My personal memories as a first generation Italian growing up in Australia are quite positive. My parents migrated to Australia from Italy in the late 1960’s, and have told me that initially they did encounter racist slurs and comments, especially in the workplace. My parents could not speak English well and had no way of defending themselves.
Despite the attacks my parents endured as immigrants in Australia, they taught my brothers and I that no matter where a person comes from, what religion they believe in or what color their skin is we should always respect and treat people the same way we want to be treated.
I took my parents’ lesson on board and used it to my advantage when I had my own encounter with a racist attack. I was in high school and catching the bus back home. On this particular day I was on my own and since there were only a handful of people on the bus, I decided to sit at the back. One stop into my trip, the bus picked up three aboriginal girls who were all around my age. They noticed me at the back of the bus and they made their way towards me. They started calling me a “greasy wog” and told me to “get out of their country”. They then opened my school bag and started throwing my books out the bus window. The bus driver was also aboriginal and did not intervene. Terrified. I tried to get up to get off the bus, even though it was not my stop, but they tried to stop me by kicking and spitting on me. I finally swerved my way through them and yelled at the driver to stop. I walked all the way back to where my books were to retrieve them. At this point I was no longer scared, I was angry. I found all my books and caught the next bus to find those girls. I recalled my brother saying that most aboriginals in the area lived in a Commission Facility not far from us. I got off the bus at this Commission Facility and there they were, standing out the front talking to other people about their experience with “a greasy wog” on the bus. As I crossed the road towards them, one of them noticed me and alerted the other girl.
I remember their faces dropped, since they had not expected to see me. As I approached them the ringleader asked to me, “What do you want you greasy wog?” I told her, “All I want is an apology, if you all do not apologise to me, I will call the police since I know where you all live, and this could get worse. I do not want that”.
I remember thinking, “there is no way they will apologise to me, who does that?” Nevertheless, I stood my ground, stared them in the eye again. I repeated, “I did not do anything to you, so this is your last chance to apologise to me or I will call the police”. Then one of them turned and said, “Ok. I am sorry”. Then to my surprise, all three of them apologised. I turned to them and said, “It doesn’t have to be like this you know. You do not need to attack everybody who seems different to you. It doesn’t pay to be this way”. None of the girls said anything after that so I left and finally made it home that one night after school.
I thank my parents for teaching me to accept every human being on this earth with respect. If I was taught otherwise, I could have found those girls armed with my own army and made matters worse. Instead, I hope I planted a seed in their minds to accept and respect people for who they are.
I now have two daughters of my own, and I sometimes see my traits in my seven-year-old daughter, Victoria. When she was four, I picked her up from kindergarten one day and she told me that a new girl had started kinder that day, and she was a little sad because all the other kids were teasing her because she had black skin. She said that same day a little boy went to her and pulled down her underwear and ran off laughing. My daughter Victoria saw this, helped the little girl, and decided to stay with her for the rest of the day so nobody could pick on her. Let me tell you how proud I was of my daughter for defending that poor little Sudanese girl. They both remained good friends for the rest of that year, and Victoria often mentions her and says how much she misses their friendship. They have now ventured off to different primary schools.
I strongly believe that racism can be managed and contained, only when as parents we choose to educate our children. Our teachers in our schools need to focus on providing this education and somehow fit it in to their curriculum. Why not speak to our children in class to gain their opinion on different religions and or countries. Make our next generation see that we are all one. There is no superior or inferior religion or country and to treat people the way you want to be treated. Children are impressionable, what they are taught as children they will become as adults. If we cannot save the adults of today, then lets save the adults of tomorrow.
Written by Nancy Riniti