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Keeping the tradition alive
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 city.

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," Nooreen said.




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 age.



Australia encompasses over 160 ethnic backgrounds, 20 Aboriginal groups, 350 languages and 90
different religions.



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.

"Cultural loss is an adult point of view," he said.

"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' cultures."



... 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 Pakistan.

"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 in Australia

"My father kept getting transferred and we had to readjust to a new environment and culture each time," she said.

"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 them.

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.
     

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