07 July 2013

Migrant Musings

I am a migrant.  I have been in Australia for many, many years and call Australia home.  Likewise, as I didn't come to Australia as a youngster I still have a soft spot for my country of origin - England.  Naturally, I am not a refugee, unless you can call the English weather grounds for applying for refugee status!

For the benefit of all migrant phobic readers, yes I did steal one of your Aussie jobs.  I have been able to create a life here through sheer hard work, and the fact that Australia offers opportunities to those that grab them.  I went out and grabbed mine with both hands.  Although I haven't reached what I set out to do, I cannot complain as to where I am today.  

As a migrant I feel a kinship towards all other migrants whether they are from Zimbabwe, Bosnia, Iran or Venezuela.  To settle into a new country, even if you can speak the language fluently - which naturally I can, takes a lot of getting used to.  This can range from the different climate, unusual food types, culture and understanding what you need to do to, for example, applying for a job or even catching a train across town.

In my time in Australia, I only have been abused twice - both a long time ago.  One was by an Aboriginal who was blaming me for what Captain Cook did in 1788 by bringing 'white people' to Australia.  In this case I didn't really know how to reply, all I could say rather weakly was that it happened well before I was born and was therefore out of my control.  The other occasion was in a bar and I was resting myself against a poker machine.  All of a sudden an ocker Aussie came and started abusing me, thinking that I had played the machine whilst he 'was in the dunny'.  I hadn't played it, but that didn't help my plight.

Up until two years ago I had played soccer here.  Then a snapped Achilles and two operations put an end to my long career.  During my time playing I did get called 'wog' a few times as I am not a pale skinned, blue eyed Pom. I have slightly olive skin courtesy of my father's side of the family.

In social media, eg: Twitter, I have only really been trolled twice.  Interestingly, neither time was by an Australian! One was an American who was a member of the NRA, and the other was a right-wing member of the UK EDL (English Defence League).  Their personal attacks didn't affect me as I have grown much more thick-skinned and tolerant over the years.

As you can see I have had it fairly easy as a migrant.  I am not going to deny this, as I cannot.  Yes, there have been times I wished I wasn't in Australia but by the next morning my mind has always changed.

However, there is the other end of the spectrum.  There are those of us migrants who have escaped from their country of origin due to a number of reasons such as war, fundamentalism, famine and religious persecution amongst others.  I have met a number of migrants who have some of the most heart wrenching stories about how they came to Australia.  One such story involved a husband taking his wife and young children through a minefield to get to safety, and then later on to Australia.  You can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as every step he took could have lead to death.

So a number of migrants come here for a chance to rebuild their lives, a new start, a fresh beginning.  A large number of migrants cannot speak fluent English when they arrive.  This impacts their interaction with others and also restricts what they can do, certainly in the early stages of life in Australia.

Some migrants are of a non-christian faith and as such wear turbans or headscarves and contribute to their local place of worship.  Head coverings have certainly become an emotive issue in the West ever since 9/11.  Skin colour can also play a part in identifying a migrant from 'mainstream' Australia (whatever this is).  For example, there are not a lot of Africans in Australia, unlike the US, UK or Europe.   

However, if I was to ask some of them publically whether they have been abused personally, or trolled online I am sure I would get a reply of 'yes'.  Now I am not saying that Australia is a racist country, but there are elements of racism here and all over the world.  Unfortunately it is a human condition when we see something that is a little different to ourselves, we can be accepting of it, or fearful. 

Recently, I watched the ethnic business awards on television and was amazed at the stories of migrants who arrived in Australia, and through hard work have made something of their lives, as well as employing Australians and giving time and money to charitable causes.  In fact, migrants have been contributing to our society for more than 200 years.  I was also humbled when a few of the migrants said they were abused for their background but just shrugged it off and kept on believing in their dream.

So where am I going with all this?  

I really want everyone to realise the contribution that migrants have, and will continue to make to Australia.  The vast majority of them are just wanting a better life for themselves and their families, which is no different to you and I.  They may look different, they may be devoutly religious, they may even speak with a different accent.  However, at the end of the day they are AUSTRALIAN! 

If migrants seem scary to anyone who reads this, go out of your way to talk to one or two.  Get to know them better.  If you do this, your outlook on migrants may indeed change and we can all start to live together more harmonously.

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