Sometimes, I feel like I’ve been doing Asian Australian stuff forever.
It has been sixteen years.
There were a few reasons why I started building an organisation that focused on Asian Australian Studies and, by extension, fostered Asian Australian critical communities. Significant steps in this direction started when I was in the midst of doing my Master of Arts degree at the University of Queensland; this was back in the mid-1990s. My topic was Asian Australian women’s writing, and I completed it (and started my PhD) in 1996: the year that Hanson became an MP.
At the time, when I did online searches for “Asian Australian”, the nongoogle search engine would bring up a swag of dating sites – Asian women wanting Australian men, apparently. That was about all these searches would return: s*x/dating sites, and stock exchange or other business news. I got depressed about it all, and felt the lack of community representation and conversation keenly (even though, at the time, that wasn’t quite how I thought about it).
I did the same search just then, and was immensely gratified to have sites turn up that were almost all connected with the network I have built, its members and their projects, and a whole HEAP of fantastic work done by people who are similarly determined that Australians of Asian descent be a part of inter/national dialogues and representations.
Images of two women I very much admire recurred (among many other high-profile Asian Australians), and that also made me happy:
|Federal Minister Penny Wong with rarely captured smile:
She lost me for a bit, but I’ve become a fan again. [Source: ABC News website]
Back to my postgraduate days for a minute:
From 1996 onwards, One Nation’s promotion of opportunistic and venal politics against racial minority groups in Australia (namely, Indigenous and Asian) became embedded in Australian history. The extraordinary success of such a political party gave voice to many bigots; ironically, it also produced a groundswell of anti-racist, community-affirming Asian Australian activism. This has been pointed out by a few critics and, while no-one wants to valourise One Nation’s role in this, many Asian Australians flag that this was the period that activated their political engagement.
While the number of academics who’ve engaged with Asian Australian Studies has waxed and waned (and will continue to do so), I see the broader community awareness of Asian Australian issues going from strength to strength.
I’ll admit it: A lot of my impetus for building these networks stem from wanting to find an intellectual and emotional home. I wanted to find others who thought about racialisation, living in a developed nation while marked with Asian difference, and the dynamics of negative/positive stereotyping. I felt better for finding a community of Chinese-looking and non-Chinese-speaking buddies; it made me feel less easily shamed about language ‘deficiency’.
I didn’t expect to find quite so many people with whom I’d become close friends, and who would prove themselves to be formidable allies in the work of finding academic and cultural representation for Asian Australian issues and perspectives. Recently, I had very real fears that my stepping back from academia would mean losing the comforting and welcome regard of my peers in the field. I’m coming to realise, however, that it doesn’t matter whether I’m in academia or not. Getting involved and working with Asian Australian issues doesn’t mean being employed by a university or publishing in journals. I see evidence of savvy, fun, challenging Asian Australian projects all the time, mostly generated by those who are not academics. I hope that’s where I’m heading, too.