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We need to think bigger than Cultural Diversity Day

I grew up in a culturally diverse family, so the discussions that happen today - on World Cultural Diversity Day - are particularly close to my heart.

Colliding cultures

My dad grew up in Ballarat in the 1940s, a time when "wogs" were expected to assimilate (a climate still facing many people today). As a result, he was never taught to speak Italian and felt limited in expressing Italianness outside his home. Because of this, it can be difficult for me to find obvious connections to my Italian roots as opposed to my more recent Chinese roots. When I asked my dad which parts of me he sees as Italian, he told me that I am passionate, emotive, and that family is central to my life.

My family

Mum and dad

My mother was born in Hong Kong and came to Australia in the 1990s. This was the decade Pauline Hanson was talking about Australia being "swamped with Asians". Because my mum’s culture is so entrenched in her life, she felt less restricted in being herself.

I connect to my Chinese roots when I celebrate Chinese New Year and Moon Festival, when I'm with my family in Hong Kong, and by studying Mandarin. I'm not always aware of these influence until they are pointed out to me. Friends have been surprised to hear me calling older family friends "aunty" and "uncle", and my boyfriend to find lucky red packets (Hong Bao) around my house.

My grandmothers

My grandmothers

Being perceived as mixed-race in Australia

I largely "pass" as a white Australian, but am often asked where I’m really from and am subtly reminded of my "otherness" through micro-aggressions. When I am in Hong Kong, I am perceived as a foreigner so much so that people question my relationship to my mum. What does this mean for my intersections? This is something I think about every day. I am constantly influenced by the way people perceive me, but know it is ultimately up to me to define who I am, culturally, and otherwise.

Because of this, I am still learning about and navigating my own cultural diversity! As a first-language English speaker, Australian educated, white "passing" person, I recognise the many privileges I benefit from. There are serious issues facing people from diverse cultures that I do not face. It is so important to me to listen to the lived experiences of others, particularly those experiencing marginalisation, to best work together to promote equality.

Dialogue is key

I started volunteering with Oaktree as an Inclusivity Officer a year ago. In this role, I quickly learnt that promoting inclusivity requires a sustained effort, and fundamentally, dialogue. The phrase "nothing about us without us" comes to mind. At Oaktree, our funded education partners design and implement their own programs to fight poverty, and skills and resources are shared horizontally with our peer partners. Dialogue is so important for fostering these relationships, and for facilitating the challenging conversations that lead to sustainable change.

What do my experiences mean?

We need to think bigger than World Cultural Diversity Day. Lack of diversity and inclusion continues to affect people like me every day, and we should work towards a world in which we always champion cultural diversity. Beyond representation (of cultural and other diversities), let's ensure that the participation of diverse people is both possible and meaningful by promoting inclusion. This cannot be achieved overnight, but as Oaktree has taught me, whether through learning or unlearning, change begins with dialogue.

Want to read more about cultural diversity in Australia? Check out former vol Avanthi's personal reflection "So Where Are You From?". Or join the movement to receive email updates and actions in the fight against poverty.