|Since 1945, 4.5 million people from across the world
have settled in this cultural melting pot we call Australia. Nearly
one in four Australians was born overseas. While the immigration and
multiculturalism debate rages in the forthcoming elections, there
is a new social dilemma that is affecting migrant families.
Rising numbers of parents fear children are losing their
cultural heritage. Nisar Keshvani questions this loss and discovers
how some parents are battling this cultural imbalance.
First, the black hair starts taking on a brownish hue. Then come the
blue-tinted contact lenses. Her dressing becomes outrageous and little
by little, she emulates the western way of life. But her Asian complexion
and peculiar accent give her away.
A Harley-riding boyfriend swings by in a leather outfit strategically
slashed to reveal his tattoos. Together they ride off towards the
This vision is Siddiq Harris' nightmare. He fears this may happen
to his daughter Raziqa, who has just turned four.
Siddiq grew up in Australia, raised by his South African parents who
arrived here in the 50's. A muslim by marriage, he and his wife, Nooreen
understand the pressures of growing up in an "alien" culture.
"Most kids go through an identity crisis after puberty,"
We find speaking in our mother tongue
at home, bringing her for Hindi shows and keeping her in contact with
other Muslim children helps too.
|"But I went through a culture crisis as well and
know how it feels to be different. We think heritage and tradition
are very important. Every few months, we visit my mum in Sydney so
that Raziqa doesn't lose touch with her roots. We find speaking in
our mother tongue at home, bringing her for Hindi shows and keeping
her in contact with other Muslim children helps too."
Nooreen knows she cannot shield Raziqa from this diversity for long
but realises it is her responsibility to teach Raziqa to be proud
of their heritage.
"Kids hate being forced and it is
dangerous to push culture down their throats," she said.
"As parents, we need to make certain it becomes part of
their lives and teach them to be proud of who they are. They must
be comfortable with themselves and understand that it is their unique
background which makes them interesting."
Australia in 1998 encompasses over 160 ethnic backgrounds, 20 Aboriginal
groups, 350 languages and 90
different religions. The period between July 1997 and March 1998 saw
57, 000 settlers arrive in Australia. They came from 150 different
countries, with gross migration anticipated to reach 80,000 this year.
Given these rising figures, authorities believe cultural tolerance
will become a way of life for many Australians, who are being exposed
to multiculturalism and mixed marriages from as young as pre-school
Australia encompasses over 160 ethnic backgrounds,
20 Aboriginal groups, 350 languages and 90
Second generation Australian, Shelina Gorain, a Muslim who recently
married an Indian feels that it is the parent's responsibility to
pass on cultural traditions and it is the 'growing up' environment
which is crucial. "There is no point complaining about your kids
losing culture, it is up to you to give it to them, otherwise how
would they know?" she said.
"It is inevitable that the environment
will influence children, whether it affects them positively or negatively
depends highly on the 'home' environment. But it is good to give them
a sense of having 'roots' and teaching them their own language and
the history of their ancestors. It is more about enriching children
rather than preserving the culture."
For Thelma Prescott, a Singaporean who recently moved to be with her
husband in America, preserving her culture is the only way she can
pass on her heritage to their children.
"In a way, I
became 'extra' Singaporean after I left home," she said.
"When I was studying in Canberra, I suddenly developed patriotism
where once there was hardly any. Being more of a minority has made
me speak up and feel more Singaporean. I appreciate Singapore food
more and try to emulate my mum's cooking. I have a Singapore flag
in my room and have taught my husband our national anthem.
Discussing cultural issues with her husband has helped them decide
how they want to raise their kids. Religion, tradition, beliefs and
heritage are key issues.
"I don't like the way kids
grow up here," she said.
"We talked and feel we must instill
a bond and an affinity to Singapore from a very young age. This worked
with my cousins who were born in London. This way my kids are free
to return to Singapore again if they want to when they are older."
Dr David Ip, University of Queensland researcher, has investigated
adjustment problems Chinese immigrants face in Los Angeles and Hawaii.
He recently studied the impressions of Asian migrants here and their
views of Australian society and argues that parents should not fear
"Cultural loss is an adult point of view,"
"Instead they should be seen as growing up
with an Australian culture, supplemented with their parent's cultural
heritage. After all, they are not like their parents who came into
this country with a set of 'cultural baggage'. The situation for these
young people is somewhat different. They face tremendous social pressures
to conform as they are caught between their traditional and 'adopted'
... they are not like their parents who
came into this country with a set of 'cultural baggage'. The situation
for these young people is somewhat different. They face tremendous
social pressures to conform as they are caught between their traditional
and 'adopted' cultures."
This social pressure has caused some youngsters to rebel but others
have managed to adapt well, successfully juggling their traditional
roles at home while conforming to social pressures from their peers.
One such youngster, Aneeta Hirani, grew up in Houston, America appreciating
her culturally diverse background. Her parents come from India and
"I don't think I have lost much when it comes
to my origin," she said.
"I do feel 'enriched'
to be able to choose right from wrong and compare two different cultures.
I enjoy sharing my culture with friends and you should see their reaction
especially when I mention Indian arranged marriages and family values."
"I do feel 'enriched' to be able to
choose right from wrong and compare two different cultures. I enjoy
sharing my culture with friends and you should see their reaction
especially when I mention Indian arranged marriages and family values."
|But others like Indonesian Rina Hardiani
found it has taken time to adjust and rediscover her roots. She has
moved from country to country since the age of six.
It was difficult handling the international exposure, she spent six
years in Tokyo before moving on to study in Singapore for few years.
She then headed to America for three years before finally arriving
"My father kept getting transferred and we
had to readjust to a new environment and culture each time,"
"It was easy when I was younger but now it takes quite an effort.
At times I felt so frustrated that I rebelled. My relatives said I
am 'Americanized' but I still feel Indonesian at heart. There was
a time I was so angry with my family but now with a little soul searching,
I am at ease with my background."
Culture shock is an issue many people must face in this age of the
Global Village. The very essence of multiculturalism is acceptance,
living not just along side other cultural groups, but living with
Learning the culture of a new country, as Siddiq's daughter Raziqa
must do, does not mean losing any previous identity or traditions.
Successful integration of cultures can take place with flexible and
open-minded guidance from parents.
If they manage to nurture and pass on culture to their children from
a young age, Siddiq's nightmare will remain just that - a nightmare.