Apart from the obvious necessary cultural adjustments, the main thing that sticks out in my memories of growing up in Australia as a migrant’s child, was that as a family, we didn’t really have a voice in this country.
Imagine that. The thrill and anticipation in finding a new place to call home but not having the confidence to express or explain what you really need to make yourself feel settled in it. But you just made the most of it, anyway.
The final day of Sydney Writers Festival 2014 couldn’t have ended it with a more poignant and relevant panel session, “Strangers From A Strange Land”.
With critically acclaimed author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan and my own literary hero Benjamin Law participating, all the panel members are children of migrants. The discussions struck such a familiar chord, it was almost like a homecoming.
I was with my kind of people.
While they were ethnically different to me, migrant kids have a universal flow of common themes in their upbringing.
The constant strive to survive; strong work ethics that make up for lack of language skills; the incessant high scholastic expectations of their children because “We didn’t sacrifice everything coming to this country and provide you with a good education so you could be a failure. Damn it”
Sure, there are all different variations of parents – crazy, elusive, relaxed but migrant parents are definitely a breed of their own.
In Amy Tan’s case, it was a case of the briefly psychotic kind.
Imagine having your own mother so angry at you in your choice of boyfriends that in midst argument, she closes the pantry door, locking you both in while she held a meat cleaver to your neck, threatening to yes, kill you.
Absolutely beyond words horrific.
But when Amy puts it into context, adds the tragic background of how her mother had to leave behind daughters back in war torn China, then later have her beloved husband and son die in the same year of brain tumours, there was a lot…ahem…stuff going on there.
While my mum – thankfully – doesn’t utilize her meat cleaver beyond the realms of her kitchen, she can get highly strung with the best of them.
I guess what Amy and Ben’s stories help me realize though is that simple concept of loving the one you’re with.
Wishing for a different destiny in life is futile because the one given to us moulds and shapes us, anyway.
Our parents arrived as strangers in strange lands, starting anew with very little from the past, they rebuilt lives without an utterance of regret or complaint.
And as a migrant child, that’s undoubtedly my biggest takeaway.
Did you go to the Sydney Writer’s Festival? Who’s your literary hero?
Joining Essentially Jess for IBOT