I like to think that hanging out with my friendship circle and our kids is like looking at the future of our great country. Brown heads, black heads, blonde and red heads. Our motley group is as diverse as they come and I’m proud that my kids are in the complete minority. Out of the 15 progeny my friends and I have produced, my two are the only Anglo Saxons.
Growing up in a typical northern Sydney suburb in the 80s I didn’t feel too different from all the other kids. Like almost everyone else at school, I was born in Australia, had devon sandwiches for lunch and holidayed in caravan parks over the summer. Race wasn’t something I remember talking about because there weren’t too many other kids who were born in different countries. Even now, I’m almost exactly a ‘typical’ Australian according to the recent Census results. I’m a married, Caucasian woman with two children living in a three-bedroom home.
However for my two kids aged 3 years and 6 months, life will be different. Although the ‘typical’ Australian may have both parents born in Australia, the initial Census results suggests that in some states, our culture is changing. In NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, the ‘typical’ Australian has at least one parent who was born overseas. The ‘typical’ migrant in Australia is from England however in NSW they’re from China and in Victoria they’re from India.
Among the children born of my large, tight-knit group of girlfriends, there are ethnic backgrounds from Korea, China, Malaysia and India as well as Australia and New Zealand. Some of the kids have a parent with ancestry from the convict days; others have parents born overseas who came here for university. A few have parents who are second-generation migrants and identify as ‘ABC’ (AKA Australian-Born Chinese).
At this stage, it appears the kids don’t even notice. They happily play with each other regardless of what their buddy looks like or where their parents or grandparents come from. However studies suggest that even preschoolers distinguish according to race so as parents, we aren’t ignoring their differences. We are all trying to teach our kids about each other’s cultural backgrounds so they have a better understanding of each other and the country we are building.
We celebrate cultural festivals like the Lunar New Year and all of the children in the group receive ‘red packet’ gifts with token financial amounts for their piggy banks. All the kids refer to us mothers in the group as ‘Aunty’ and the fathers as ‘Uncle’, which is typically the respectful way to refer to older relatives or friends in a Chinese family.
My friends and I have known each other since 1994 where we started year 7 at our very multicultural high school. We affectionately call each other the ‘Hungry Hippos’ so, naturally, sharing the food of our cultural backgrounds with our kids is paramount. If we are brave enough to take all the kids to a restaurant, yum cha is a firm favourite, as are Korean BBQ or curry restaurants that dot the suburbs we live in. Usually we get together for a barbecue or picnic, where a sausage will be eaten side-by-side with some spicy gyoza and a noodle salad.
Of course we know that embracing diversity is more than just eating dumplings. It’s about opening a conversation about race and choosing not to be colour-blind. It’s about talking about why people like my friend’s dad are forced to be ‘boat people’ and explaining what life is like for so many refugees around the world. It’s about not shutting down innocent questions about the colour of other people’s skin and explaining what makes us all different.
We are all trying to teach our kids about each other’s cultural backgrounds so they have a better understanding of each other and the country we are building.
I am fully aware that while my two girls are in the minority in this group of friends, they’re not the minority in Australia. They live in a society where they are generally considered quite privileged. Also our friends are mainly from the Asian cultures and we don’t have many personal friendships with people from African or Middle Eastern cultures. However as our children grow up and our ties within the community deepen through school and community groups, we will no doubt meet more people from a variety of cultures.
In our little world, I love my children being a minority however for many, being a minority defines their existence. As my kids grow, I hope we will be able to explain the prejudices some people face so we can all be a part of building a more respectful Australia. By learning about the cultures in our friendship circle and encouraging a home of openness and respect, I hope my kids will grow up a society where race and cultural diversity isn’t something that pulls them apart but brings them together.
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