It’s no secret that I am a proud Asian-Australian. And with that comes different lived experiences, the benefits of a different culture and the challenges of looking different.
I migrated to Australia from South Korea when I was seven, with my parents and younger sister. Back in 1986, there weren’t many Asian kids in school. Even in 1998 when I moved to Canberra from Sydney to study law at ANU, there weren’t that many Asian students around.
The funny anecdotal stories of veiled racism and intolerance were part and parcel of everyday life.
So it was a pretty odd experience this week in the Assembly being preached to by Labor members about my lack of understanding about or action on combating racism and intolerance.
This ‘odd’ feeling eventually gave way to frustration then to exasperation with each and every speech ‘condemning’ us for standing with those who are seeking to protect bigots.
As I said in a speech in the Assembly this week:
None of the members across the chamber have been taunted in the playground, being called “black toast” or “ching chong”; been told to go back to where you come from; to have men say that they have “yellow fever” and think it is a compliment.
None of the members across the chamber have had young kids pull their eyes apart and yell out “Herro!” as you walk down the street; to have people say, “Yeah, but what’s your real name?” or “Yeah, but where do you really come from?”
When you have lived experiences like this and you have learnt to educate, not condemn, then you know the importance of what really matters.
When you have lived experiences like this and you have worked hard to create the opportunities to be where you are today, to have the members opposite shove clichés and buzz words down your throat, to have the members opposite condemn you for not speaking up on law that is completely outside of the Assembly’s jurisdiction, then you know the importance of why you are here.
When you have lived experiences like this, you understand the power in your own voice in standing up against the bullying taunts from people who just do not know. To be condemned, time and time again, by the members opposite that we do not understand; to be accused, time and time again by the members opposite that we are failing to stand up for diversity and inclusion; is, quite frankly, insulting and condescending.
I know exactly what it is like to follow your parents everywhere—from hospital to the post office to your sister’s school—to interpret from the age of seven because even at that age your English is better than your parents’.
I know exactly what it is like to see your parents spend hours, dictionary in hand, trying to interpret every single report card that you bring home. I know exactly what it is like seeing your parents get up at four in the morning to go to work in low paid, menial jobs to make ends meet, to set a good example for us, and to do their best to make a positive contribution to Australian society.
And I know exactly what it is like to witness your parents kept awake all night, wondering whether the sacrifice they made to pack up their bags to move to an unfamiliar country will be worth it for a better future for us.
Labor and the Greens may preach all they want about diversity, inclusivity and multiculturalism. It’s the Canberra Liberals that live it.