Her Culture: A Journey To Self-Acceptance

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You’re 8 years old. You’re prancing around with your school friends after assembly singing,

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
“I am, you are, we are Australian”.

A girl with fair skin and blonde hair stops and tells you that you aren’t allowed to sing that song because “you’re not Australian”. This is the first time you experience racism. This is the first time you have felt silenced.

You’re 10 years old. You’re excited that your mum packed you fried noodles in your thermos for your school lunch. Your Australian friend asks what you have in your lunchbox because she can smell something gross. You lie and say you’re having tuckshop, so she blames the Chinese boy nearby saying, “oh it must be Eddy”. This is the first time you realise that what you eat every day isn’t “normal”. This is the first time you turn a blind eye to racism and are happy that someone else was ridiculed instead of you. Sorry Eddy. You probably had a really nice lunch.

You’re 16 years old. Your teacher keeps getting you mixed up with the other Chinese girls in your class. Your name isn’t Karen. Your name isn’t Natalie. You get very defensive and embarrassed. You look nothing like them. You steer clear of anything that might make you look “more Asian” and curl your dead straight hair every day. This is the first time you truly wonder if “all Asians look the same”.

You’re 17 years old. Your friends label you as “the cool Asian”. They make racist jokes but say that it shouldn’t offend you because “you’re not really Asian”. You feel conflicted as you actually feel joy hearing that. You make an effort to only have white friends. This is the first time you deny your culture.

You’re 18 years old. By this time, you are so turned off by your own culture that you swear to never date or marry an Asian. Your first boyfriend is Australian with blonde hair and blue eyes. He knows nothing about your culture and you don’t ever make an effort to discuss it with him. You avoid any conversation about family and traditions because you’re scared he won’t like you if he knew “the real you”. This is the first time you realise that you’ve been hiding yourself for most of your life.

You’re 19 years old. You meet other Asians and you realise that they are just like you. They understand your culture, your food and your family. You stop seeing people as labels and just as people. This is the first time you feel like you belong.

You’re 22 years old. You’ve had countless racist remarks yelled at you by people driving past in cars. You’ve had customers at your workplace remark and be amazed at how fluent your English is. You wonder if you will ever get a job if you put your real surname on your resume because employers might think you don’t speak English. You’re beginning to see and understand the world more but have accepted that racism and ignorance is just a part of life as an Asian living in Australia.

You’re 24 years old. You meet people who have a genuine interest in your family, culture and traditions. You meet people who are actually jealous that you can speak and understand another language. You start to see diversity in TV shows and movies like never before, and you appreciate the jokes and references.

You’re 26 years old. You strive to reclaim everything you previously hated about yourself. You embrace your facial features. You long for your father’s cooking. You search for Chinese artists on Spotify that your family would play in the car on long road trips. You listen, mumble the words and laugh. You recognise that oppression isn’t acceptable and you fight for others who have felt marginalised in their lives. This is the first time you love being Chinese. This is the first time you vow to not let anyone make you feel the way you did your whole life.

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