As a second generation Australian Lebanese Muslim, I have inherited the burden of educating those who only see difference
My grandparents migrated to Australia in the late 1960's, fleeing instability. Leaving Lebanon with almost nothing, they could speak only limited English and experienced hardships – but were thankful to their new country for extending a hand of assistance. Australia welcomed my grand-parents providing a safe environment where they were able to retain their culture, religious background, language and most importantly – seek opportunity.
The struggles my family faced whilst settling in Australia revolved around discrimination due to language barriers, cultural difference and stereotypes. They were able to retain their culture but would encounter anger from a few of their new neighbours. Their experience is sadly not too different to what I face. As a second generation Australian Lebanese Muslim, I have inherited the heavy burden to educate those who see difference before similarity. I know what it's like to be called a terrorist and to be told to go back to my own country. But I was born here. Where would I go?
Throughout their hardships, my grandparents never let go of their roots. They learnt English, adapted to a different culture and country but shared their Lebanese customs (and food) openly and willingly. I mean, imagine Australia without Hummus? My grandparents retained their heritage that would enrich their community and inevitably our country. It’s because of them I stand here today, proud to call myself Australian.
The main experience in the last few years for my family is keeping the peace. There is a constant fear of being associated to the latest outbreaks of violence in the world. I must work much harder than the average Aussie kid to prove myself in school and out in public. Educating and not retaliating towards the many negative opinions I encounter. It’s a feeling you don’t challenge, you live with and have limited opportunity to advocate against.
This isn’t the Australia that we want. It’s not the future my grandparents thought their family would face again. The current disharmony we suffer is not what my Grandparents left their homeland for.
Racism exists on our school grounds, growing because of public opinion that refugees are swamping our borders. Asylum seekers have become illegal immigrants, and this is creating an unsafe view that difference is to be feared. Bigotry is being hidden behind the message of ‘border protection’ – protection mainly from people persecuted and escaping violence.
A key to belong
To address the negative views of migrant and refugee communities I created #uBelong, an organisation dedicated to ensuring that all refugees and migrants – no matter their background or ethnicity or wherever they live – feel a sense of belonging in Australia. My message to those recently arrived is simple, do not give up on the dream that brought you here. Treat the experiences that brought you to Australia as the motivation to establish new lives, new families, new careers.
The message of #uBelong represented as a key, symbolises the "key to belong". The key is worn to represent a shared commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect. It is a key to unlock society's barriers and restrictions, and to embrace the sense of belonging. The sale of the keys has raised more than $10,000 for organisations committed to helping and supporting refugees in Australia.
Australia must cherish our history of refugee settlement and encourage our communities to once again open their doors and hearts. Like my grandparents, I continue to share my culture and encourage the many refugee and migrant families I encounter to do the same.
My grandparents made sacrifices for my family, so they could live without fear and can thrive with freedom and equality. They instilled a simple message to embrace diversity and celebrate the difference we bring to Australian society. Migrant and refugee communities have always been special to this country and have equally embraced the freedoms that comes with being an Australian.
We are at the next stage of Australia’s evolution as a society. To go from being known as the ‘lucky country’ to one that embraces difference and accepts all. Because it was not luck that brought my grandparents here, it was a country willing to open its borders and its heart.
Bassam Maaliki, 15, is a Save the Children Youth Ambassador