Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Australians, a wonderful cultural mix

 I am of English/Irish heritage, from Nineteenth Century immigration.  I like to 'wear the green' on St Patrick's Day but apart from that pay little attention to my cultural background.  This is probably because when I was born i was the dominant culture.  During my primary schooling I sat in classes of 50 or 60, filled with the children of the immediate post World War 2 migration boom.  Apart from the fact that they had different food in their lunch boxes and didn't all speak English, I didn't take much notice of them, I was too busy getting on with my own life.

It became part of our growing up that Greek and Italian families, in particular, were moving into the inner suburbs, buying up houses, digging vegetable gardens and growing vines.  Their children started to go to university, some fulfilling their parents' dreams by becoming doctors and lawyers.  We noticed the growth of the restaurants in Lygon Street, and Brunswick, and gradually our tea drinking was supplemented by coffee drinking and our eating tastes broadened.

New waves of migration brought Turks, Lebanese and South Americans, then as the Vietnam war and White Australia policy ended, first came the Vietnamese and more recently Chinese and Indians, followed by migrants from many parts of Africa.  Gradually the old Anglo-Irish monoculture has been replaced by a multiracial, multicultural society.  It is amazing to think that this transformation has taken place in less that 70 years and while there have been, and continue to be, tensions and difficulties, it has been a generally smooth transition.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alice Pung, the young Australian born writer and lawyer of Cambodian-Chinese heritage.  She spoke very movingly about her father, and his life as a survivor of the killing fields and refugee in Australia.  These stories are contained in her book My Father's Daughter.  Since then I have been reading a book she has edited where many people have shared their experiences of growing up as Asian children in Australia.  Yes, as the first newcomers to look non-European they experienced teasing and racism, but they were also encouraged by their parents to work hard and to succeed.

The enrichment of our culture by the introduction of foods from so many parts of the world is often cited as one of the chief benefits of migration, but the culture has been enriched in many other ways.  Education has opened the way  for the professions and businesses to be filled by the children of the first generation of migrants, friendships formed at school and university cross cultural backgrounds and there are an increasing number of intercultural relationships.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) promotes the value of 'Cultural Competence', saying:

Cultural competence is much more than awareness
of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand,
communicate with, and effectively interact with
people across cultures.
(p. 16)

That this should happen in Child Care Centres and pre-schools across the country is an important part of the process of understanding, acceptance and tolerance of difference and appreciation of our shared humanity.  At Susan Rogan Family Care, we require that nannies are sensitive to family values and that they work within the EYLF.  For some nannies this has required educating themselves about particular communities, and following dietary and other cultural practices.  For the last 2 years nannies have also been invited to donate books at Christmas to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in West Melbourne. 

There are many political questions about migration which are regularly debated and on which people hold strong views.  The first time I saw a woman in a burqa, it was quite confronting but it is more common now although the debate continues about whether it should be allowed.  The fact that we can debate these questions and hold different views is a healthy sign. 

And the fact that our monocultural society has changed forever is also healthy and in our food tastes, festivals and living together we need to celebrate it.

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