country town in the back of beyond. While some of the themes came up again and again there were also some wildly different experiences.
My town has grown, the school is bigger, the governments skilled migration in regional Australia policy has meant more non-white faces around town. But spending the summer there with the girls I still sometimes get asked 'where did you get them from?' or told about someone else who 'also adopted a Chinese baby.' It's funny that in Japan people see the western features in Meg's face while in Australia they can only see the Asian ones.
The book didn't have any contributions from Japanese authors. I guess this is representative of the fact that Japanese people are a minority within the Asian Australian community. A minority within a minority.
But my hometown has a Japanese restaurant now- actually owned and run by real live Japanese people to boot- and the local school has "sushi Fridays" where the kids can order sushi for their lunch order (the school has no canteen so if you don't bring a lunch you order it and a local milk bar delivers it to the school in time for lunch) so times they are a changing, even in country Australia.
I wonder if a second edition of this book was published in ten or fifteen years about the kids going to school in the 2000s would the stories be the same or different?
I hope they'd portray a more understanding Australia. A less ignorant group of white Aussie kids in the playground.
But those 'where did you get them from?' comments make me wonder...