Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Feeling ‘local’

Posted on January 06, 2008 by jimparedes

I heard something interesting on Australian TV a few nights ago about the attitudes migrants in Australia had about their host country, which was prominently featured in the news. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs commissioned a survey a few months ago to find out how migrants felt about being in Australia. The people behind the survey interviewed migrants who have been living in Australia for three years or more.

They specifically asked two questions and the answers the respondents gave were quite amazing, and yes, surprising. In many ways, they said it all for me. The first question was, ‘What do you like about Australia?’ The answer that got a high thirty percent rating was ‘the people’. Migrants, it seems find Australians quite easy- going, friendly and funny in their own way. The weather got another high response. Other positive answers were “the beach’ (17 percent), nature (17 percent), lifestyle (15 percent). Clean air and surroundings got about five percent.

Even more revealing were the answers to the question, ‘What don’t you like about Australia?’ A very surprisingly tiny four percent put ‘discrimination’ as a negative. I say it is surprising, considering that the subject of discrimination is the most commonly asked query I get about living in Australia when I am in Manila. I always answer that I have not experienced discrimination here so far. The low figure of four percent belies the perception that Aussies are generally racists. I have experienced alienation, yes, but not discrimination.  Besides, I subscribe to the answer of a friend who has lived in the both the US and Australia for a long time. On the question about whether there is discrimination in Aus, his answer is, ‘Anywhere on the world, there is discrimination, if you allow it.’

Ten percent answered ‘missing the family back home’ as a drawback to living in Aus, which is quite understandable. Unhappiness with employment got something like seven percent. But the biggest, total surprise of all was this:  a whopping 30 percent answered ‘nothing’ to the question of what they did not like about Aus life. Believe it or not!

I could not believe that such a sizeable number of migrants from different parts of the world were seeing Aus almost the same way I was seeing it. Sure, there are things I complain about, but the obviously palpable pleasantness of life is something that is so evident to many who live here.

I actually felt good listening to the results of the survey. I knew I was not being blindly positive about this country and that I had made a good choice on which country to migrate to.

I celebrated Christmas and New Year here in Aus, and it was a very different experience. In the Philippines, the yuletide season is all about hordes of relatives, fireworks, noisy revelers everywhere and the longest Christmas season on the world. In contrast, last Christmas Eve, I just had my immediate family with me, and I was amazed to find myself not missing everyone in Manila. It was a quiet, intimate, wonderful and meaningful Christmas with just my wife, three kids and grandchild as we ate, drank and opened our present amid laughter and gaiety.

In Australia, while there is also the build-up to Christmas day, there is not the frenzy and anticipation that we have back home. It is sedate by Philippine standards. The next day which is the 26th, is strangely called ‘Boxing Day’ in Aus and in all Commonwealth countries. Boxing Day is the time when a second round of shopping occurs since prices drop rock bottom right after Christmas.

The next big one is New Year’s Eve where Sydney puts up perhaps the biggest, most spectacular fireworks show in the entire planet. In the Philippines, revelers buy fireworks and explode them. Over here, the explosion of fireworks to greet the coming year is state-sponsored to the tune of four million dollars this year. It is a government monopoly.  Hundreds of thousands of people crowd every inch of space in the city that has a view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House to be near the center of the fiery display. There is TV coverage, and tourists from all over Australia and the world come to watch.

Celebrating Christmas outside one’s home country is quite a unique experience. I was not lost in the revelry but I very intensely watched everything, including myself, and my own reactions. I have discovered that one’s absorption of different cultures and practices usually entails two steps: the first is the constant comparison between one’s home culture and the way it is done in the foreign country. While that can be fun and even fascinating, there is also a deeper joy in finding oneself in the next level of appreciation, which is the cessation of comparison and to the total immersion to the foreign customs and ways. For a few moments, one catches oneself NOT looking at other people as foreigners but as plain people, just like the way one looks at people in one’s home country.  One crosses the ‘them versus us’ line and just enjoys oneself, period.

Gone are the seeming differences that have always put a gap like accents, races, skin colors, religion body sizes, etc. Every one is just like everyone else. We are a throng of humanity simply celebrating what it’s like to be alive amidst such beauty and celebratory happenstance. It’s great to hang one’s protective coat and layers, and one’s defenses and simply allow oneself to be overwhelmed by everything unfolding.

Almost every week that passes, my comfort zone gets bigger as I allow more of the Aussie lifestyle into my home, habits and skin. I figure, all this can only make me a richer person and a better inhabitant of this part of the planet that is shared by a lot of races and people of different creeds.

While at certain points it is important to heed the call of nationalism, there is also virtue in seeing the world as borderless. And one does not even need to give up one for the other. In a way it is like a widening of identity. It’s akin to how one psychiatrist described the concept of compassion and enlightenment in the terms of his trade. He said that one must have an identity first and foremost before one can ‘lose’ it. ####

0 to “Feeling ‘local’”

  1. Ray says:

    Hiya Jim,

    It’s Ray here. Interesting topic.
    In New York City, one does not feel much about
    racism as we’re in the core of multiple cultures
    but it does exist. You have to have a 9 to 6 job
    and experience the whole thing. And this worsens
    as you go to the outskirts of the tri-borough.
    But the more prevalent one is something called
    “subtle” racism. The experience somewhat comes
    out as amusing and ridiculous.

    In my experience–once I was waiting for my turn
    in the New Accounts section in a bank, and behind
    me was a Chinese couple, then a lone Japanese gentle
    man at the end of the line. Then along came this white “new accounts” lady, approached us and said “Are you all together?”

    Or you go to a jazz club and the maitre d’ seats you in the
    Asian section–:) –something like that.

    Asians are perceived as meek and submissive. So it is really important to be more vocal and assertive and to be always on the guard in dealing with ignorant natives.

  2. ang says:

    Perhaps it was about a decade ago that I had first spent Christmas and New Year’s in the Philippines. I was absolutely shocked that fireworks were kind of the main event of those two celebrations… with a side of chunks of relatives from different parts of PI.

    I was very used to how we celebrated Christmas in Chicago… tons of snow, a fake evergreen tree, and just my immediate family. So the whole fireworks spectacle seemed very weird, but cool.

    So, I found my xmas experience in the PI super fun. Well, I was 11 at the time, and easily entertained by booms and sparkles. Hm, I think I am still easily entertained. Haha.

    Been a while since I have visited your blog! Seems like all is going well with you and the family in Australia! Awesome!

  3. Karen says:

    I can very much relate to how you feel. My parents, 2 brothers and I migrated to Canada almost 3 years ago and I know what it is like to be new to a country and experience the “them versus us” phenomenon. But like you said, there comes a point when you don’t notice race, color, accents, etc and you come to the realization that everyone, regadless of nationality, is very much like you. It truly is a great feeling to know you are growing as a person and learning so much about the world outside of your native country.

  4. ebudae88 says:

    “While at certain points it is important to heed the call of nationalism, there is also virtue in seeing the world as borderless. And one does not even need to give up one for the other. In a way it is like a widening of identity.”

    Nationalism may not all be lost by embracing other cultures. Embracing other cultures is in a way a form of enrichment. But on one hand, losing it means the total assimilation into another culture. I agree that it is now the era of borderless nations so that one can’t be alienated from his roots just by physically leaving it. However, there are times when we get to the point that nationalism in itself is in question because how could you speak of such when the whole idea of culture where it lies is mixed up or to a certain extent erased. hehe just a bit of thought. Good day!

  5. As a trans Tasman immigrant near the time of my birth, I can relate somewhat to what you say about the Philippines Jim, and having lived there for two years straight from ’84-’86 I lived the experience you have presently, in reverse. It was such a difficult thing to go from my somewhat arrogant lifestyle to a country and an economy that was truly foreign to me. In the early 80’s I remember still having to go the PLDT offices in Dumaguete and have an operator connect my Christmas call home to my mum with those old plug style telephone operator systems and it was notorious for cutting out, and then there were things like “Brown outs” when all I had ever known in this country was a “Black out”. The differences between the two countries and peoples initially was hard for my infant and inexperienced mind to deal with. But over a period of a few months my pessimism and frustrations gave rise to a respect for a nation of people who work really hard, and who inspite of economic stresses and hardships posess a resilience and genuine love that truly can and DOES conquer all. 1986 on EDSA as just one example. The frustrations I had also gave rise to a great adventure, one that many in the some may never know in this country. In closing I would add that Australia is all the richer for the presence of you and your wonderfully talented family. Long may your association give you peace , happiness and joy.

  6. eeliza says:

    Having returned from Melbourne about 5mths ago to work in Spore for a period (I’ve been living in Aust for 6.5 yrs previously), i felt a great sense of ‘missing’ as I realised that you are definitely right about the ‘people’ being one of the draws of the country. in my months back, i havemissed the greeting on public transport, in public spaces, everywhere.

    in short, to all readers, Melbourne and Australia is a great place to live. I love it very much and comparing Australia and Singapore, it’s easy to see why so many Singaporeans fly the coop to live there!

  7. joliber says:

    Hello Jim,

    hi, i’ve added you on my links, hope you can do the same.. thanks..

    Nice post!

  8. reader says:

    I am glad you guys are really getting into Australia well. I, too, would like to move over there but in the first step for immigration, I am already not qualified. As a physician, we are required to have registration in Australia before we can qualify for application for immigration. I simply unable to get registration.

  9. Bass Poet says:

    Hi Jim,

    Wonderful blog entry again! You always amazed me with your straight from the heart sharing of your life experiences. Racism is rooted in ignorance and fear. I’ve been in Canada for 14 years and I believe racism has took another form: subtle, subversive & insidious. Racism is no longer in your face, you have a different colour of your skin and we will “lynch” you until you bleed to death approach. For me “Racism” only becomes real when you allow your soul to be oppressed by it.

    What made me become a true Canadian immigrant is because I feel, act and speak Filipino. Filipino is in me, I eat, breathe and live Filipino. What I find real fun is by being Filipino, I felt that the whole world started relating more to me because I am Me, a 100% Filipino.

  10. Zulu says:

    Hi Jim,

    I always found your blog entries interesting and am most appreciative of the differing perspective you always seem to offer.

    In my personal experience during visits to Sydney, I have to say that ‘subtle’ racism still seems to exist. However, I find that society there seems to have bonded in a collective effort to deny or downplay its existence.

    Case in point, a young Asian girl addressing Congress pointed to ‘the fact that I am young, of Asian decent, and speaking to you today…’ as evidence that Australia’s society has outgrown it’s attention to race drove home the fact that such pronouncements still make a big deal in Sydney society (enough to make the front pages). My reality was the occassional pedestrian who moves to the farthest side of the sidewalk to give you a wide berth.

    Still I am encouraged that the predominant mindset acknowledges racism as something to outgrow. But I also agree with Bass Poet above ~ our end of the bargain is to confidently declare ourselves as Filipino and give them something to celebrate us for.

  11. emilie says:

    I do believe that discrimination exist if you allow it. A friend of mine experienced a discrimination when she had vacation in Melbourne someone shouted at her to go back where she come from. After that incident she look for a phonebooth and she was crying when she called me, she haven’t experienced that on other countries she visited only in Melbourne, it happened when she was waiting along with other people to cross the street, a car stopped in front of them and shouted her to go back where she come from.But in your case I’m glad to know that you haven’t experienced any discrimination.I do hope that it will not happen to you and your family especially in front of many people

  12. ces says:

    Bought your book today and already, I’m enjoying it immensely. 😀

  13. jimparedes says:

    Sorry everyone, for not responding earlier. Kust got caught up with life! Glad to read all your responses.

    Yes, discrimination does exist, I was just surprised that based on anecdotal info, it was 4 percent, and that is fantastic. I honestly edxpected it to be much higher. Everywhere one goes, I guess there is discrimination of some sort. Back home, it is mainly economic and social. A carpenter can help build a hotel but will not likely be allowed to enter through the main lobby once it’s done, if you know what I mean.

    Bass poet– you are right. One enters a new society contributing to it what one IS.

    Craig– You are the type of person every culture should have the pleasure of hosting. It is important to transcend one’s limitations in order to appreciate what is outside of it. I am glad the Philippines touched you in a way that you loved.

    ces–Which book are you reading?

  14. BabyPink says:

    Hello, Sir Jim! 🙂

    It’s good to know that you and your family love and enjoy Australia as much as you do. Reading your and Ala’s entries about Australia has taught me a lot about Australia.

    You’re right. It doesn’t really matter which country we are in, the thing is we are all brothers and sisters, we’re all the same. At least, that’s what we, Muslims, are taught about viewing the Ummah. We live in a border-less Ummah. We aren’t supposed to view people through the color of their skin, the language that they speak or the nation that they come from.

    Anyway, HAPPY 2008 po! Mabuhay kayo! 🙂

  15. ces says:

    I bought the As Is Where Is as a late christmas gift to myself in my attempts at redefining my spirituality and I just LOVE it.

    Just yesterday, I bought Humming in my Universe although I have yet to start reading but I feel sure I’d enjoy it just as well, just as much.

    I’m currently in a conflict with myself but I somehow find peace from your works so thank you. I hope your holidays was as wonderful as it should.

  16. Vivien Guidotti says:

    Hi Jim

    Sydney has been my home since 1992, and it will always be my home. I only go back to Pinas to visit my relatives but hope to sponsor each one to migrate. Otherwise, I would never go back. So far I have a niece and a nephew who migrated to Darwin last year, and in the next few years my goal is to assist the rest so that ultimately they will all be here. After two years of PR in Darwin they can then move to Sydney or I can move up there. Thank God for the SIR visa, which makes it so easy for Pinoys to migrate here with their families. There is absolutely no need now for anyone to TNT, which would only get them blacklisted.
    The Philippines has only sad and bitter memories for me. My entire family and I have had a very difficult life there and experienced discrimination from fellow Pinoys for being poor, illegitimate, ugly, socially inferior, you name it, etc…but yes, you can experience the same here too, from fellow Pinoys as well. Just attend exclusively Pinoy gatherings and you will witness it for yourself. You’re better off having friends from all cultures and backgrounds. My own daughter has been bullied in primary school by her Pinoy classmates, and luckily we moved to Kenthurst which is not far from your place.
    Your blog about Christmas here in Australia is spot on. It’s more about the family unit, what the day should be about.
    But yes, your stories about this place warms my heart.
    My family and I are always glad to return to Australia after trips overseas. The song “I still call Australia home” always brings tears to my eyes.
    I guess I found my real home and heart here. Freedom, justice and prosperity are only bonuses.
    I was born Pinoy but I will die an Aussie.
    Thanks for your words about our new home.

  17. LEICA says:

    Hi Jim,

    I am now just about rediscovering the man I used to watch on TV and sing along with over a done in stereo.

    I like this man now, even more.

    You are an inspiration, sir.


  18. yvemarie says:

    Hi, Jim..wow..welcome to Australia..yup..Australia is a good place to live esp you are all complete as a family..I didnt know you migrated here as having known you a succesful Apo Hiking Society member..its nice to hear that you liked Australia and the way the life is treating you here..
    I noticed that there are photos on the right side..are there your photo work?? if it is..its lovely..more power to you…

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