Vol 11, Issue 6
“There’s too many of you people here.”
That was the ultimate end of a conversation I had, which had been initiated by a white bloke saying to me “Maybe I should learn Mandarin if I want to be Australian in the future”.
“Have you heard of this place?” he asked me as he shoved a keychain in my face, a logo of a local primary school on it. “I used to go there. A great school. But now it’s filled with people like you.” He leaned in, and I could smell alcohol on his breath. “You know why?”
Because more Asian people are living here? I wanted to say, but I just shook my head, because I have no balls.
“Because you fuckers send your kids to revision academies and Sunday revision classes. It’s not fair!”
The obvious solution, of sending his own kids to revision classes and giving up their weekends doing classwork, homework and revision had apparently never crossed his mind. It’s a well-off suburb, so it’s not like they wouldn’t be able to afford it. I personally didn’t have a proper weekend from age 6 through to age 17.
I stayed silent, not wanting to be hit by a drunkard until my bus arrived.
This encounter is an extreme example of what I have had to deal with all my life. Toby’s excellent article encouraged, inter alia, first and second generation immigrants to Australia to write about their own experiences. I take up that call today.
My family came to Australia in 1994, as economic migrants from Hong Kong. My parents experienced the excesses of Mao’s China, growing up during the Great Leap Forward, and weathering the Cultural Revolution during their teenage years. They met at Zhengzhou University, studying English together.
Upon graduation, my father worked for a State Owned Enterprise in the shipping industry, moving my family to Hong Kong before starting his own business.
In the span of two decades, my family went from abject poverty to undreamed of prosperity.
Then the tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square on the 6th of June, 1989. Cognizant of the impending 1997 handover, my family left Hong Kong for Australia, arriving here in 1994. I was a year old at the time, a British Subject, not a citizen, and a little spoiled shit. I became an Australian Citizen in 1997.
Growing up, I lived in an environment of relative wealth. I went to private schools. We were upper middle class, and I was privy to the privileges that come with that. But even then, there were differences with my classmates. There were 2 Asians in my class growing up, which became 3.5 in year 3. Rather than Ned Kelly, ANZAC Cove or AFL, I grew up with Peng Dehuai, the Long March and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
My eyes were a common point of taunting. Small penis jokes became common starting from year 7. I was often asked what problem I had against Tibetans. Random white people (and it was always white) would say “ni hao” loudly to me on the street. They still do. Until I was in year 12, I hated my Chinese-ness. I hated being different. I wanted to be “Aussie”, which to me meant white.
Asians in the West are the permanent foreigner. Unlike previous waves of immigration from Italy or Greece, our skin colour and ‘ethnic’ look set us apart. In American universities, Asians suffer from the most severe ethnic bias. In Australia, those with Chinese sounding names fare the worst in job applications. Structural racism still permeates in Australia, no matter what the so called “Model Minority” stereotype says.
In popular media, whitewashing is common. The furore kicked up over Ghost in the Shell is, hopefully, a sign that the trend is changing.
All of the above is in no way an attempt to shirk my middle-class privilege. I likely wouldn’t be here if my family wasn’t as well off as they are, and if I didn’t have the opportunities that I’ve found growing up in the lap of relative luxury. But those job numbers are stark. Those academia numbers are stark. The weekly encounter with the racist white person is real. Popular culture’s whiteness remains unchanged.
Do I have a solution to the above? Increased dialogue, a celebration of our differences – and please, for the love of God, the death of the “Model Minority” stereotype.
Kai Liu is a third-year JD student
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