To Not Be A Typical Asian

So today’s post is slightly different as its about me and sort of a personal essay about growing up here in Melbourne. I did spend a lot of time as a child living overseas but I couldn’t really say I thought about much of this then only really in my teens and now.

I’m a 3rd generation Australian, my grandparents were the migrants that came to start a new life here. I don’t have any connection to the homeland or the places that inform my background other than what my family does now in terms of traditions. These traditions are tied to a sense of family and almost always surrounded by the food from my Chinese and Sri Lankan background.

Yes, you read that right, Chinese and Sri Lankan. I’m mixed and whilst being of a mixed race or ethnic background is very common in our globalised world I’ve been made aware by friends and strangers alike that this is not very common a mix. Mainly strangers express disbelief and ask me; are you sure? Of course, do you think I wouldn’t know my own ethnic background! My favourite of course are those that truly believe that I must be half white and some form of half Asian as explained by my semi-American, specifically Texan accent mixed with in with the Aussie one. I find this bizarre and funny…

In saying all this I’m very proud to have this background as it is what makes me ME. I am also extremely lucky to have never personally experienced anything racist or been judged on my background. I cannot say the same for my parents or my grandparents though. I very much consider myself to be Australian and growing up particularly as a teenager and as an adult now I did and do wonder if I was the “non-typical Asian” for both my Chinese and Sri Lankan sides. I didn’t attend Chinese school on the weekends or speak any language other than English at home.

I have grappled with this concept of being a “non-typical Asian” most of my adult life and to be honest I think I have pushed away from my “Asianness” not because I’m ashamed or don’t like my cultural background but because in someways I cannot connect to it. I’ve grown up in the US and Australia and remained in Australia through university and majority of my working career. As a teenager at school this was all I knew and often couldn’t understand why some of my friends who were also Asian were saying they couldn’t do certain things such as sleepovers or take public transport to Camberwell on a Friday after school. I obviously could if I asked my parents politely and they knew where I was going and who I was with. To ask your parents to go out was unthinkable for some of my Asian friends and sometimes involved elaborate lies of where they were and what they were doing.

To them I was the most Australian Asian they have ever met and I had the best life. My husband to this day thinks this and I guess thats what happens for 3rd generation and beyond. What I have come to realise is that my family assimilated over time and those cultural customs and attitudes slowly faded away. That is not to say everything has as there are some things that still stick and what I see now is that it must be hard to keep them alive over extended periods of times and I guess thats what my friends parents were trying to do….

I was raised with my family’s cultural upbringings but also with the sense to explore things like the arts and sport. I had the chance to be in bands and get the thrill of hearing an audience give a round of applause to me and my fellow bandmates; perform in plays at school; and play different sports each season that even included weekends where my parents ferried me to different matches all year. In saying all this they knew the importance of education and making sure I did well in school. I knew I personally wouldn’t be a lawyer or a doctor but there were other things that I was passionate about like reading, writing, politics, fashion and art for example. I was allowed to discover what I wanted to do on my own. This is considered not very Asian at all as I was not pushed into a career field, I was allowed to explore as long as I had a plan and was not aimlessly siting on my butt for days.

I now know I didn’t have a typically Asian upbringing which ended up informing the way I feel as a “non-typical Asian”. I didn’t know better and I just grew up the way I was meant to. I am proud of my background and the cultures that I come from and I think I will always feel not very Asian despite my appearance but that is ok. I have been carving out my own traditions now with my husband who is also from another background and we just keep moving forward with our heritage with us.

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