I’m Australian. I was born in Australia and I have lived there all my life. My father is Australian too, and even though he has both Irish and Croatian in him he is accepted as someone who “belongs” to this country. But MY mother is Tibetan, and so for my whole life I have been catagorised as Asian. My features are what would be described as “asiatic”, or are at least more so than caucasian. And this has meant that there was always something different about me than all the other kids at school. There’s been obvious racism like when I turned around in an ANZAC memorial assembly to shush a girl who was talking obnoxiously and was told to “go and eat some sushi with some chopsticks huong ching chong”. This particularly comment was really just too stupid for me to offended by. There was also the time that a so-called “friend” was talking to another friend sitting next to me about how Australia was being over taken by slanty eyed people and that soon everyone would be part Australian/part Asian. She was obviously describing a scenario where everyone would be like me. This was more hurtful than the earlier comment for obvious reasons. But the far more hurtful and perhaps more worrying racism I have experienced is sort of… unintended. It is subliminal, people don’t realise they’re doing it. My friends always insisted I had to be Cho Chang when we were casting Harry Potter characters out of the people we knew, regardless of the fact that I am DEFINITELY more of a Hermione and that Cho is my second least favourite character. Why does my colour, my face shape, eye shape determine my personality? It doesn’t. Or it shouldn’t.
And why do people who have literally just met me think that it is appropriate to ask me where I am from? You know, because despite the fact that I have an Australian accent and speak English, I’m obviously some freaky foreign alien. Once, a man who was drunkenly abusing people at a bus stop, decided to join in with the conversation I was having with my friend. And sure enough, he almost immediately asked me, “Oi, where are you from? ‘Cos, like, you’re obviously not from here, ay. You’re like, Asian, right?” UM NO. My mother is TIBETAN. Specifically a Tibetan. And although she was born and grew up in India, she identifies with being Tibetan so that is what she is. And no, I am not Chinese. The Chinese government actually invaded Tibet and continue to suppress Tibetan people still living there to this day. Just the other day, I gave a pound (I am currently in England) to a homeless man. He thanked me, and followed it up with “So, you from China?”
Natalie Tran is an Australian youtube vlogger. She’s a comedian. She was born of Vietnamese parents, but she identifies as Australian. She posted this video a few years ago in response to racist comments on one of her videos, which makes me think she has had a similar experience to me.
It’s not that I am in denial of my Tibetan heritage, or anything like that. I just do not identify as being Tibetan. And no one ever calls me out for being Irish or Croation, even though my last name is Monaghan, which is a PLACE in Ireland. It’s not even that I have any particular national pride for Australia. It’s just a case of always being an outcast in my own home.
*This post was inspired by this article in Rookie Magazine – http://rookiemag.com/2012/04/containing-multitude/