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Is there an Asian Australian culture?

  • 11 July 2017


A question that keeps getting asked in my field: Is there an Asian Australian culture? A recent article about young Asian Australians forging an identity of their own caused a fair amount of commentary on my social media streams.

This is for varied reasons, first and foremost being that many people I follow are very interested in Asian Australian identity and would definitely have an opinion on it! The comparisons and implied derivation from Asian American culture did not help, given the US's track-record of cultural imperialism in Australia. The article was also — necessarily perhaps — focused on a fairly narrow demographic of a particular generation.

So, the short answer to my opening question would always be 'no'. There is no singular Asian Australian culture, just as there is no single 'Australian culture', no matter what some politicians and certain organisations may want to opine.

Rather than argue endlessly about what constitutes a particular cultural or heritage group's culture, it is often more useful to look at why we're trying to articulate one in the first place.

As well as an unfortunate tendency to flatten differences, trying to talk about particular groups can serve a broader political and cultural project. There can be good reasons to do so. I run a research network focused on Asian Australian Studies. The topics we cover strive to give depth and detail to otherwise stereotyped, shallow representations of Asians and Asian Australians that surround us.

It isn't just reactive, either, with a lot of work generating important insight into the creative and political aspects of living as a racial minority in Australia. The connections in many of these projects, stories, families and communities resonate near (such as our neighbourhoods and cities) and far (like the idea of being part of an 'Asia Pacific region', or a Chinese Malaysian diaspora).

Many scholars and artists in the research network create and develop knowledge around experiences that aren't very often documented or have been typically dismissed, as well as forging completely new ways to understand our world. Asian Australians who aren't first generation migrants often grow up not seeing themselves in the stories and shows of their childhood. They become adept cultural transposers.

As a child, I watched a lot of ABC television, like The Goodies, Dr Who (my childhood Doctor will always be Tom Baker), and the Kenny Everett Show. I was a dedicated watcher of Neighbours for about a decade, from