Since primary school, my dad emphasised how important it was to read and write English eloquently so that ‘mainstream’ Australians wouldn’t see me as lesser. My dad paid me ten cents per new word I learnt by studying dictionaries, but I had to return it for every word he knew that I didn’t, and he’d keep all these records in a notebook until I was 14. He cared about all my marks but said that if I wasn’t highly achieving for English, I’d be sacrificing my future in this country. I was self-conscious in public and acted as a model first-wave Chinese immigrant should: head down, soft-spoken, polite. “We can only compete with intelligence here; not beauty, athletics or the arts,” he told me.
He reminded me of this when I said I was interested in journalism, that beauty standards were different and that a taller, blonde woman would be more appealing to speak to or appear in the media. He was harsh and never sugar-coated, but my dad made me aware about power and white privilege in Australia from a young age. It made me resilient, appreciative, and proud of his sacrifices to allow my siblings and I to reap the benefits in a free, multicultural nation.
Today at 24, I’ve never been more comfortable in my own skin and proud of my heritage, my parents’ story and my bilingualism.