Category Archives: Story Collection

What your story?

What your story?

We are all people. Refugee and immigrants are people too. There’s an unfortunate negative stereotype and racial misconceptions about people from all nationalities, yet we still call Australia home.

As part of the Big West Festival 2014, The Two Chairs is an artistic installation piece set up in a cafe. The aim is to challenge our cultural identity by having a conversation. It also aims to break down cultural barriers and create empathy and understanding.

As part of the art project, we will be collecting your thoughts and response to the question: “How Australian are you?”

How about sharing your thoughts and have a coffee or tea. Happy River cafe has generously offered their space and drinks to ensure we collect some stories.

Please RSVP soon as there are only a few limited spots left.
Email to TheTwoChairs(at) gmail (dot) com
-suzanne nguyen

Inclusion Zone

I don’t recall noticing that my grandfather was black until his ‘difference’ was pointed out to me at school when I was about 9.

“Who was that black man I saw you with at the weekend,” a schoolmate asked.

He’s black? He was just my grandfather as far as I was concerned. And while I didn’t see colour then, I certainly do now.

And so started my experience of racism. While I would later be taunted at school about having a black grandfather, I soon came to realise that the pathetic comments directed at me were nothing in comparison to the direct-action racism faced by people with a skin colour that’s not white.

My mother spent her childhood trying to scrub the brown out of her skin.

Here’s a picture of my grandfather in Egypt in 1940 during WWII:

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He was Moriori but served in a Maori battalion.  Continue reading Inclusion Zone

Living la vida Laowai

Wikipedia describes Laowai as a commonly used Mandarin Chinese word, and a shorter, informal version of wàiguórén 外国人 (“foreigner”).

Laowai is not intended as a negative word. Of course you may hear expat stories where the word has been adapted to be used negatively by some. Sadly, this has become human nature. I am currently not an expat, and my story is not a story about international racism. However, my story is about being different. My story is about being an outsider, and loving every minute of it.

I was born and raised in Victoria Australia. I am an English Language Tutor. I love what I do, I get to meet a fantastically diverse bunch of people, and I probably learn more than I teach.

A little over a month ago now I began looking for a quiet office space in the CBD to accommodate some new Melbourne based learners. After browsing through sublet advertisements on Gumtree, I had come to the conclusion that I was probably going to end up in a broom closet next to the restrooms of a Legal Chambers, where the land lord had placed a semi-constructed flat pack desk, an over swiveled swivel chair, and a poster reading “hang in there.”

I picked one ad at random, and arranged a visit via email. I arrived at the address, took the elevator up 5 floors and stepped inside a lovely looking office suite. I was shocked to learn that I had arranged to view an office inside a Tutoring Center, there was even a stack of IELTS books by the reception desk. Needless to say, I moved into my new Melbourne office a few weeks ago. I share a suite with a wonderful company called Energy Bean Tutoring Center.

Energy Bean is probably best described as a Chinese Australian Tutoring Centre, as it caters mostly to the needs of international students from mainland China studying at various levels in Australia.

It’s fair to say the official spoken language within my office suite is Mandarin. The signs are all in Mandarin, the posters are in Mandarin, the Energy Bean web page is in Mandarin, I noticed that even the label and fine print on one of the whiteboard markers was Mandarin. Despite not knowing a great deal of the language, not once have I been treated as an outsider. Despite running a similar business, not once have I been treated as competition. I was instantly treated like a partner. After only three weeks I feel like I have been part of the Energy Bean family for a decade.

Last night I was invited to the Energy Bean Anniversary Celebration. The speeches, presentations, and games were all in Mandarin, and I felt how some of my intermediate students must feel when I ramble on and forget to articulate, and just like them, I was politely nodding and pretending I knew what was going on. Perspective is one heck of an eye opener. After giving up on my high hopes of becoming a fluent Chinese speaker by carefully listening to the speeches, I sat back and enjoyed the culture shock.

When the games began, I watched Energy Bean staff and students light up with joy as they participated in competitive group activities. It was so entertaining from a spectators point of view. I couldn’t even being to guess what the objective was, but their smiles and laughter spoke louder than any words in any language. Energy Bean’s very own hard working receptionist kindly explained what was going on, and it turned out there was a lot of method to the madness unfolding before my eyes.

I felt guilty that I couldn’t fully understand the festivities despite all the hard work that had gone into the evening. Everyone else probably felt guilty that I was unable to participate because they made sure not to make me feel as though I was being excluded, being sure not to alienate me, and make me feel like an outsider. As a result I felt like I was on an adventurous international vacation, but it became clear that I was actually witnessing Australia as the multicultural paradise that it should be.

In my opinion, I have become a better ESL teacher by spending some time as an outsider with people who instantly welcomed me, and let me in. I believe there are no minorities based on heritage and race. The only true minority group in this country are those ignorant few who consciously chose to shut everybody else out. I truly feel sorry for them. They don’t know what they are missing out on.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Dayne Collins @academiaesl

Interview with Max Atkins – Furniture maker

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Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Max Atkins and I am a musician and furniture maker from Melbourne, Australia.
How did you become involved in The Two Chairs project?
Soon after Suzie discovered I had begun building furniture she came to me with the story of the ‘European Labour Only’ stamp and idea of building a pair of chairs with the aim to starting a conversation about racism in Australia.
Which project were you a part of? What was your role?
I agreed to build the chairs and we began designing them together. This is among the first of my woodworking projects, previously I have made some percussion instruments, a speaker box, benches and only a few other things.
What are your thoughts about the “European Labour Only” stamp found on furniture?
The existence of the ‘European Labour Only’ stamp does not really surprise me, and it is certainly not the worst of what remains of that time in Australian history. I understand that the “white”, unionised, furniture makers felt threatened by the Chinese furniture makers and wanted to protect their jobs; but the idea of stamping the furniture in this way seems to me like a silly idea, and in fact it had the opposite effect than that which was intended. The stamp was a clear message to all saying which group of furniture makers had built the bookcase or whatever but it also included the maker’s address. Therefore anyone could see, on a ‘Chinese Labour only’  piece, where they could buy more, cheaper, furniture.
Have you experience or seen racism around you?
I live in Footscray which is a very multicultural suburb in a city that is, I think, quite multicultural in general. The main groups of immigrants in Footscray are Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Somali and Sudanese as well as those like myself which we might call ‘European’. Perhaps it is strange but even with all these different people from all over the world living so close together I have not seen or experienced any racism since living here.
Any final thoughts, hopes or dreams?
My hope for The Two Chairs Project is that many people get to see it but more importantly that they start talking about racism in Australia. The Two Chairs themselves are only a medium for getting the conversation going and changing negative attitudes about race.

Where are you from?

A great response to one of our earlier articles

Choux Street

I’m lucky I’ve never really been aggressively abused because of my ethnicity (I’m a Chinese-born Australian). I’ve never been told to go back to where I came from, been called a terrorist or anything that awful. I don’t think you need to be so violently vilified to feel the whip racism, though. Racism is layered like any kind of prejudice and it can be subtle enough to dismiss.

A few weeks back, artist Suzanne Nguyen wrote a great blog post about why asking the question “Where are you from?” is kind of racist. The conversations on Facebook and Twitter about the topic were somewhat divided, but the general consensus was there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, depending on the intent and the context. I think this can be true to an extent. If you teach English to migrants, then the question might be something you ask you’re students.

In…

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Educate our children about racism

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. Continue reading Educate our children about racism

Do All Asians Look Alike?

Last week I posted up my thoughts on the question: “Where are you from?” and I had some pretty interesting responses. There were two distinct voices that came out of the ensuing discussion. A number of people believed that most uses of that question are genuinely curious. With the right tone and intent, the conversation is a great way of learning about each other’s cultural history. On the other hand, some believe that it is intrusive and rude. The question to them is like a reworded and nice way of profiling you. Continue reading Do All Asians Look Alike?

Everyday racism as an Asian Australian

The Adventures of The Story Collector - Where are you really from?
Source: The Story collector comic: Where are you really from?

Being an Alien in Your Own Land

I was born in Australia to parents who arrived as refugees to Australia and escape the war in Vietnam. I considered myself to be more Australian and I have encountered everyday racism. Continue reading Everyday racism as an Asian Australian