“Don’t run too far ahead, I can’t see you”, I yelled to my little man, as I was slowing down he was quickening up. I was 5 months pregnant and walking out of the library with my 2.5 year old son. The struggle was real as I barely could manage to keep up with him now how was I going to manage the next 4 months? He was singing and playing so freely, unapologetically, obliviously to what was about to take place the moments that followed.
Quite often in my life people would ask me where I am from, I always reply proudly I am Australian. More often than not the response that would follow would be, “but where are you really from?” “I am really Australian!” My parents are Maltese and I was born here in the land built of immigrants, the wonderful culturally diverse Australia.
This country has given me so much and the more I travel, the older I get, I realize how lucky I was, am simply to be born here. My father used to constantly tell me “this is the best country in the world.” He had such an authentic, passionate, appreciation for this country and the favorable circumstances that were presented to him to provide for his family to live freely and abundantly. I am truly grateful that my courageous grandparents took an opportunity of a lifetime and sailed over on the 10 pound passage in the 1960’s, in turn creating a life of opportunities for my parents, my children and myself. I feel they were so brave, literally coming from this tiny island, where all their friends and family were in walking distance and saw them daily, English was their second language if barely a language at all to them and really having no idea of what they were destined for just pushing for a dream, knowing that with their large broods in tow they had to make it work despite the uncertainties and challenges that faced them ahead.
Growing up here in this blessed country where many had sort the same dreams as my grandparents, I had many friends that ancestors where from all parts of the globe. Friends from school whose parents and beyond where Italian, Korean, Thai, Greek, Lebanese, British, Chinese, the list goes on. The thing that is inevitable when you grow up around so many other first generation Australians is that you see very little difference between you and them. Besides the obvious psychical, you all grow up just being simply Australian. This is what you know, not the life that your parents had lived abroad but playing amongst the gum trees, long hot Aussie summers, stumbling across blue tongue lizards at the nearby creek and good ol fashioned sausage sizzles.
So when I started dating a beautiful, Australian man who was from Chinese, Fijian background (that man would eventually become my husband), I never dreamt that us being together could ever be offensive or disgusting to anyone else. Because to me all I had ever seen was a beautiful individual that was smart, soft, sensitive, creative and everything I had ever dreamed in a partner for my life. Yes we looked different, our families were from different corners of the world, but we had the same core ethics and family values, we were brought up in a very similar village mentality but most importantly we were in sync and we were in love. His look was exotic to me and I too him but fundamentally we matched in a way I had with no other. He was and is my soul mate.
In 2012 we welcomed our first born son to the world, throughout the pregnancy we would always talk about how we wondered what he would look. Would he take on more Asian or European features? It was exciting, guessing, wondering, dreaming of this beautiful human taking form inside me. He was born in absolute perfection and a miniature image of his father. When I would take my new born son out and people would ask if I was his nanny, it would shock me as when I looked at him all I could see was yes an extension of my husband, but also of me, a piece of me. As he grew his features changed and he became a lot more “Eurasian” looking although still maintaining a strong resemblance to his father and Chinese heritage. In our home we have always celebrated our diverse cultures, we thought the kids were so lucky to experience two different languages, cuisines, cultures. Never had it entered my mind that not everybody would view it like this. That there would be people who despise and reject what utter exquisiteness we had created.
I was caught so off guard that morning as I watched my son run and play out of the library, it was just he, I and his unborn sister kicking away in my belly, stuck in our little bubble of love. I was so engrossed watching him, watching how much he was growing, learning, changing in front of my eyes. When a man stopped me in my tracks, shocking me to a stop of fear with his hostile energy. He got right up into my face and pointed his finger at me yelling at me like I was a piece of worthlessness life. “YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF, LOOK AT YOUR F..KIN GOOK FACED CHILD”. I literally was paralyzed with disbelief. I couldn’t speak, I have never felt like I wanted to move so badly yet the messages where not connecting thoughts to actions. I covered my stomach, my initial reaction after I came too once the paralysis wore off. Was he going to harm my baby? Did he have a knife? Was he armed? I side stepped him and grabbed my son, picking him up with an urgency and protection only a mother could relate too. He was yelling at me but I couldn’t make out what he was saying as I was going through motions that I was not fully in control of. Motherly instinct had kicked in and I was genuinely worried for the safety of my children. My heart was pounding and my legs started to pick up pace, I started to feel my brisk walk turn to a run, I felt so vulnerable as I wanted to move faster but my pregnant self and toddler in tow was making it difficult. I just needed to protect my babies. I finally ran to the car and locked my son and myself in. I was balling my eyes out hysterically. I tried to call my husband but it went to voicemail as he was at work. I called my mum and with hearing the sound of her voice when she picked up the phone, that comforting voice of a mother it made me lose it even more and sob incomprehensibly. My mum was so overwhelmed her initial reaction was that I had gone into premature labor or something had happen to the babies. I finally gained a bit of composure and talked her through what had just happened. I was completely heartbroken for it was the first time it had ever occurred to me that my children would face any sort of discrimination for the way they look or their cultural heritage. That anyone would face this type of degrading assault.
I literally cried for 2 days. It would hit me in waves and I found myself crying myself to sleep at night. A deep devastation kept pouring out of me almost like I was grieving. For a few reasons I guess, yes hormones I am sure that elevated the situation but it was far bigger than that. I had never had someone direct such a hate, an intense hate toward me like that. The thought of it being my children baring the brunt of this completely destroyed a part of me. Hit me in my guts and made me want to be utterly sick. Was it my fault? My selfishness in wanting to bring them into this world of hatefulness? Could I, would I have avoided it? I could not believe the ignorance out there, of a minority yes but a minority that is not afraid to voice their bigotry opinions so openly, aggressively. I mean sure growing up I had been called a wog, or other hurtful names regarding my ethnic appearance or declaring my claim to be Australian was less justifiable due to my tanned skin, dark brown eyes and curly brown hair. I wasn’t a REAL Australian. It hurt at times yes but it never bothered me like this did because most of those incidences where purely misinformed, uneducated kids just relaying secondhand comments that they had heard there prejudice parents throw around. I always palmed these off as rare instances of stupidity but were they? The hatred and anger behind this man evoked a deep sadness within me, did he represent an underlying racism that is growing in Australia? Did this undercurrent of hatred exist and I just had no idea about it? Not just to a specific race or minority but to all or anyone who dare not fit the mold. After an open discussion with my husband he told me of many occasions in which he had had racist encounters, growing up how he had felt isolated and he too had felt the shun of the REAL Australian kids. It shocked and saddened me hearing his stories.
But through other peoples ignorance they give you a gift, a gift of strength and resilience. A gratitude for the people who surround you, representing the good in your community and a will to create change, educating those who live in fear. It opened up a dialogue between my husband and I about how crucial it was to instill an open mindedness in our children and also giving them the strength to stand tall and proud of their rich and colourful heritage. To teach them of the struggles and perseverance that their ancestors have gone through in order for them to live the life that they do and have the opportunities that lay ahead of them. To teach them to not let the opinions of a few stand for majority. To fully embrace every part of their culture and never doubt that they are REAL Australians too.
So to that man that day you have imprinted a scar in me but one I need to wear so for that I actually am grateful. It was a lesson that I needed to learn to better prepare my children. Because if this ever happened to them I will have equipped them with the knowledge and strength within themselves to stand tall and retaliate. Retaliate not with violence but with intelligent, articulate responses to yours or any hateful speech, shield themselves with poise and inner strength of firmly knowing who they are and where they come from, repelling the hostile energy and to protect their hearts from your hurtful untruths. It is I who feel sorry for you as you walk the streets alone, angry and bitter as I come home everyday to love, cuddle my beautiful children and loving husband, living a life I have always wanted. It is I who am living the Australian dream. I who am proud and confident to say I am Australian.
Photo credit CJ Photography