You came into my life when I was in grade 6 (1996). I remember I feared my mother would be sent back to Vietnam. Yes, I am Asian, Vietnamese- Australian born and I still remember watching the news about you being in Dandenong, people demonstrated against/for you, some dozen eggs been thrown around, the term “Asians swarming” and at the sweet age of 11 years old, I feared my mum an Australian citizen, would be sent back to the country to fled. I actually wrote a song about you in a cabaret show called Viet Kieu.
“Immigration and multiculturalism are issues that this government is trying to address, but for far too long ordinary Australians have been kept out of any debate by the major parties. I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.” Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united. The world is full of failed and tragic examples, ranging from Ireland to Bosnia to Africa and, closer to home, Papua New Guinea. America and Great Britain are currently paying the price.” Pauline Hanson – 10th September, 1996.
Twenty years later you are back. Eminem should start rapping,
“Guess who’s back, back again. Shady’s back, tell a friend. Guess who’s back.”
I want you to know how your presence in the 90’s changed my life.
1. I decided I wanted to be Australian. All Australian. So I aggressively followed the football, Hawthorn Football Club and watched cricket to be an Aussie. This isn’t too bad.
2. I wanted my skin to be white. I went to Vietnam in 1997, and I hid from the sun. This is a huge feat, as Vietnam is on the equator and pretty humid. I remember crying at my grandmother’s house about my skin being getting tanned. No one understood why I was crying.
and this one…hurts me the most, and this is not at all your fault.
3. I didn’t want to learn my native tongue. Mum forced me to attend Vietnamese School on Sundays and I argued with her “why did I need to attend Vietnamese school when we are living in Australia”. “English is my language,” I kept telling her. Biggest regret…because I can not communicate fluently in Vietnamese. It has effected my relationship with my mum and my Vietnamese community.
I want you to know my story. My story growing up with you as an Australian representative in government. Today children from different backgrounds might be questioning themselves to why there is so much hate, “what did I do wrong?” Is it easier to be “Australian” or be radicalised so their voices can be heard. Your presence in parliament will have a ripple effect of our next generation’s identity.
There are bad eggs Pauline. Since Captain Cook’s arrival, there’s been very bad eggs in Australia. Let’s start with British settlement and how they’ve systemically nearly killed the Aboriginal people and culture, an issue that you don’t have time for. In the Vietnamese settlement we had a drug epidemic, where gangsters were violent and selling drugs in front of my primary school. I saw it. It is part of our migrant narrative. Won’t deny it. Bad eggs does not mean all of us were selling drugs. My mum definitely wasn’t a gangster. And I am Asian, “living in ghetto” apparently.
18 years later, you do the same thing and separate humans due to their beliefs and try to divide us. It brings back nightmares of an Australian narrative I do not want to participate in.
Stories are missing from your ‘fact sheets.’ People are affected by prejudice and discrimination from people, like you, who do not chose to listen, empathise or know their neighbours. There are bad people in this world, but I know that good people will prevail over the bad. And if we live in this world of fear, then I am scared for my future children. Because I chose to live with hope, tolerance, knowledge and love.
For the past 10 years I have been grateful to work with refugee and migrant background young people from the south eastern suburbs. I have connected with their stories, and I have seen children grow up to be teenagers and adults. Australians. It is not their religion that defines them but their values and their integrity passed down from good teachers, social workers, community leaders and parenting.
Can I share you a story? Why not.
I was going through rough time in my personal life, and during a program I was running a young teenager saw that I was okay. With big heart, he started to tell me knock knock jokes to make me laugh. I laughed. I laughed not because his jokes were actually lame, but because of the warmth he gave me. He is a Australian Afghani young man. I am proud to call him my friend and fellow Australian.
I work with teenagers who want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics and even actors because they want to contribute and change the world, and be represented in the community. They want to give back, and they will in years to come. They are not terrorists, or to be feared. Yes, terrorist acts have hurt us and it scares me too. But my fear changes to how can we all work together as human beings to fight this fear and a positive narrative. Know all the facts and context of the issues we are talking about. Australia has a long way to understand casual racism and fear of water borders. I only ask you to know their story before judging them.
So please stop with your intolerance. Take up those invitations of snack packs and dinners. Get to know the people around you. Get to know the real Australians. Because your version of Australia isn’t what I call home. I won’t deport you, or put you on off shore detention centre, because I hope the next 3 years in parliament you will empathise and be a better person. I am still learning too. Let’s do it together.