Student Voice: Racism

Mischa L | Year 12 | Senior School Assembly Speech | 16 June 2023

Looking back at my childhood, some of my fondest memories were at my Nana's house, the smell of fresh spring rolls and pho wafting through the dated flyscreen, exploring her spider-riddled backyard, admiring the fresh grapes growing on their vines, the retro photos on the wall, and the calendar depicting the beauty of Saigon. All of these features made me curious and I yearned to understand her past. But most of all, I loved seeing my Nana, the coolest, most cuddly, warm and beaming woman, who always (possibly against her will) painted my nails.

But I remember one day, when Nana wasn’t so cuddly, warm, and beaming anymore. She told my sister and me the story of how she came to Australia. How she came here as one of the 70,000 refugees displaced as a result of the Vietnam War. How she sought out asylum, seeking a place where she could live free without the worry of threat.

After everything she had been through, watching her brothers being enlisted and killed in the war, watching her village burned down to the ground, watching her sisters and her friends violated by both Americans and Viet-Cong members, and having to leave her close-knit family behind, she was still dehumanised by Australian society into being merely a ‘foreigner.’ An ‘alien.' A ‘boat person.' Funnily enough, she came here on a plane.

She was assumed to be the cleaner, and treated like she was dumb which, understandably, coaxed her into being cautious, and guarded. All she wanted was for her kids not to experience the same kind of treatment she did. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to protect her daughter, my mother, from racist sentiments.

Though society has progressed to become much more accepting of multiculturalism, and racism is seemingly a lot less prevalent than it once was, casual, subtle racism remains pervasive in Australia.

Despite being a third-generation migrant, knowing nothing more than Australian culture and life. I am still treated that little bit differently because of my physical appearance or because of the culture of my ancestors.

Little racist comments are not helpful. But we have the power to stop this. I’d be proud to be the last generation of Asian Australians to endure this. Or any race for that matter.

So I encourage anyone who has made casually racist comments to have a little more empathy and sensitivity. We should all think before we speak and be a bit more like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’s’ Atticus Finch, who tells his daughter to "consider things from another point of view."  Before judging solely on appearance, “climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it." We can all be curious about differences and explore other cultures and show a little more compassion because words can make a difference.