Su: Migrants need self-exam


A blind man taking an afternoon stroll through the main campus of the University of Sydney would be convinced he is actually walking through the streets of an East Asian city. He hears Mandarin and Korean speakers chatting and laughing loudly, and he even hears several conversations in Japanese and some Asian-accented English before he hears any accents that sound similar to those uttered by a homebred Australian.

A European friend once told me that in Europe, it is possible to sense the approach of an American tourist from 2 kilometers away. Loudly complaining about everything in sight with their thick American accents, the Americans never shy away from verbally criticizing their host countries in every occasion. My friend did not hide uncompromising hatred for the Americans, who, for him, were just too many in number.

A brief conversation with any Asian here can prove the point that they fill the same niche in Australia that the American tourists do in Europe. Many Asian friends have unequivocally expressed the superiority of the food, the life and the people back home.

In many ways, for the local population these Asians are 10 or 20 times more threatening than the Americans can ever be. After all, the Americans in Europe and elsewhere are just tourists, going back to their “great country” after a couple of weeks of annoyance to the locals.

But the Asians are definitely here to stay. They are economic migrants, waiting for every opportunity to switch their student visas for work visas, then for permanent residency and finally for citizenship. Tolerating the egoistic Americans only takes a couple of weeks, but the “proud” Asians will challenge locals’ patience for perhaps an entire lifetime.

Thus it is understandable that there is a quiet xenophobic rage building up within the Caucasian population here, even though only 7,000 out of 70,000 students in University of Sydney can be considered East Asian. Australia, like America, is in many ways a melting pot of different cultures from across the world. Living in such a society requires the different peoples not only to contribute to the complex mix of sociocultural heritages but also to appreciate and utilize the hybrid culture that is already present in the society. And we, the Asian migrants, have blatantly violated such an unwritten social contract by even the simplest acts of exclusively using our own languages and glowingly professing the superiority of our own cultures.

I am a proud Chinese and Asian seeking to strengthen the image of my nation and people across the world. But in a country where we will probably always be considered foreigners no matter our immigration statuses, isolating ourselves in our own groups and preaching cultural superiority in even the most miniscule ways can only fuel anti-immigration and xenophobic sentiments burning in the hearts of the locals.

The behaviors of the Asian population here at the University of Sydney and across many other parts of the West have proven to these locals that we are being hypocritical opportunists. As they tell us, we are just here to take the economic opportunities while refusing to fit in culturally. Maybe they are right; maybe we should just go back to our continent and use our talents to develop our countries, because over there our cultures and languages reign supreme.

For years we have been talking about the unfavorable economic conditions for Asians in the West, especially in America. It is true that there are strict immigration quotas and economic glass ceilings against Asian populations. But before we start blaming the Western governments and peoples for unsubstantiated bias against Asian peoples, maybe we need to take a closer look at our actions as foreign individuals living in the Western countries.

Just picking up a generic English first name and quoting a few Western philosophers do not make you a Westerner, just as knowing how to make dumplings and presenting a few misinformed views on China do not make you an Asian. True cultural understanding does not come from superficial knowledge, and without placing sustained efforts in experiencing the dynamic Western cultures, we Asians will always face quiet xenophobia and socioeconomic disadvantages.

Xiaochen Su is a junior in Davenport College currently studying abroad.


  • A concerned reader

    This article disturbed me on quite a number of levels. For one, the hyperbolic rhetoric really did not seem to be based on any sort of reality. Come on, Europeans holding an "uncompromising hatred for the Americans"? Sounds like that description should be more true of Al Qaeda than it should of Europeans. What about the "xenophobic rage building up" among "Caucasians" in Australia and other "Western" countries? I do not even know how to respond to this. I didn't know there was such a build-up of xenophobia when even the author concedes later that Australia and other Western countries are becoming a melting-pot of cultures. I'm pretty sure xenophobia would seem to refute the melting-pot idea. Most troubling is how the author even came to the conclusion that there is a xenophobic problem: Where is this "xenophobic rage" coming from and why is it happening, assuming it exists?

    Next, I was quite disturbed with his argument that "we Asians will always face quiet xenophobia". This essentialist argument, even if it were true, does not seem to serve any constructive end. It further perpetuates the destructive stereotype of the Asian as the "perpetual foreigner" just like Jewish people were unjustly viewed as "foreigners" even among their own people in the 20th century. This "perpetual foreigner" image has to stop, because it creates an artificial boundary between "us" versus "them" that cannot facilitate intercultural understanding in an increasingly globalized world.

    Furthermore, I found the confusion between the term "Asian" and "Chinese" very disturbing, almost as if to suggest that the only "real" Asians in the world happen to be Chinese. For instance, if you offend Chinese sensibilities like "presenting a few misinformed views on China" you immediately lose your Asianness. I'm not an expert in geography, but I'm pretty sure there are more countries in Asia than just China. What about Japan and Korea, for example? Such a narrow definition of "Asia" is quite problematic, as it makes a normally neutral or inclusive geogrpahic term serve some nationalistic (i.e. Chinese) end. Of course, the author hides no pretensions of his Chinese nationalism. Oddly enough, he seems to concede, almost as an afterthought, his more general "Asian" identity. "I am a proud Chinese and Asian seeking to strengthen the image of my nation and people across the world." If the author is really trying to "strengthen the image of my nation and people" then perhaps he should at least not try to use reductionist and hyperbolic arguments which are inappropriate for trying to get an informed debate on the issue.

    I will end with quoting one thing that I think the author writes but really needs to take to heart: "True cultural understanding does not come from superficial knowledge."

  • Anonymous

    The point of the article is not reality but perceptions….surely Aussies would not deny the benefits of smart Asians for their economy but they look more carefully at the impact of all these Asians on their social fabric and their own identities. Thats where the Asians are not doing enough: we are not actively trying to understand our host culture as to ease the anxieties of the native people (i.e. the Aussies and the Americans) about our presence changing their cultures…so, the conclusion is that they are totally fine with us being economic opportunists and living in their countries because it is more comfortable AS LONG AS we make honest attempts at fitting into the host society from the most fundamental cultural level…if the majority of the Asian immigrants cannot do that, then the Aussies and Americans will use excuses like "stealing jobs" to justify their cultural protectionism on a political level (i.e. with restriction on immigration/jobs, etc..)