What is it like to be an Asian in Australia?

Carl Ramirez
Carl Ramirez, Who is a Australian citizen since 2003 writes

Let’s start with some statistics:

I myself am an Asian in Australia. Asian Australians comprise 12% of Australia’s population.

I have only been subjected to one racist incident in 16 years living here. And those people were obviously drunk.

However, other answers on Quora (even by White Australians) show that Chinese Australians and Vietnamese Australians suffer more discrimination – I can’t really speak for them. However, because I am from the Philippines, it probably helps that Filipinos are devout Catholics, speak good English and admire Western culture. As such, even some of the more racist Australians don’t see Filipinos as Asians. This might also be the reason why some Australians trust Filipinos more than Indonesians (a closely related and similar looking, but mainly Muslim ethnic group) – see For Australians and New Zealanders, without knowing each persons individually, which one would you rather trust, a Filipino or an Indonesian?. On a similar note, my uncle’s death certificate from the coroner (we were involved in this car crash, which killed him) lists him as “Caucasian”. I highly suggest reading this Comparison of Asian-Australians and Asian-Americans, specifically:

After the Chinese, Filipinos are the second most numerous of all Asian-American groups. They are relatively numerous in Australia too, but whereas in Australia I’ve never seen them considered anything but Asian, they are sometimes seen as something of an outlier amongst Asian-Americans. Byron says this may be partly because in a country with a huge Hispanic population, Filipinos’ Spanish names and Catholic faith are associated with being Hispanic rather than Asian. There is even some kind of debate as to whether Filipino-Americans should be considered Asians or “Pacific Islanders”, which probably has a lot to do with their perceived brown-ness. I’m certainly not aware of Filipino-Australians ever claiming to be Pacific Islanders.

As for the economic status of Asians in Australia, they fall along all levels of income. Compare the pictures below, as areas with high Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian populations are generally richer than average, while areas with high Filipino, Pacific Islander, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern populations are generally poorer than average. That being said, it’s far from being ethnic ghettoes because other ethnic groups are perfectly welcome in those suburbs. There are so many ethnic groups are present in Australia (well, the cities at least) that a tiny change in composition will change the most common ethnicity in a suburb. I would say that the disadvantage faced by Pacific Islanders in Australia is a direct parallel to African Americans – Australia Blackbirded (i.e. kidnapped) Pacific Islanders as slaves, known as Kanakas. But the disadvantage of other Asian ethnic groups are more likely because they came with very little (some were refugees). However, even though the statistics below show Filipino Australians as poorer than average, I myself consider my family quite successful, as my dad teaches at UNSW and I am studying a Master of Research degree.

If you look at Australian news, you will see political coverage that never mentions ethnic or religious voting patterns. This might lead you to think that ethnic and religious minorities are completely ignored here. However, Australia has a de facto national ideology of a ‘fair go’, which means that what does matter in Australian politics is how different regions and more importantly, income levels, are affected by policies. The closest Australia has to identity politics is a “battlers vs. big business” rivalry – and a politician can use the status of being a “battler” (working class but working hard) like how American politicians of 100 years ago take advantage of “growing up in a Log cabin”. As I mentioned in Carl Ramirez’s answer to Should Australia be recognized as an Asian country?, this is partly due to the large variety of ethnic groups, even just Asian ethnic groups in Australia – which makes it easier to assimilate instead of forming ethnic rivalries or uniting as an “Asian political bloc”.

Despite the success of some Asian Australian ethnic groups, we have a ”bamboo ceiling” that means Asian Australians are underrepresented in business and politics. I personally blame this on many Asians not taking full advantage of the “fair go” and instead just working away at their position without asking for more – I think Australia is ready for ethnically Asian business and political leaders, it’s just that few have tried. For example, my parents don’t really care about politics and ask me to consider the candidates at each election for them – and so long as this politically apathetic attitude exists among Asian Australians, then it’s not too surprising that Asian Australians are underrepresented in politics. And a “bamboo ceiling” is still much better than having disproportionately high chances of wrongful arrest and death by police brutality (unfortunately, Indigenous Australians do suffer that here).

Finally, more than 30% of 2nd generation immigrants and 60% of 3rd generation immigrants in Australia are in interracial marriages. This means that the labels “Asian” and “European” will soon take a backseat to “Australian”.