Culture: On Living as a Chinese-Australian, and the ‘Dualistic Identity’ Phenomenon
Today is a special day, marking not only the first guest post to be published on this blog, but also the first culture piece, written by my good friend Ian Liu, with whom I study Law at University. His article provides an interesting and unique insight into life as a young immigrant and coming to terms with having a ‘double identity’. Enjoy!
Hello, dear readers, I am Ian Liu, a first generation Chinese immigrant who settled in Australia at the age of 7. Having being born in China, but having grown up and educated in Australia, my Chinese learning journey is distinctive in many ways, whether it be compared to the Australian Born Chinese contingent or the learners who have no background in China whatsoever.
My identity and belonging has always been a hotly debated topic. Am I Australian? Am I Chinese? In Australia I am considered Chinese, whilst in China I am considered Australian. The political discourse and policies of Australia are set to preserving the “true blue Aussie culture”, with clear nation state sovereignty at play, exemplified in the recent asylum seeker issue. One term I hear often is “if you don’t love Australia then go back to where you come from”. We as a society fail to realise that migrants exhibit an ambivalent discourse towards their adopted homeland as well as their origin countries, and that just because a certain individual does not like one element of the country it does not prevent them from embracing all the other underlying expectations. I know many migrants who are more “Australian” in many ways than the stereotypical blonde haired blue eyed Australian surfer. Migrants are often forced to do 3D (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs due to language barriers and lack of experience, contributing to the secondary labour-intensive sector of the economy. Many jobs would be non-existent if it were not for the immigrants, who stimulate the economy through their additions to the workforce, as well as bringing with them the direct creation of new jobs. The commonly held belief that immigrants take the jobs of locals is ridiculous, with no empirical evidence to back it up at all.
Whilst many will claim that multiculturalism is prevalent within Australian society, in that the presence of communities from all parts of the world creates an acceptance of all forms of culture and ethnicity, all of these separate cultures must also assimilate into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture in order to be recognised as Australian, exemplified through mechanisms such as the citizenship test, and the emphasis on the importance of English. For those not familiar with these government policies – potential immigrants must sit a test quizzing for knowledge about Australian culture and customs before they are granted residency, a requirement which has attracted much attention in the media, in particular in the form of claims that such policies are inherently racist and discriminatory. In any case, these measures seem to be a last effort by a conservative nation state to protect the politically recognised borders of its land. However, to accommodate for a globalising world, transnational identities such as my own, Chinese-Australia, will have to be facilitated and appreciated for the future of the nation.
I am comfortable with my dualistic identity as a Chinese-Australian, with the Eastern culture intermingling with the Western upbringing to form the ingredients of the mixing pot producing the end result that is me. I hope to serve as a bridge between the East and West in my career, facilitating effective communication and commercial transactions for both sides. We must focus on our similarities, rather than allowing the superficial and shallow differences between us, such as our physical appearance, divide us- as above all else, we are all brothers and sisters in humanity.
The first years of being in Australia were quite difficult, as I was wordlessly pushed to assimilate quickly into the “Australian Culture”, picking up English rapidly and learning about the elements of what makes a “True Blue Aussie.” Looking back at it now, avidly following Collingwood every weekend at the Footy, and celebrating every wicket Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath took helped me to assimilate faster, but such a culture focused on sport and a “she’ll be right” attitude does not align with my own personal vision and the legacy I want to leave. Such a situation meant that my Chinese ability declined quite rapidly, to the point which I knew I had to go to weekend Chinese school in order to pick it back up. Whilst I never had a problem with the grammatical structure of Chinese, I had to learn Pinyin from scratch, learn to write many characters and adjust to the fact that English was rapidly assuming predominance over Chinese. My English improved at lightening speed following my arrival in Australia, and I became fluent in the language in 6 months.
This trend continued for many years, my Chinese levels remained at around 6/10 if we assume my now native-level of English is 10/10, up until I began preparing for my high school examinations (VCE), where I was required at last to re-engage with Chinese. I was thrust into a class full of recently arrived immigrants, whose Chinese abilities were, quite obviously, greater than mine. And yet, I was forced to compete with them in order to obtain a high mark for the subject. I truly believe that we, human beings, only perform and work to our full potential when we are confronted with a high-pressure situation. I set myself a goal. My aim was simple: I would not be beaten by anyone in my cohort, and even if I had the initial disadvantage of having lost a lot of my previous ability, I would do what it took to succeed. In a single year alone, I wrote around 85 practice essays, each consisting of 300 Chinese Characters on various argumentative topics, constructed and perfected two “detailed studies” (speeches delivered orally), each containing approximately between 10,000 and 15,000 characters talking about my life and experiences as well as about a chosen Chinese historical topic. All of this was combined with encouraging my parents practice speaking Chinese with me for around 2 hours each night. After this experience, I began to realise the importance of Chinese in our increasingly globalised world, and of Chinese culture. As such, my biggest piece of advice is live, breathe, sleep and love your learning, to the fullest extent possible – even whilst living in a Western country. Surround yourself with friends who are equally motivated, and push each other to improve each other’s Chinese level. Watch Chinese movies and TV Shows, noting down any new words and idioms you encounter in a dedicated notebook, and your vocabulary and comprehension will skyrocket.
On your Chinese learning journey, be bold – don’t be afraid to be wrong, as only then will you improve, and, most of all, acknowledge and appreciate the advantage you will gain by learning Chinese, as it will surely be the next global language.
Finally, visit China someday! Once you get past the skewed media portrayal of China, with reports only ever detailing the pollution and economic development, you find that over 5000 years of deep and rich culture and history awaits you.