Asian Australian voices

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0
Ninja | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Just recently, the lovely Katherine Firth (@katrinafee on Twitter) asked what I’d suggest if she wanted to read more from Asian voices in Australia on various sociopolitical issues.

Specifically, she outlined the genres of text she was interested in as “Sociology/ reportage / special editions journals / activist polemic”.

I started crafting a few tweets in my head, and thought of several links and articles straight away, then realised that it was probably much more useful – and user-friendly – if I just blogged it!

At first, when I thought about what Katherine had asked for, I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t think of what might be the best places to get started or which articles to read. I’d been immersed in Asian Australian Studies perspectives on everything for so long, I had to take a deliberate step back to see how a (savvy, highly intelligent, research-oriented) newcomer might most usefully find a way into the diverse and multi-voiced material that’s out there.

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Conversations in contrast

pineapplecrush-TK
Photo by Tseen Khoo

I was at an event at the Immigration Museum recently.

There was a savvy panel of Asian Australian intellectuals and creatives from Peril magazine and Asian Australian Democracy Caucus.

They generated a fantastic critical race conversation and covered big, exciting territory about nation-state identities, exclusionary processes, dispossession, and everyday racisms and their consequences for senses of community.

Most of the people in the room were activist inclined and on board with the debates – not always in agreement, but willing to take on the issues and talk about them.

There were several white audience members – mostly older and male – who were deeply uncomfortable, if not openly hostile, to the presentations taking place in front of them.  Continue reading

Placeholder Post

No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
No Little Birdies (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Best intentions and all. Life’s totally overtaken my blogging schedule.

I started a new job at a new institution recently, and my new commute is 3 hours a day. While I thought this would mean OMG so much writing time, it has not come to pass. On a swaying bus, the best ‘work’ I can do is checking emails + tweeting from my various accounts (AASRN and Research Whisperer, mostly).

I’m keeping this here as a placeholder until things settle down. I’ve started dozens of posts, but never saw them through. Poised over the keyboard, thinking I needed to write something insightful and worthwhile shunting out into the world, I usually balk.

So, if you’re looking at this blog because you’ve found me via one of the hats I wear, here are some shortcuts for finding the kind of stuff you might be interested in:

Meanwhile, as I’ve been saying for about five years, I need to start shedding some roles…

Just a bit of fun

Created by the STARS program at Ohio University (Source: angryasianman - http://blog.angryasianman.com/2011/10/were-costume-not-culture.html)
Created by the STARS program at Ohio University (Source: angryasianman – http://blog.angryasianman.com/2011/10/were-costume-not-culture.html)

I’m a bit slow and only now catching up on the “crying racism” frenzy that was generated by Mia Freedman’s recent piece, “The boy who cried ‘Racist’“.

I’d seen a few tweets fly by about how white people shouldn’t tell minorities how they should be feeling, or set themselves up to be arbiters of what constitutes racism.

When I clicked through and finally read Freedman’s piece, I understood what everyone was going on about.

I also did the unthinkable and read (some of) the comments.

Apart from chuckling at Delta tragics who refused to countenance any besmirching of their idol, there was a fair array of opinions being expressed. Including a fan of Andrew Bolt who – unfortunately for Freedman –  was on her side.

What I want to talk about in this post, however, isn’t whether Delta or Freedman are the anti-Christ. Nor whether the blackface depiction of Seal was ‘intended’ to be racist.

I want to engage with the concept, expressed in the comments, that dressing up is ‘just a bit of fun’ and, by implication, harmless.

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Fear of death by 1000 cuts

William H. Taft / Helen Herron Taft Silver-plated Portrait Scissors, ca. 1908 [Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library]
William H. Taft / Helen Herron Taft Silver-plated Portrait Scissors, ca. 1908 [Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library]
I’ve been ranting on Twitter over the weekend about the higher education cuts that were announced on Saturday by the federal government. Yes, on Saturday. I was gratified that the response to the announcements was immediate, vociferous, and diverse.

In summary:

Over the next budget period, the Gillard government wants to cut $2.3b from the university system. Many others have already responded, and these pieces provide the detail about what is being cut:

Professor Richard Teese, from the University of Melbourne, believes the cuts to universities are particularly cynical because Labor can bank on the fact there will be minimum electoral backlash. He says university funding has traditionally been something few voters have cared about. “They can raid university tills with electoral impunity and get marks for funding schools, which are seen as far more important,” he says.

These cuts come on top of the $1b or so in research funding that was taken from the system in the latter part of 2012.

Australia does not invest in the university sector in a particularly competitive way; it certainly isn’t investing in universities and research with the fervour necessary to keep up – let alone surpass – our ‘competitors’. I scare-quote that word because, really, we need more, and we needed it yesterday.

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Bad Asian

Sweet and sour academia (from Thesis Whisperer’s tmblr, “Refreshments will be provided”)

When I was chatting with the lovely people at Radio National’s Life Matters program the other week, I realised that what I really want to say about national belonging and cultural citizenship was this:

Having full cultural citizenship as an Asian Australian should mean that it’s fine to be a ‘bad’ citizen, as well as celebrating those deemed ‘good’.

‘Asian’ shouldn’t be the first point of categorisation, and the heaviness of migrant expectation and stereotyping of migrants shouldn’t curtail a person’s liberty to be, say, a slacker.

Or to ‘Anglicise’ their name (sez she, who has a coffee name of “Jen”).

Or – (hushed tones) – to be monolingual.

We’re not all economic ‘bridge-builders’, heart-surgeons, and superhero Senators, though I’m hardly complaining that we can be those.

Where is the liberty and comfort of feeling at home with mediocrity or failure?

And I’m talking here both about the bar being set by the broader community as well as the one cultural communities set for themselves. That ‘Model Minority myth‘ cuts both ways.

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Love the smell of ARCs in the morning…

Australia Research Council (ARC)

It’s that time of year again!

And I don’t mean the flogging of horses or despicable amount of money spent on inane bits of fashion (yes, I’m looking at you, fascinators).

Two of the most anticipated sets of results from our nation’s key research funder, the Australian Research Council (ARC), are now out!

For Asian Australian Studies, and our members in general, it’s an interesting and celebratory swag.

Many enthusiastic congrats to the successful awardees! May you have a fabulous week of celebrating and feeling relieved!

Similarly, enthusiastic exhortations to those who were unsuccessful in this round to pitch it in again next year. What they say about grants often getting up on 2nd or 3rd attempts is true.

Here’s a quick breakdown of results from a skim (on my day’s leave today…):

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Sparks

Image from Pozible site for “Colin the Dog’s Fabulous Midnight Adventure”, the 1st project I ever supported through crowdfunding

I crashed a digital industries subject recently. It was the second last week of term, and the students really looked like they were over the semester and, indeed, the year.

The subject had a guest speaker, which was why I was there.

That guest speaker was Rick Chen, co-founder of Pozible, Australia’s first and biggest crowdfunding site.

I went in my professional capacity as a research developer, someone who’s meant to be hunting down ways for researchers to fund their work, but what I got out of it – quite unexpectedly – was the most inspiring seminar I’ve been to…possibly ever.

Is that too grand a claim? I feel a bit embarrassed to say it.

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A simple story

Photo sourced from shaundon (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaundon/)

This is a simple, possibly simplistic story, about being a mother and having a career that’s invested in universities.

I believe the rhetoric about universities being good employers for women.

I have benefited twice from generous maternity leave provisions and a phasing-in period of part-time work before becoming full-time once again.

Those who came before me fought long and hard for parental leave entitlements. These entitlements meant the jarring transition from being a non-parent to parent was smoother.

I was a research fellow at the time I had my kids. I had an office to myself at the university with a lockable, opaque door. I could quite easily express for my babies, and kept an ice-blocked esky with me at work. It was a private and self-sustained system that turned out OK. Would I have preferred a formal room that was set aside for mothers that had all the right plumbing and a comfy chair? Of-bloody-course.

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Mea culpa

Sandmuppet (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

The further I move away from academia career-wise, the more I realise how little I contributed to general commentary about issues relevant to my research interests.

I never had an op-ed published.

Actually, I never even tried to write one.

I only attended a handful of community engagement events. I actively avoided having to be the one quoted voice about particular Asian Australian issues.

My hang-up was that it’s all very complex and I didn’t want to have what I said ‘dumbed down’ to a sound-bite (I know, I know, just bear with me here…). This feeling of being misrepresented in the media was widespread around the areas I moved in academia, and it led to a general suspicion about talking to journalists or pursuing other outlets for research findings.

Now, as one half of Research Whisperer team and working as a research developer, I can see what a negligent and dense attitude that was. Given the sociocultural critique of existing values and hierarchies in Australian society that made up my academic career, what was the point of the research I was doing if it wasn’t communicated to a broader audience in an accessible way?

This complete change of attitude is fed very much by increased confidence in what I’m doing, and the advent of things such as blogging and Twitter (two very effective ways to represent yourself and your work with little mediation, or to ‘set the story straight’ if you needed to). The growing numbers of online news sources, too, is excellent for the flow of more and different kinds of stories and topic concentrations.

Now, when I’m not a full-time academic anymore, I’m thinking about writing for online publications and engaging more broadly all the time.

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