1979 was a big year for my Indonesian migrant family.
We obtained our Australian citizenship.
Well, actually, I didn’t have a say in the matter as I was only eight. Too young to do the paperwork, but old enough to know what that piece of paper meant.
When my parents showed me the freshly printed document with the Australian coat of arms and all of our names neatly printed, I started to cry.
Looking so official and scary, I thought that citizenship meant a complete conversion to all things Australian.
According to my eight year-old logic, that meant I had to stop eating rice…and start eating bread.
Stupid, I know.
Alas, my world was collapsing.
Yes, the drama started even back then.
I thought that it meant having to surrender what was familiar to me.
Rice wasn’t simply a staple – it was a big part of my identity.
In the kitchen, as I sobbed, my mother pointed to our ten kilo sack of rice and explained that I could eat it whenever I wanted.
No one was going to forbid me from eating it. Certainly, no one would ever have to force me to replace it with bread. Ever.
It took me a while to believe her.
Thus began my own personal battle of being first generation Australian.
Unfortunately, school children tend to find themselves as victims of cruel taunting and teasing in the playground and the classroom.
I found racial slurs and discrimination affecting me most.
Being bullied or ridiculed for having slanty eyes and darker skin colour.
Told to get back to the rice fields.
Yelled at for coming over on a boat.
Actually, it was a Qantas flight from Jakarta.
Suffice to say, growing up in Australia wasn’t easy.
Happily, that’s the distant past.
Thankfully, for my half Indonesian – half Aussie boys, they will be growing up in a different Australia. A more accepting one.
Since 1979, I see significant changes: Play School showing Balinese dancers through ‘the Round Window’; a strong Greek accent reading the weather forecast on national radio; a flourish of Asian grocery shops and restaurants beyond the typical surroundings of Chinatown.
Just today, I discovered that a prestigious Sydney private school is represented by 35 nationalities. Despite being a Catholic Sacred Heart school, it caters to 23 different religions. It even has a Buddhist temple.
Every week at their play group, my boys play with other children of mixed ethnic backgrounds. Namely, a Hungarian-Filipino boy and another boy whose mother is from New Zealand and father is Brazilian.
Too cool. I’m blown away.
Back in 1979, I was the only Asian kid in my class.
So as you can see, as a mother raising bi-racial children, I am excited about Australia’s future as an ever growing multicultural society.
I’m going to do all I can to ensure that my boys will be confident school children, proud of their own mixed heritage.
That they will also embrace the diverse identities of their peers and school friends.
To see the playground and the classroom free of discrimination and hurtful comments.
“Harmony Day” is held annually on March 21.
It is a day for Australians to celebrate ethnic diversity. It is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Managed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Harmony Day events do not receive government funding. Australian schools are left to their own devices to arrange their own activities to commemorate the day.
Does your local school celebrate “Harmony Day”? If so, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.