Life from an outsider's perspective…

“Multiculturalism” or “Immiscible Cultures”?

A strangely relevent cartoon.

WARNING: possible controversy ahead!!

Who actually invented the word “multiculturalism” anyway? I think it was our politicians who did that (at least in Australia). Sure, most cultures in a multicultural society tolerate each other, but I think the real trouble arises when immigrant cultures make little or no attempt to integrate into the host culture, leading to the “immiscible culture” syndrome described below. I notice that a lot of racist comments get thrown about in general conversation when it is 100% certain that the comments will not be heard.

As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no difference between a British person emmigrating to Tenerife and an Indian emigrating to London, or an Chinese person moving permanently to Australia… all these groups of people are attempting to improve their standard of living, and they can hardly be blamed for that. On the contrary - I’ll be the first to commend them on their courage as it is likely a real lot more difficult than they first imagined.

Normal people speak from their personal experiences, and here’s mine: Australia is commonly referred to now as being a multicultural society or a multicultural nation. I used to live in Sydney, Australia, in what was relatively normal suburb called “Hurstville”. I lived 28 years of my life there. Throughout that time, the Hurstville retail zone was completely transformed. What happened was this:

Chinese shops first opened sporadically along Forrest road & signs were erected and of course no one disallowed that. Over the years, the chinese characters got bigger while the size of the English words shrunk; it finally reached the point where there were no English signs at all in many retail shops!

Many many times I witnessed older Chinese-Australians generally push and shove their way about, but especially when entering a train. They wouldn’t wait for people to get off, they’d just barge their way on first as if the train will leave without them. I realise that in Chinese culture, older citizens are “the more respected members of society”, and that public transport is considerably busier in China along with its immense population. So believe it or not, yes I can understand their social behaviour.

But if someone can’t communicate to these people that this sort of behaviour (by anyone) is neither necessary nor polite in our culture, without being labelled a racist, how are they going to get the message? Our trains are almost always big enough for everyone who is standing on the platform to enter, except in the most extreme cases. In that way, public transport erodes social tolerance [in a multicultural society]. Funnily enough, one of my  friends of chinese descent told me that -one of the many who has integrated into the local Australian culture very well- but then again, he didn’t grow up in the Hurstville chinese community.

“Multiculturalism”

Around that time, glazed ducks and other tiny birds with their heads still attached started cropping up in the windowshops’ of chinese butchers, and even though that alone substantially lowered the tone of the place, it was still permitted. Then, bird nest soup started appearing on chinese restaurant menus, along with shark fin soup and various bits and pieces of other endangered animal species. “Delicacies”, they’re called by the people that eat them.

Neither could a lot of older people be bothered to speak or write the official English language (if they even knew how), because even the local Hurstville city council produced brochures in 10 languages for their convenience. Eventually, the entire suburb of Hurstville grew into a mecca for even more chinese immigrants, becoming even larger than the downtown chinatown community in the city of Sydney itself.

 Despite the proportion of citizens of chinese descent living in Hurstville, it’s extremely rare to see a mixed-race couple walking in the streets.  In fact walking down the main street called Forrest Road, you could be forgiven if you thought you were in China, right down to the smell of the place. I understand it is much easier for these people to agglomerate in this manner; it softens their life transition process, but by the same token, they’re not exactly helping themselves to integrate.

That is not what I call multiculturalism, it’s what I term an “immiscible culture”. No it’s not entirely the fault of the local community, it’s a problem exacerbated by the policies of local governments and councils. As of today, rather suprisingly, only one of the 12 Hurstville councillors appears to be of Chinese descent. They’re elected every 4 years, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before the chinese community start voting for themselves. But in the meantime, as the majority of that local community is of Chinese descent, have they already lost the power to say or do anything without being branded a “racist” or else legally prosecuted?

To be sure, I realise that not all Chinese people are alike, and that some manage to integrate very well indeed into the general society. I think those chinese people would also see it from this perspective. I have chosen my words carefully, so again, I hope I won’t be labelled a racist or making these generalised comments about a sub-culture.

5 Responses to ““Multiculturalism” or “Immiscible Cultures”?”

  1. Once again Les, I completely agree with you. Someone showed me a picture the other day of signs that had been printed in four languages in the UK and I couldn’t help thinking that they were a total waste of paper and money. Later, someone will be asking why these people don’t speak English and haven’t integrated. Well, it’s obvious!

    And we have the same problem developing in areas of the south of Tenerife, where Brits congregate, don’t speak Spanish and a Canarian would have difficulty buying a beer in his own language. There, I reckon the problem is created because policies don’t enforce equality laws and local companies refuse to employ English speakers even to translate into English (that I know from personal experience). Basically, if there is no way to get a “real” job, you can understand why so many open British bars.

    You’re right about the racist comments too, although they are not always when they won’t be heard, because I had some very deliberate comments made at me on a busy bus one day about there being “English everywhere.”

  2. hey nif

    now I can comment on Hurstville and Forest Road…….

    Do you remember what was their prior…….. a crappy hairdresser where you could get a cheap perm, an old fogies shoe shop, and an old fogies dress shop….and not much more than that!

    Even though I live in Engadine (30 mins south by car)
    I still prefer to shop in Hurstville. Cheaper butcher. Better Fishmonger. More variety. Always open. the best cake shop.The best restaurants. It is always bustling and buzy.

    What about our Chinese friend Ian Lam, who lives in the north in Cammeray, ……..

    On approaching Hurstville, he said,….
    “my god…….look at all the Chinese!” He laughed. We laughed with him….. but you can’t get a more Aussie Chinese person……although he is still very superstitious!

    Why would the Chinese community attempt to assimilate when they can buy everything cheaper there at Hurstville…….what would motivate them to go to another Aussie suburb?

    If you sit at a Chinese or Thai restaurant in Engadine, you get a watered down Aussie version of the real thing in Hurstville. Less Chilli. Less taste. Less choice…..Nothing exotic or even remotely “normal”….it happens in most “Aussie” suburbs as it gets further away from the Sydney epicentre….and all the Aussies love their local outsider restaurants…they are popular restaurants…..

    San Choy Bow…. whats that? Pippies in XO sauce?

    More and more people are using this mini China town to their advantage. The Chinese community are hardworking. Every store I shop at speaks English……and I am learning a bit of Chinese too….
    Its all good.

    Anyhow, nif, I hate to break this to you, but with Dad being racist and all, if he wasn’t racist, he would never have left Brittain, and he would never have come to Australia in the first place, he wouldn’t have met mum, and we wouldn’t have been born…….

    Regards Michelle

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