Saturday, August 29, 2015

That whole maddening refugee thing

A few months ago I went to a meditation gathering. It was a shame that it was advertised as a mindfulness meditation gathering when it was more of a shameless attempt to sell the organizer's own brand of transcendental meditation, and that at a price that was in my opinion simply outrageous. But we all have to make a living and who am I to judge? Wait! I just did and yes, it's born out of a tiny jealousy seed that makes me ask why I have to be stuck in the corporate world making a living while this guy has created a whole business around a brand that is him teaching meditation out of the box. I obviously have a lot to learn.


Anyway, at this gathering a woman in her 30s of Vietnamese decent spoke about the struggle her family had gone through fleeing Vietnam in 1976. They had, unlike most Vietnamese refugees, taken the route by land through a Cambodia that was under Khmer Rouge control. They walked through the jungle to end up in a refugee camp in Thailand. Eventually they made their way to Australia as refugees where her parents had worked several jobs to keep the family afloat and while their children worked very hard at succeeding in this new world. It was a sobering story to listen to.

I came across an Australian documentary a few weeks ago on, I think, Netflix. It's called Once upon a time in Cabramatta. It tells the story of Vietnamese refugees landing in Australia at the same time as this woman's family and most of these people had arrived by boat, and a lot of these refugees ended up in Cabramatta because it was a very cheap suburb back then. There was virtually no support for these families when they arrived. Australia had set aside the white Australia policy (taking only refugees from countries with white population basically so they would fit in better) to accommodate the Vietnamese refugees specifically. While they were welcomed into the country there was no support structure in place for them at all and a lot of Aussies weren't happy about it.

Cabramatta in the 90s after I had just arrived in Australia was famous for one thing: gangs. If I had been given a map of where to go in Sydney it would have had a big fat red cross over Cabramatta; it was a definite no-go-zone. I actually never wondered about the mechanics of why this suburb was so bad but when I watched that documentary it became clear. The Vietnamese families that settled there were poor and the parents worked several jobs to support themselves. The kids were raised by siblings and had very little parental support. One young man who was interviewed was one of those kids. He spoke no Vietnamese and his father still doesn't speak proper English so to this day they can't actually have a conversation without his older sister acting as an interpreter. (And before you think it, that the father should have learned English, he probably would have had he not worked three jobs to support the family or had there been a structure in place to help him do so.)

The result of these kids not having parents and a proper family structure to rely on was that they started to hang out in gangs, and it was the other kids in those gangs that looked after them and that they could rely on for support. The gangs made money through stealing and selling drugs. It's not hard to see how it all happened once you start unpacking it all.

I work with people of Vietnamese decent and I can't help looking at them in a totally different way now. These people are mostly the right age to have been either refugees as kids or be first generation Aussie born. All of them would have stories that to some extent would be like the once I touched on but these where the lucky ones; they managed to get educated in engineering and they didn't end up in gangs.

If you know me at all, you know that the whole boat people and refugee thing in Australia (and the world!) drives me crazy. I keep saying that no one gets on a boat that's barely sea worthy to cross an ocean in the vain hope they'll make it and maybe be welcomed in a new country. No one! The ignorance that surrounds the refugee boat people is staggering and the lack of empathy breaks my heart into tiny little pieces.

I'll tell you one reason for why it hits so hard for me. I'm an immigrant. I moved here in all my Caucasian glory and I have never, ever been told to go back home. I was only criticized for not getting my citizenship a few times but when I explained my country of origin didn't allow dual citizenship it was met with understanding. I was never told that I wasn't supposed to be here or I had no right to benefits. Nothing ever happened to me that would have made me feel unwelcome. I was never discriminated against for not being an Aussie. I've been a curious and welcome addition to this sunburned country for decades now and I've been happily enjoying all the benefits that come along with it.

And, there it is my friends, the blatant discrimination that we try to hide. Being white is easier than being any other color variant. It's just how it is. I can scream and rant and rave about it forever it seems, and most of the time I will be told that I'm a leftist boat people hugger because of it. But it's not hard to see how it really works, it really isn't.

Just because I'm white and I came here for love doesn't give me more right to be here than someone a shade darker fleeing from oppression (on a good day) and certain death.


If you have any doubt about how bad the situation in the world today if you're a refugee, just google "Mediterranean refugees" and look at what comes up. Just look at it! We have the means and we have to money to help these people, and in my mind we have the bloody responsibility to do just that or we're just being hardhearted and selfish.

I'm just saying.

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