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.