Illiterate and innumerate
I don't like to think of myself as an "angry" person. Partly because through many traumatic years of being on the receiving end of a person's anger I've developed a long pacifist streak; but I also have a maybe misguided belief that you don't get angry, you get active to change what angered you.
Not today, not this time. This time I'm just angry and I feel humiliated, shamed and unwelcome. I haven't done anything in particular to cause these incredibly awful feelings to develop inside me. In fact, I've done absolutely everything I can within my power (and sometimes even more) to not fall into the "angry victim" trap. It's easy for you to dismiss what I say as being a product of my anger alone and not your shame or fear.
The Minister for immigration, a certain Peter Dutton has recently come out to lambast refugees and asylum seekers who, he claims will languish on the dole while simultaneously take Australian jobs as well as being illiterate and innumerate.
My parents, my sisters, my brother we were those illiterate refugees that Peter Dutton is referring to. Sure, we couldn't speak English but we were very literate and numerate in our own language, Spanish. My parents were both professionals, my father an accountant and my mother a saleswoman. I was barely six years old, my little sister only a toddler and the others teenagers.
My maternal grandparents were illiterate, my maternal grandmother only learnt to write at a very advanced age. Even though her thinning hair and the deep grooves on her round and friendly face had carved out on her body how old she really was, her handwriting was that of a young child. One of the most beautiful and precious things I own is a short paragraph of frenetic and messy writing that she had written, it was to wish me a happy birthday.
My maternal grandfather was a sailor, a fisherman really. Having battled several wars and seen many hells, he also fought bravely against his inner demons and in later life ran a small grocery store. He always had a packet of Cornflakes for us as kids when we were little. "Cornflakes is what these kids like" he would say, implying that we liked the cereal because it was modern and American which meant to him that the traditional breakfast of refried beans, plantains, eggs and cheese was now below us.
What I wouldn't do for refried beans, fried plantains, eggs and cheese...
My paternal grandparents were not as humble (read, poor) as those on the other side by the time they shuffled off this mortal coil but they too started with nothing. My paternal grandfather, Candelario was an alcoholic who cheated on my grandmother very early into their marriage and they separated early as a result of it. My grandmother never, ever forgave him. In her later life she would sit near the front door, using an old car battery to prop the heavy iron door open and she would watch the street and complain to any passerby about that man.
She was remarkable, my paternal grandmother. Even though she was poisonous and bitter she was a remarkable entrepreneur. By the time she came into my life or rather, I came in to hers she had been a butcher, a candlestick maker, a dairy farmer and I think a seamstress. She saw an opportunity and figured out how to make it pay. I'm sure this spirit rubbed off on all her children and they all went in search of their fortunes. My aunt to the US Department of State, my uncle to become a banker working with the IMF and the World Bank and my father to become an accountant.
I don't know how much, if any, of the entrepreneurial and dedicated nature of my grandparents was passed down to my parents and then to me but as soon as we came to this sunburnt country with wide open spaces we set out on getting ourselves connected and contributing. What else do you do when you have nothing?
I remember the very first word I learnt in English was "people", I love the way it sounded, "pe- o - pleh". I would confused the word people with "paste". It made using the ubiquitous children's glue, Clag, confusing to use.
Even though I had a limited vocabulary, my parents would rely on me to interpret for them with doctors, social workers, government departments and teachers. Limited vocabulary aside it was still a lot broader than my parent's broken English.
Fast forward almost thirty years and my parents are not as illiterate as they once were, in English anyway. My father went on to continue his accounting profession, except that he had to clean a lot of toilets and work in factories to get there. My mother's English isn't perfect, but she gets by and on her own. These illiterate migrants raised four kids, two of whom studied computer science and went off to start families of their own; one went off to become a marketer and I ended up a human rights lawyer.
Yet somehow, as if by magic my family as well as many families like mine are going to be a drain on the budget and be taking your jobs as well as be unemployed simultaneously.
So what does it take? What does success look like? When do you stop becoming a 'refugee'. Part of me feels like I shouldn't care about Dutton's comments because they're clearly inflammatory, stupid and also wrong; I should get on with the rest of my life. True, and I intend to but given that 50% of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent that was; everyone has got an interest in at least condemning Dutton. I'm surprised the outrage and backlash isn't more extreme. The government is currently begging us through a national security campaign that "If we see something, we should say something." I think this applies not just to the terrorists amongst us, but also the discord being sown by this person that has not in any way earned his title "The Honourable"
Dutton's comments made me feel like I don't exist, as if I'm some sort of mendicant who came to this country seeking a better life and in return for my illogical clambering for safety, security and peace I have to be reminded that I'm an intruder.
I guess I'm lucky to be alive Australia, so thank you. My warmest regards for disregarding me. And to every Australian who feels that I have somehow taken their job I say this: If you can do my job with my level of skill and ability then you can have it.