Immigration is a big topic in Austria. Let’s be honest, it’s a big topic almost everywhere, and one of those places, is Australia. I grew up in a multi-cultural boiling pot complete with all the challenges that come with a mixing of different cultures, sprinkled with racism and the natural tendency to gravitate toward people that look and act like you do. In the time that I’ve been in Austria the immigration debate has just gotten hotter, with scores of people attempting to escape violence or just seeking a better life for their families. I like to imagine that my perspective is more rational because I grew up in a country that was already rife with these problems. But who knows. Let’s not forget the fact, that as a white Australian, I am technically an immigrant to my own country. I am not actually native. My ancestors are English prisoners… that essentially stole the land from the aborigines.
Still, I grew up as one of the lucky ones. White, middle class, and privileged. I fit into the box. There was nothing too strange about me: average looks, average smarts, averagely average. I have certainly never experienced racism.
And so I moved to another country at a time where things were changing. And guess what? It seems I am still a golden child. I come from ‘the lucky country’. People in Austria look at me and they ask “Why would you choose to live in Austria when you could live in Australia?” Australia is so foreign and exciting and it is golden. It is a western country full of privileges like healthcare and democracy and education for all. And then of course there’s the kangaroos and the beaches… why would you choose to live in Austria? And because I chose to live in their country when I could have lived somewhere that is (at least in some part of their minds) just as good or perhaps better, I am admired, not looked down upon.
Now, switch the situation around, whereby my story stays the same, but instead of growing up in Australia, I grew up in South America, or Africa or even somewhere as close as Turkey. And the result could be dramatically different. Because some would no longer see me as someone who ‘chose’ this country – but rather someone who came here because the opportunities were better. As one of those people, I wouldn’t disappear into the crowds like I do now. I might have different coloured skin, or eat smelly foods, or have a different facial shape. My language may not be the all-powerful English, but something odd and foreign. In this case, even if I purely came here for love, and did everything right, I would probably be treated differently.
The thing is, I am a good immigrant. I did everything legal in my bid to get here. I actively searched for work and actively learnt the language and actively assimilated into the culture. I got a job and I pay taxes and I’m contributing to the bettering of the country. But I am no different to someone in the same position from Turkey, or Namibia, or Vietnam, or anywhere else.
I have not personally experienced racism here. Except the reverse kind. I am different they tell me. I am a good immigrant. I am not one of those. But I see it all around me – the racism that passes me by as I trundle about in my lovely golden Australian bubble.
I’m not saying that all immigrants are good, because all of no group is good. But I believe that everyone has their story. Everyone is dealing with their own personal pain, and if you don’t know what it is, it wouldn’t hurt to give them the benefit of the doubt sometimes.
I certainly don’t have the answer. It would be nice to let everyone who wanted to move to another country do it. I understand why this is not feasible. And I’m glad I’m not someone who is expected to have an answer for this. But I do have compassion for my fellow immigrants. And that’s why, in this world where unconscious bias often sees people turning their heads the other way, I’ll happily give everyone a smile in the street, I’ll feel sympathy with someone struggling with the German language, and if you ask for directions, I’ll do my best to point you in the right one.
So am I a golden child? Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I just don’t understand the language or culture enough yet to see the dirty looks and hear the under breath muttered comments. In which case, so be it. I’ll stay in my happy bubble thank you very much!