Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Accented English

Absolutely every one of my relatives speaks English with a noticeable accent.
My father jokes that after 50+ years here he still sounds "fresh-off-the-boat."

With the recent revelations of DIMIA policy and process, I tell my family that this is no laughing matter.

The mindset of DIMIA, and by extension Australian society, is clearly to begin from a starting point that anyone 'other' = 'illegal immigrant.'
There seems very little capacity in this government, or in the wider community to accept that accented English or non-anglo features, could begin from a point of Australian and then widen into diversity.

At my work, when anyone with an accent phones, I will be called because I am the only 'foreigner' who has family who speak English as a second, third, fourth or fifth language. Therefore, it will be clearly for me or understood by me.
It wouldn't occur to anyone that my grandmother is in fact an accomplished linguist who speaks two languages fluently and three others conversationally.
No, accented English in my little workplace corner of Australia is a deficit and
a difficulty to be quickly moved onto Suki the foreigner.

In DIMIA, with these new revelations we can see that similar thinking occurs. Foreign is difficult, send it away...

I am so sad and angry that after all this time my beautiful family, and many like us, are still made to feel other, inferior and unwelcome.

Image from here


Blogger weezil said...

Suki, I have been in Australia for only 1/10th the time that your Papa has.

Strangely, I am generally viewed as closer to being 'Aussie' than he is, despite the fact that I am American white bread- and sound like it.

We need to come up with a new concept about being "Australian."

'Australian' is certainly not a descriptor of race- it defines a community.

I'm fair bloody dinkum, in spite of the fact that my car has a 'gas pedal' and a 'hood.' So's your Papa with his enjoyment of the fahrvergnugen he gets from his car.

12:27 pm  
Anonymous Brownie said...

My obsession is the history of those 700 ton sailing ships to the end of the earth.
How brave the thousands must have been, to sail round Africa and arrive in this place as foreign to them as Mars would be to us.
Those 1955 photos of families arriving on liners from the post-war Europe are also heart wrenching - the faces a mixture of regret for 'home' and hope for their futures.
Australia was totally multicultural right from it's first arrivals.
How tedious your work colleagues are, for not being brave enough to actually attempt to RELATE to another human being.

9:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a coincidence. I came off the boat in 1955.

You are safe from a department kidnapping as long as you create NO CONFUSION ABOUT YOUR NAME.

So far this has been created by mental illness, but I think a bit of a twitch between a maiden and a married name will do it.

It might help to keep the Commonwealth electoral role on your person at all times. We could run a business making dinky little carts for this very purpose.

1:05 am  
Blogger suki said...

I just know my Papa would love you!

thanks you are thoughtful. My workplace is sadly just a microcosm of 'middle' Australia.
One day every Lombard will have a position of power and influence and then we will create change.
Monolingual will be the new black.

dinky little carts
Can mine carry some weapons?

8:43 am  
Blogger sjusju said...

my mama came on one of those boats in 1954. At age 3, six weeks on a boat must have stretched out like an eon. An eon which divided her world and the people in it.

She has no accent because her parents decided that from the moment they stepped off the boat, they would speak english to the children. how they managed it, while they were only learning it themselves, i'm not sure, but her only words of her mother tongue she now knows are those she overheard.

make no mistake, under the howard government the business of the immigration department has become a system for narrowing the rights which we presume to be universal down from the broad category of "humans" to the narrow and fickle category of "citizens".

It only becomes visible or significant to most Australians when they realise that someone we are supposed to care about might have slipped across that boundary into a "no-person-land" of rightlessness.

3:28 pm  
Anonymous joe2 said...

I am not coorie, i have to say.

The crap that they endure, still ,has to be the major consideration. We walk over their graves.

No apology,nothing generous from some people with accents and B.M.W's who like large tax cuts!

Howard is a creep but it is not all Anglo's who administer his rule. We all have to take some responsibility for the nasty little rascist hole we live in.

All the best and would love see more posts.

6:38 pm  
Blogger genevieve said...

Heavens! your co-workers are a foolish bunch.

11:28 pm  
Blogger Mallrat said...

they're fucking morons. i know this is prob a patronising question as you have oodles of charm, tact and feistiness, but did you ever tell them, "no stick it, just change gear and try to listen to this person instead of assumign they're a problem straight off."?
i find this is a very common way to treat old people - doctors, etc are huge offenders. ythey will not take a moment's pause to consider that a Nesbie or older person might just need to gather their thoguhts.
a couple of years ago i was working with a graphic artist to design a brochure for a capital city council that shall remain nameless. she said, i'll just retouch this picture to put "cultural" people in it.she wasn't talking about bookish people, either!

12:55 pm  
Blogger suki said...

Thanks mallrat, I have learned to play with this.
I take all the calls. If it's someone I know we chat endlessly, noisily and happily in the reception area as I watch those around me grow increasingly uncomfortable as they are excluded.
The worst of the crypto-racists elicit the loudest 'foreign' outbursts.
If it's someone I don't know I speak English clearly and slowly and we work out who they are really after.

Curiously, since employing this strategy, I get increasingly appropriate referrals...

10:25 pm  

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