Since moving to Australia a few years ago, I’ve felt the good and the bad of what it means to be a migrant. Luckily, the good experiences are far more frequent and significant than the bad. But even after years living and working here, I still couldn’t put my finger on what it takes to “successfully integrate” into a new culture.
Australia is one of the most inclusive multicultural nations in the world, and yet Australians seem to have a poor international reputation when it comes to discrimination against migrants. I wanted to find out if this was true, and if so, why?
The government and other non-profit organisations are doing excellent work on multicultural development, and I’ve been lucky enough to work and collaborate with a few of them in the past year. But what really fascinates me about Australia’s diverse social fabric is the natural flow that unfolds in our streets, and how different cultures and histories organically merge to shape vibrant new communities, with or without incentive or intervention.
200 languages, one home.
I am from Brazil and live with my Aussie husband in a beautiful corner of inner city Brisbane. Brisbane is home to two million people, and around one-third of these people were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas. More than 200 different languages are spoken in Brisbane's homes—how amazing is that!
My neighbours on one side are an entrepreneurial Vietnamese family who own the local convenience store and have been in Australia for over 30 years. On the other side, there is an old share house with students from all over the world who wave enthusiastically at me every morning through the kitchen windows. Down the road is a Greek lady who bakes delicious biscuits to welcome every new family that moves to our street.
I get my morning coffee from the local café, which is owned and run by a lovely Korean woman that is more friendly and creative than any hipster barista. Every now and then, we order takeaway from our local Lebanese restaurant where second-generation immigrants bring the best of their Lebanese and Aussie influences to the table. These are just a few of the many people who make our local community a warm and culturally diverse place to call home. And that diversity is normal in most Australian capitals.
Obviously intolerance and bigotry do exist, but I don’t believe it is a characteristic of the average Australian. Quite the contrary. Simply by experiencing our surroundings anyone would agree that we live in a dynamic system where different races and cultures thrive together. And if you’re an open minded individual—which I believe most Australians are—you can also see how much richer your life becomes when you are exposed to diversity.
Listening to different stories, sharing experiences and finding connections with your community is the most human form of learning.
I used to get offended when the first question I was asked when meeting someone new was: “Where are you from?” Now I don’t mind it, because the truth is we are all from different places and we all just want to find that link that connects us. I don’t identify with “us” and I don’t identify with “them”. When we break things down to an individual level, I don’t think anyone could say they do.
Whether you’re here in Australia, back in Brazil, or somewhere in between, we are all either indigenous or migrants (or a bit of both if you’re lucky), and we all have a story to tell and embrace about our personal cultural identity.
Multicultural Australia has also reminded me of the value of traditions, customs and beliefs—not because they help define who we are in a globalised world, but because they never override the intrinsic connection that all humans share, regardless of where you are now, where you’re going next and where you originally come from.
Maya Angelou once said that “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”, and I couldn’t agree more. On the whole, most Australians respect and embrace multiculturalism, and I am proud to be a part of a community where I get to see this beauty and experience this strength every day.
If you would like to know more about multiculturalism in Queensland, check out the Multicultural Development Association’s annual report, which I proudly designed in 2014; or head over to the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships website for other interesting facts and statistics on cultural diversity in our state.