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Australian Identity

'So Where Are You From?'

By Avanthi Raju

Media Manager

It’s a question I’ve always been asked. I’m Australian, but I know that’s not the answer people want.

I usually tell people that my family is Indian because it’s direct, and we don’t have to dwell on the subject. I should tell them I’m Australian.

Aside from our Indigenous population, of course, Australia is largely a country of migrants. That said, instead of upholding tired notions about what it means to be 'Australian' we should be redefining Australian identity to reflect our modern era.

Being Australian is about sharing the same values.

Whether you were born here, became a citizen yesterday, or only lived here for a few days, no one should be deciding whether you are more or less Australian than any other. For me, being Australian means striving for equality, respect, cultural understanding and freedom. 

Calling myself Australian rather than Indian doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my background. If you ask any of my friends they'll tell you I’m pretty in touch with my curry side. I love my Bollywood, I still enjoy dancing around in my room to the latest hits, and I’m trained in Indian classical dance. Yet before all that, I identify as Australian, because I identify with Australian values.

I’m a first generation Australian. My parents who are both Australian citizens were born overseas. My mother, an accountant, was born in South India and only became a citizen a few years ago. My father, a dentist, is second generation Fijian-born, with grandparents born in India. He became an Australian citizen the year before I was born.

How is that for confusion? I have parents born in two different countries, and people struggle to understand how Indian I am after I tell them about the Fiji connection. But that just proves that we live in an era where we shouldn’t assume anything.

I guess you can say my parents lived the ‘migrant struggle.’

The job hunt for dad was difficult in the 1990s. My parents lived with my paternal grandparents and had little to no savings. One day they both drove to Wagga Wagga for a job interview, where my mum was left to wait in the car for two hours. When my dad came back, he just didn’t come back with a job, they offered him a higher position.

This was a turning point for them. Dad finally had a full-time job and mum continued to look for ways to be more independent in a town which was majority caucasian. My parents were warned about racism before they left, but during their time in a NSW country town they didn't experience any. Some of their fondest memories are there: they made long lasting friendships, travelled around NSW - and of course I was born there...

We moved around a few places after that, a stint in Shepparton, seven years in Canberra, and before I turned eight we finally returned home to Melbourne. During this time my mum had returned to university as she wanted to work. Today, she is regarded highly in her workplace. In her own words ‘I’ve literally fast tracked my career in 10 years.’

Returning to university wasn’t by choice: there was no alternative. Mum was told that her commerce degree was equivalent to finishing high school in Australia. And for my dad, like most health professionals, he had to sit an exam to have the ability to practice in Australia. Whilst they had to take a few detours in their lives, they still made it.

Whilst you could say this is a story of migrant struggle, I just see two people who worked hard to start a life. What is more Australian than that? If you meet them today - these two successful individuals - you would never imagine they struggled. I, myself, will never experience their struggles, but forever appreciate them for giving me a good life.

My grad

So after all that, who are we to define the physical appearance of a typical Australian?

Because to do this is just an insult to the Australia we’re becoming, a diverse place where multiculturalism is second nature. People tend to ignore that aspiring newcomers share the same dreams as those who have been here for generations.

This is a land where values should determine what you are, and not your appearance. Next time you’re curious, maybe take a different approach, because appearance means nothing.