Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is a Vietnamese-Australian writer based in Melbourne.
I was seven years old when I first saw her on television.
“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians,” she said.
“They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”
Was she talking about me and my family?
I remember the time my older sister, just a toddler then, bumped into a white woman on the street. My mother apologised profusely but the woman bristled, turned around, opened her mouth and roared “go home" and aimed a globule of spit at my mother’s face.
I remember the time my younger sister and I walked hand-in-hand through the markets. An older white woman smiled at us and said, “hello, little Chineseys." We were confused because we weren’t Chinese and didn’t understand why this stranger singled us out.
Then, we grew up and found our people. We thought the days, when we were treated differently because of what we looked like were over. We grew up straddling our cultures with pride. We laughed at the old racists like Pauline Hanson, who we thought grew more irrelevant by the day.
I was 27 years old when I saw her again.
“We are in danger of being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own,” she said.
I blinked, uncertain if I had floated into a lucid dream.
She was back, and outside of my progressive circle of friends there were droves of people who supported her and her hateful beliefs.
Earlier this month, I watched with horror as Donald Trump was elected as US President. A man whose interests lie firmly within the confines of white, middle class America and who has made his stance towards immigrants, people of colour and the LGBTQI+ community clear had won. Anyone within those groups in the US, and around the world, knows now how we are perceived.
America is not the world, but those who think the US election doesn’t affect us here in Australia need to remember that nothing occurs in a vacuum. Trump’s election is an affirmation of the xenophobic views espoused by people like Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott right here at home. It’s even more terrifying when people who have power within our country publicly declare their support for a man who has made his hatred of 'The Other' clear.
More recently, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton made comments suggesting it was a “mistake” for former PM Malcolm Fraser to bring refugees to Australia in the 1970s. As the child of refugees, it is hard not to take such comments personally.
We are living in a strange and frightening time where bigotry is legitimised and given the ultimate position of power. In the weeks since Trump was elected I have seen my friends, who are also people of colour (POC), vocalise their fears on social media; I have held friends as they cried, wondering aloud why the world hates people like us. I have felt the fear myself as I hear reports of violence in Australia against people of colour, of Trump supporters at universities yelling at minorities. I have felt despair grip me and have worried for anyone who is 'outside' of the white mainstream, especially my Muslim friends.
But there is hope in this time of abject terror, and it comes in the form of unity.
The Asian American vote swung more towards the Democrats than it ever has.
We have wonderful Asian Australian public figures like writer Benjamin Law, who appeared on Q&A last week and eloquently tore down a defence of racism masqueraded as freedom of speech.
My parents (with whom I rarely agree politically) and I have found comfort in each other.
“Pray hard for the world,” my father texted me. “The more you think of it, the more sick you feel. It’s so, so sad. Angry and sad for the Americans. But good things will prevail,” my mother texted me.
So many POC have sought solace in each other, from friends to strangers. Social media has made this easier than ever. It is incredibly comforting to be surrounded by people who understand when it feels like the end of days.
In these troubled times, we need each other more than ever. It is a fight for us all, but especially for those who are disenfranchised, excluded, ignored. We must use our voices to lift each other up when it feels like the whole world is falling down. We must collectively mobilise to make ourselves and our needs heard.
These issues affect us all. For Asian Australians, there has never been a more important time to band together.