As I write this to you, your eight-year-old self is probably plopped down on your grandmother’s couch wondering why the hell you’re being forced to watch a vintage Chinese drama about a mythical monkey king. You’d much rather be watching the Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network, right? Too bad. You’re stuck watching this really confusing television spectacle full of overly dramatic kung fu scenes and you hate every minute of it. “Ugh, this is so Asian,” you say to yourself.
Well I’m here to tell you to stop thinking that way and to wash your mouth out with soap. I come from the future, and with the benefit of hindsight you’ll learn that embracing your Asian-ness is a very powerful thing.
But before that, let’s start at the beginning. Let’s go back to that time when you were young, wide-eyed and unable to accept your ethnic background.
Friends will say to you “Hey Jess, you’re like a banana. You’re yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” You will take that on as a compliment, not understanding the inappropriateness of it all. After all, you’ve always wished that you could trade your overly tanned skin, round face and shiny black bowl cut for a fairer complexion and blonde hair.
Unfortunately the self-loathing and internalised racism will continue. It’ll hit a new high when you walk into the local Asian supermarket with your mum and moan about the “whiny Chinese music that doesn’t make any sense because it’s not in English.”
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Only later will you begin to understand all the sly comments and subtext behind the jokes. There will be moments that burn you up inside. You will walk into a party with your friends and hear the bouncer whisper to his other burly mate “looks like the Asians have arrived.” Or that time you try to find a fake ID “Just find another Asian person, you guys look all the same anyway.”
The sad part is mini-Jess, that even at 21-years-old, you will still feel racially targeted at times. A boy will message you for the first time and it’ll be great until you open the message. Your heart drops when you see one simple phrase: “kan ici wa”(and yes, to your dismay it will be spelt exactly like that).
There’ll also be many a time when you’ll find yourself having this exact conversation:
“So, where are you from?”
“No…where are you originally from?”
And to metaphorically flip the bird at them, you’ll remain completely stone-faced and simply mutter, “Sydney.”
But here’s the thing mini-Jess. Even though these comments and jokes may inevitably get under your skin, there’s no turning back to that stage of self-loathing. You can only make peace with the past, if you make peace with yourself. There is nothing more fulfilling than accepting where you come from, completely and unabashedly.
So the next time you sit down and watch the mythical monkey king in action, don’t just roll your eyes and sigh at the Asian-ness of it all. After all, being Asian isn’t a bad thing; it’s who you are. So be proud.
What would you tell your younger self?
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