I am sharing with you an email I wrote to an egroup I am part of comprised of all Aussies. Here I am talking about my experpence of Australia as a migrant but most importantly, my views on Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the Aborigines for Australia’s kidnapping of hundreds of thousands of their children from 1901 to the 1970s in the aim of ‘civilizing’ them.
I have mainly been a lurker here on this egroup but I read with delight, fascination (and sometimes a headache) the lively exchanges from everyone. I’ve attended one or two discussions in Glebe months ago, which I enjoyed, and wish to attend more, time permitting. I am also a relatively new resident of Aus–one and a half years, although I must admit that I spent loads of that time overseas since I do a lot of concert touring.
Years before moving my family to Aus, I took a long hard look at Canada, and the US also and after weighing everything, I chose this country. When I got here, I found a land with few people (compared to bustling Manila), a society which was a little too orderly for my taste initially but after a few months began to like it.
I have met a few Aussies and I must say that I like Aussies generally. They can be quite friendly, relaxed and quite welcoming. I love the informality and the straighforwardness. I also find that Australia as a country is coming unto its own in the world. I see greatness in many Aussies–athletes, actors, scientists, politicians, artists, etc. I feel a sense of energy, positive spirit here.
Of course, I also have encountered some unpleasantness.
My son, on the first day of school was rudely greeted with a “why don’t you Asians go back to the boat that took you here’ taunt, which startled him. My son, quick-on-the-draw replied with, ‘why don’t you go back to the jail where you came from,’ almost instantly and that almost provoked a fight. He was shocked and quite bothered about the experience–about what he was subjected to, and the unexpected retort that came out of him. Luckily, things turned out quite well over time, and he and his classmate have become great friends since. He hangs around with many white Aussies now as well as Asians and other nationalities.
As an Asian, I had a vague notion of what the past White Australian policy was about. As I was growing up in Manila (born 1951), most everyone I met who spoke of Australia even without ever visiting it spoke of a beautiful country but with lots of racists. When I moved here in 2006, I learned from old time migrants that as late as the 70s, many of them were still denied hotel accomodations in certain parts of Aus not too far from Sydney simply because they were not white. An old Filipino I met recalled that a hotel in Canberra flatly refused his family accomodations one winter night due to his being non-white, and only succumbed when he said that his young children needed a warm place to stay. They were allowed to stay in the kitchen for the night.
As someone who has been traveling constantly and for so long in the US, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, I am aware of and have experienced a few times a parochialism and a small-mindedness coming from some white Aussies I have met. To be fair, every country has them. I have met a few who have never traveled beyond NSW, who know nothing outside their little lives and suburban culture. Some of them are benignly ignorant, but there are some who have an arrogance and a misplaced superiority about them. The mindset is no different from some US residents, (mostly) republicans I have encountered who assume that their country and faith is not only the one true religion but that they are superior to everyone. In their view, their country is not just the center of the universe but that they also speak the lingua franca of the world.
Aus though has been a constant marvel for me and my family since we moved. As Filipinos raised in Manila, we have always been exposed heavily to the American way of life and culture, and so the whole commonwealth feel of things and way of life here is new and fascinating. The sports are different, for one. The government structure and the electoral process is new to us as well. The vocabulary and accent can be daunting and amusing and refreshing at the same time.
I was happy to be here during the elections. When I listened to Kevin Rudd during the election campaign, I was so fascinated to see a man who seemed to understand people beyond his own culture. The way he talked, his views on a lot of things such as the environment, education, health care, and politics suggested to me not just a newness but an openmindedness and compassion that was so absent from John Howard. Howard, quite frankly not just looked stern but sounded stern and insensitive, and to me was not too far from the mold of George Bush, though more intelligent. Of course that’s hardly an achievement. Furthermore, he seemed to me to idolise American capitalism too much for comfort and for the wrong reasons.
The night Kevin Rudd won is something that’s hard to forget. To many Aussies, it may not have meant as much but it was quite a pleasant sight to see the leader of Australia presenting his family to the nation, and seeing a Chinese son-in-law as part of his family. It was a moment not lost among many minorities. I’ve always admired Australia’s multi-culturalism, although there’s a lot more to be done before the melting pot truly turns into a good brew. I felt good that, one, Rudd was fluent in another language and has spent a lot of time abroad and is a Chinofile at that, was elected the leader of this great country, and that two, the people knowing this, voted for him.
Today, I saw his Sorry speech on the internet and saw the reaction of many Aussies. I felt so proud that somehow, I am part of this society, and I am so inspired that there are leaders like him who feel that issues such as these are as important as economics, and other problems. He is a leader who will not just impact Australia but perhaps the human race as we collectively evolve to new possibilities. As someone who still has to be completely integrated into Aussie life and culture, I felt a feeling of real compassion touch me which went beyond what I knew of Aussie life and history. His act of apology touched me as a human being, and brought me close to tears. I especially was moved when he suggested to non-native Australians to imagine what it would have been like if they had undergone what native Australians had undergone. What he did today is a not just a class act but a new bold template for dealing with age-old proble! ms in race relations.
To me he comes close to what an integral leader COULD possibly be. His committing Aus to the Kyoto protocol suggests this too.
I must admit I have not met any Aborigines yet. I have only seen pictures of them mainly, save for a few I have seen performing in different places around NSW tourist spots. I’ve been planning on traveling around Aus specifically to see what their lives are like and learn more about their age-old culture. But inspite of the little that I know, I always understood that the European colonization of their land must have been a shock they have yet to recover from. Filipinos were colonised too by both the Spanish and the Americans, and that has caused us a lot of psychological complications we have yet to fully recover from as well.
Today is a great day for Australia. I am hopeful that Rudd’s apology on behalf of himself, the parliament and the nation is a first step towards true healing. It is not just a great giant step for Australia. I am hoping the rest of the world learns from this..