Right now, I love living and working in the Illawarra (home to Aboriginal people for over twenty thousand years and in Dharawal language aptly meaning “a place near the sea”). What makes it so special is the different cultures that have come to live here, bringing with them their traditions and foods that have merged to become a rather exciting melting pot and set us on the global map for Diversity and Inclusion.
This month (April 2022) we can see many traditions being observed throughout the Illawarra Region including Qingming Festival (Chinese Memorial Day), Easter (Christians, Catholics and Orthodox observance), the Passover (Jewish observance) and Ramadan (Muslim observance) to name a few.
However, to be honest, it hasn’t always been this way. I remember, as a refugee, having a very difficult time growing up in this area and feeling so awkward, unwelcome and displaced. Back in the 80s and 90s, negative attitudes and perceptions about Vietnamese migrants ran very deep (heavily influenced by historical events and also media and political agendas). I’ve heard many stories from other refugees, asylum seekers and migrant communities experiencing similar protests about their arrival in Australia and settling in the Illawarra region.
However, we survived and we have learned. Life experience has taught me that we all have something in common – a tremendous resilience and exceptional capacity for forgiveness. I’ve seen us imparting wisdom, knowledge and skills in our determination to create a better life and future for ourselves and our children. Some of us assimilate, some of us integrate. Many of us advocate.
My children (who have Chinese, Vietnamese, German, and Peruvian heritage) are proudly Australian. They are growing up fast and learning to respect diverse beliefs, attitudes and values that form the basis of our uniqueness and individuality. They are at a naive age where they see the world as revolving around them. I want them to remember their heritage and honour the sacrifices that were made for them by those that paved the way.
© Loan Nittel, Migration Heritage Project, 2022