Migration story

When we think about migrants, we tend to classify them in one of two ways. Either they're refugees escaping persecution in their home country, or they're economic migrants.

My father didn't fall neatly into either camp.

Yes, I suppose he might've been interested in the opportunities Australia offered for him to spread his wings and provide for his family. He was given a visa on the strength of his skills as a mechanic. But he brought us here because he was concerned about living under communist rule.

We came when I was five years old, in 1991, years ahead of the handover of Hong Kong back to China. I have no memories of the time, of arriving and making a new life in a foreign country. I was not cogniscent in those early years of how hard my father worked to build something from the ground up to ensure we could live comfortably. I only know of the sacrifices – such as my mother, who left, according to him, because he was too busy working to be an attentive husband.

I remember the adjustment I made. Of learning English, while simultaneously being taken to Chinese school on the weekend to retain my mother tongue (didn't work). Of being teased in primary school for being Chinese. The latter would lead to a name change, to something more anglicised – nevermind that this was something of a failure, given the choice of an unusually spelt Russian name over my Chinese name.

My father both relished Western culture and made efforts to better assimilate. He subsisted on a diet of Hollywood action films and thrillers, Robert Ludlum, the ABC 7pm news and 7:30 Report. For years he read The Australian with a dictionary at the ready. Growing up, we ate pizza almost every week and patronised the local shopping centre food court twice a week.

While a regular dining companion of ours was Chinese, my father wasn't part of any kind of Chinese community in Perth. He didn't have many friends, but would come to call an Aussie bloke his best friend (a huge mistake). For as long as I can remember too, I had Asian friends here and there, but shunned being included in entirely Asian friendship groups.

I would never come to date anyone Chinese, nor lust over one. Though I would wind up getting involved with a person or two with a predilection for my racial traits.

When Chinese New Year rolled around, we would eat at his favourite Chinese restaurant. He'd bring home a tin of egg rolls. He forbade me from gifting my first boyfriend a Garfield clock for his birthday, because, Chinese superstition. And the firmness of that mandate surprised the bejesus out of me, because he'd never been so traditional over anything.

There were all these ways in which we were western, in thought, manner, food. And yet his difficulties with the language, hard as he tried, distinguished him as a first generation migrant.

He loved living here. He never looked back. In this more curious, questioning period of my life, there's a lot I want to know about those early years. Yet only he could've provided the answers. So I'll just have to not know – and glean what I can from others' experiences.