Almost thirty years ago my family and I first arrived in Australia on board a Qantas plane.
Given all that we had endured, grateful is understatement when it comes to describing how we felt. We finally had a home we could adopt as our own. A home that would allow us to escape the horrors of the past.
I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan you see, during the Soviet War in 1984.
I, like every other human being living on this earth, didn’t exercise any choice in where, or the circumstances in which I would be born.
The intensity of the Soviet war drove my family and I to flee Afghanistan in 1988.
Our journey took us from Kabul to India, to the Czech Republic, followed by Germany and then finally Australia, where we were granted asylum in 1991 under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian program.
I remember being enrolled in school both in India and Germany, each time making new friends and learning a completely new language. I remember how much I cried because we had to leave all of my toys behind in India.
And then I remember being gutted not being able to stay in Germany, having to say goodbye to my friends and our snow-fighting adventures.
Coming to a new foreign land is never easy but I remember the warmth of my ESL teacher Mrs Browne at Penrith South Public school. She made us, all of us, feel welcome. She helped teach me to speak English but unbeknown to her, she did more than that - she effectively taught me to believe in myself.
She helped to inject a confidence in me that our years of travelling from one country to another had sucked out of me.
Now when I reflect on my humble beginnings, it is still unbelievable to think that I arrived in Australia as a shy seven year old who couldn’t speak a word of English.
I am grateful for all of the opportunities and privileges afforded to me and I know that being able to call Australia our home has been instrumental in enabling me to become the woman that I am today. And for that privilege, I am grateful.
I cannot begin to imagine what life would be like if I was back home in Afghanistan.
Now, I hear the naysayers and my ‘troll base’ scream out, “but you’re not grateful!...you’re always pointing out racism and bigotry etc etc, why can’t you just shut up and be grateful”. I am not exaggerating here for dramatic effect – I have words to this effect written to me almost on a weekly basis.
It’s worth noting that there are also those lone voices, on the other side of the spectrum, that will label me a sell-out for merely putting the words ‘grateful’ and ‘Australia’ in the one sentence.
My work in the Diversity and Inclusion space in recent times has forced me to more profoundly reflect on my own levels of privilege and that of those around me. I’ve felt compelled to unapologetically, hold up a mirror and to call out the grossly unfair double standards applied to different members of society.
Just as we can clap hands and skip at the same time, we can be grateful while speaking about our history and pointing out injustices. They are not mutually exclusive. And for a person of colour, voicing one’s opinion, no matter how unsavoury you may find it, shouldn’t come with a greater price tag than everybody else.
So today I’m sitting back and reflecting on that day almost thirty years ago with gratitude.
What I cherish most about Australia is that we are continually trying to better ourselves as a nation. We are proud of who we are yet we have the confident humility to know we can always strive to be better.
Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer, writer and advocate.
Who Gets to Stay in Australia? airs over four weeks starting Wednesday 1 July at 8.30pm on SBS and On Demand.
Join the conversation #WGTSIA
For information about settlement in Australia, in your language, visit sbs.com.au/settlementguide