Topics: Australia, Asian American, Advance Australia Fair Pages: 7 (2441 words) Published: May 2, 2013
Original Introduction to Growing up Asian in Australia Author’s Note: When I first wrote my introduction to Growing up Asian in Australia, I felt that the stories and their authors were so brave, so witty, funny, and generous with their experience, that it deserved a weighty introduction worthy of such a significant collection – an introduction that highlighted the historical reasons for the dearth of Asian-Australian literature that did not fit into conventional ‘migrant narrative’. After the below introduction was completed and edited, I was told by a trusted adviser who had decades of experience in the book publishing industry, that this type of heavy introduction might not make people want to pick up the book at Borders. She was (as she usually is) absolutely right. Academics and students might be interested in the history of Asian-Australians, but we as a popular culture are perhaps not ready. And the thing I wanted to accomplish with this book – first and foremost – was to infiltrate our popular culture - our common culture, our everyday culture - with stories about how integral Asian-Australians are to our national identity. This meant getting the books into the mainstream bookstores. Growing up Asian has been put on the VCE reading list for Victorian schools, and I recently spoke on a panel at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival session for senior school students, about identity and belonging. At the end of our session, a teacher stood up and comment over the microphone to me that ‘When my class heard they were studying Growing up Asian there was a clear groan throughout the classroom.’ This was in front of an audience of over three hundred students from many different schools. I was taken aback, and admittedly a little bit peed off. Come on, please don’t ruin it for the other schools, I thought. This anthology has great sex in it, it has meaningful violence, drug references, comedians, comediennes, and cartoons. Wasn’t it better than studying the torments of Henry James? Then I realised I had misunderstood this well-intentioned, wonderful teacher. Because then she asked through the microphone, “So where can I find that original, longer introduction to Growing up Asian in Australia that you mentioned?” Here it is. - Alice Pung, 2009

In 1770, Captain Cook stuck his flag up next to a pile of rocks, conveniently forgetting about the indigenous population, and claimed the land for the British Empire. This early act of property theft was depicted with much triumph in many of the illustrated history books I read in primary school. Usually, the Aboriginal population was drawn as a small and bewildered huddle, eclipsed by the shadow of the great ships. Similarly, history has not been too kind to our ethnic entrepreneurs and Polynesian coolies, who arrived in Australia less than a century after Cook. History books tell us that Australia’s sense of national identity began in 1901 with Federation; that was also the year the Restrictive Immigration Act came into force, giving legal effect to the White Australia Policy. The joining up of all our states to form a Commonwealth was a cause for much rejoicing – but mainly for white, male

landowners, because that wealth was rarely common or shared with indigenous Australians or ethnic minorities. Slogans such as ‘Australia for the White Man’ (part of the Bulletin magazine’s masthead until 1961) reflected collective racist sentiment against the ‘Yellow Peril,’ the newly arrived Chinese who hoped to strike it lucky on the goldfields. So what was it like for a yellow or brown person growing up in a country where ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was taken literally to mean ‘advance, pale-faced patriots,’ while those of a different colour should be effaced? In secondary school, the only representations I saw of our early Asian settlers – people with faces like my relatives – were in illustrations as pigtailed caricatured demons or hanging dead from trees in the goldfields; even though the...
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