To tell my story of being an Australia immigrant without telling that of my siblings would be like watching an episode of the three stooges without Curly and Moe – it would lose its affect. The reason being, our experiences after we arrived in Australia are what have shaped us into the very different human beings we are now. Along with many other events that have happened through out our life, how we were treated when we first came here and later throughout our childhood and teenage years have affected us differently. I believe it is very important to recognise these differences and to learn from them.
My family are of Eritrean origin, however, my older sister, brother and I were born in Saudi Arabia as my father was working there at the time.In Saudi Arabia, discrimination against non-native Saudis is deeply ingrained in its policies. For example non-Saudis didn’t have access to public health, they were not allowed to own property, children could not complete the twelfth grade if they were not native and people can be deported at pretty much any time.
Before I was born, an Australian nurse who was working in Saudi Arabia became very close with my family. We all called her Mama Bernice. She would later become and remain to this day, my mother figure despite our 61year age gap.
As my father was not permitted to return to Eritrea due to the political situation, he decided we should move to Australia. He knew that here, his family could be united, his children would not be discriminated against by the system. We would instead have equal access to education and a bright future.
So as soon as I was born, my siblings and I were taken to Eritrea to live with my grand parents while my dad came to Australia. My father worked for three years, became a permanent resident and saved to bring us to Australia.I met my father for the first time in Singapore when I was three and a half years old.
When we arrived my brother and sister shortly enrolled in Gilles Street Primary School, which was quite diverse. I went to Childcare where kids did not really notice differences. We were very well received and accepted as children, there was little prejudice toward us. In fact, we received an overwhelming amount of kindness. Until a few years later.
In 2001 the 9/11 attacks occurred. The Tampa ship with hundreds of refugees arrived in Australia. In 2005 there was the Bali bombing. The rate of immigration was increasing and with it levels of hostility and racism seemed to increase also.
I look at how the discrimination we faced since these incidences have affected us today and I consider myself lucky. My brother who was two years older than me, and my sister who was four years older bore the crux of teenage racism.
My brother would get jumped and teased. He would have authoritative figures pick on him and call him racist names. All of this has affected him in such a way that his whole life and faith, his relationship with his family, the general Australian population and other immigrants have been deeply affected. He has become more resilient and most people love him but anyone who bothers to get to know will quickly learn that he wasn’t always so confident.
My older sister on the other hand has retreated into a little shell. The discrimination she faced has made her shy, timid and insecure. This is such a contrast from the child that she once was. She will rarely talk about the racist names she was called or the time she was blatantly rejected by an employer because she wore a headscarf – even though they are responsible for so much of her self-protective attitude.
The hostility that I have had to endure has been so strongly overshadowed by the acceptance that I have encountered. For every one hostile comment, I have received millions of kind words. This has made me grateful and it encourages me to do what I can to give back to the community that did so much for me. I am now comfortable around anyone of any nationality, religion or cultural background. I’m currently in my second year of University studying Journalism and International Relations. I volunteer for The Oaktree Foundation, a charity entirely run by Australian youths and I could not feel more at home.
It saddens me that racism and discrimination seem more prominent today than when we arrived fifteen years ago. It is an indication that we are not progressing as a society and we are in fact moving backward. For those of us who have been here for as long as my family, we are not as affected by it anymore – it has done its damage and now we are relatively immune. Those who are newly arriving in Australia, however, are going to be affected by it. Contrary to what some might think, it is not going to make them ‘go back to where they came from’, it’s going to make them rebellious, hurt them unnecessarily or make them close up like my older sister.
Imagine if all of the migrants and asylum seekers that came to Australia by plane or boat were as lucky as I was – lucky enough to be greeted with smiles and open arms. Of course we can’t control the snide remarks of a few ignorant individuals. However, if the majority of our population, the media and those in power do not emphasise a sense of sectarianism perhaps new Australians could just become Australians. Perhaps they’ll integrate into this society and do what they can to contribute like so many of the volunteers at Welcome to Australia.