It was the year 1985 when my parents migrated from Manila, Philippines to the thriving city of Melbourne, Australia.
It was the city I was born, and the only one I’ve truly known – enriched in opportunity and privilege – a far cry from the simple life that limited my parents from experiencing the wealth and luxury that I now have access to, and in fact, have already attained in many ways.
I cannot recall a time in my childhood when Mama and Papa complained of their struggles with poverty or discrimination, nor did they ever point out so plainly how different I was being of Filipino heritage, in a community made up mostly of Anglo-Saxon and European people.
I recognise the blessing of being born into such love and acceptance and I will never take it for granted. Still I cannot deny those moments of feeling different to my peers; feeling less confident because of my rounder face and almond-shaped eyes and wondering why my family had different customs and beliefs to others around us.
Whenever I had questions, my parents would answer as best they knew how. But they never perpetrated ideologies around racial difference – as far as I knew, I was an Australian, born to a Filipino mother and father; two brave people who took the risk to migrate, assimilate and embrace a new culture where they could better provide and build a prosperous life for their family.
Perhaps such values were innately instilled in me, so I grew up acknowledging my heritage but never feeling limited by it. I was encouraged to dream and dream big. It didn’t matter that I was one of only two, maybe three children of Asian descent at my school. It didn’t matter that I looked different or even felt different most of the time, because one of the greatest lessons that my parents taught me was this: your life does not depend on your circumstances, but how you respond to them.
Each new day that I’m given, I do my best to live by this. My wish is that more people strive to do this too.
Yet in our current socio-political climate, many people seem to be leveraging what makes them different to somehow guilt others into giving them what they feel they deserve.
The truth as I’ve learned (and as harsh as it may sound), is that the world does not owe us anything. In the same way that not one of us deserves spitefulness or hate from other people, nor do we deserve goodness or love. Rather, these are earned, through what we give to others.
It has only been over the last few years that I’ve truly reflected on my identity as an ‘Asian-Australian’ woman. Never was this term in my vocabulary as a child or adolescent and any time I was asked about where I’m from, I would always politely reply that I was born in Australia to Filipino parents. I never used to feel any sensitivity nor take offence, until my mid-20s where I grew in knowledge about discrimination in the workforce and wider society, and racial conflict all over the world.
I began to see how labouring on such thoughts creates an inner anxiety, a dark perception of others who will never be able relate to my experience, an anger about the dominance and privilege that people of only certain ethnicities will always have over others. Whenever I dwell in this frame of mind, inner turmoil and a sense of helplessness is often inevitable.
To be clear, I am not one to disregard history or deny that much work still needs to be done to free and empower people of colour, to better balance diversity in representation and equalise opportunity. The discourse is important, and action to address the issues, even more so.
However, it is this ideology that I am done with: defining who you are simply by your race.
It is a near impossible feat to change how or what people think, or completely eradicate racial stereotyping or discrimination. But rather than feel defeated by this reality, may we feel empowered by the choice we have in how we represent ourselves. And who we are is not defined solely by our ethnicity – each of us is a rich tapestry of experiences, values, ideas, talents and gifts, with potential to make a unique contribution to the world.
If we are seeking greater equality among races, we must cease isolating ourselves and one another in boxes defined by race.
If we are to live harmoniously as people of different backgrounds, we must embrace our unique identities, rather than use them as weapons against each other.
Just as my parents raised me to believe in my capabilities above the limitations of my circumstances, my hope is that future generations particularly in our Western society, learn the power of resilience in times of ignorance and adversity.
My hope is that we all, in child-like wonder, re-learn to appreciate the beauty in everything and everyone; harnessing the strength in our differences instead of fortifying the weaknesses.
There are many things in this world that seek to divide us, people, events and ideologies that perpetrate violence and hate. Yet there will always be the one thing that we share, a common ground, a uniting force that can be used to channel love and compassion: our humanity.
This is the only race that truly matters, the one to which we all belong, the one that we have the power to save when we choose to lead with kindness, in our thoughts, our words and actions.