Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nareen Young CEO of Diversity Council Australia is grateful for multiculturalism

On the eve of January 26 – what many celebrate as Australia Day, others call Invasion Day and / or Survival Day – I’m pleased to welcome to my blog Nareen Young, the Chief Executive Officer of Diversity Council Australia (DCA), Australia’s not-for-profit workplace diversity advisory and peak body for business and workplaces. 

Nareen who has generously offered to share below her personal views on multiculturalism and how it has enriched her life, focusing on what she is most grateful for.

Nareen considers herself privileged to have been involved in diversity and women’s employment issues for over twenty years, more recently in senior leadership roles. Nareen has presented and published widely on employment diversity matters both in Australia and internationally, and makes regular media commentary on behalf of DCA. Prior to this appointment, she was Director of the NSW Working Women’s Centre for seven years. She has also held a number of not-for-profit board positions.

Away from all of this, Nareen adores her wonderful partner Paul and their two excellent kids, the dog, chatting productively to her sister, best friend Sylvianne, girlfriends and a host of gay men.  She loves books and reading, art, design, lots of different music, going to the beach, swimming, wine, social media, crap TV and AFL (the sport and the emerging diversity culture of it). She is proud of her mixed Australian heritage and loves, loves, loves our diversity in all its forms.
Nareen writes: Why I'm grateful for multiculturalism
I'm grateful for multiculturalism because, fundamentally, I am a big Doris.  There's nothing better, in my view, than finding out about different people's backgrounds, the places they were born in, their culture, their religious beliefs, what motivates them, how they live and generally how they're different to me and what I know well.
The lessons of my upbringing around multiculturalism has shaped my value systems, how I think, what I believe and how I relate to people in ways that aren't usual, but have impacted on me nonetheless, and I'm grateful.
It’s meant that I've shared my life, for the past nearly twenty three years with an Australian Irish-Catholic man who is the love of my life. I've explored his ethnic, cultural and religious identity with him, and buoyed by his incredible intellectual curiosity and vigor, explored how this is placed in our Australian context.  I've learned about some of the cultural factors that have shaped him to be the steadfast, thoughtful, funny, decent, loyal, reliable, generous, mindful person he is (if deeply irritating at times).  Our two children are genetic mixes that I think could only happen in Australia and I'm very grateful for that.
I was in my first year at primary school when I learned about manners around multiculturalism, and I'm grateful for that.  My friend's mum died, which obviously was really sad.  We went to her house which I understand now must have been to convey our sympathies.  There was lots of family members there, all dressed in black.  You didn't see a lot of Greek people in full mourning in Cronulla in the 1970s (no excuse, as I was to discover) and I remember expressing my surprise (I thought) about this custom to my mother when she, my sister and I traipsed back into the VW Beetle.
 I don't think I got a hiding (she would vigorously deny it now but my mother packed a fairly decent hairbrush to the backside in those days) but I certainly remember the tongue lashing that I got that specifically went to me being a cheeky little girl who was in no position to question anyone's customs and left me in no doubt that if I was ever heard to be so rude about other people's ways again I would regret it.
Cue four years forward, and I was in Year 4.  Although I'd never heard it before, kids at school were calling someone else a wog and I just knew that saying it at home could be a little rebellious test with an unpredictable outcome, so I went home and repeated it. I've always been perverse. This time it was my dad, and I did indeed cop a hiding.  I'm sure many contemporary parents are shaking their heads, but kids got flogged in those days, they just did.  Dad, if you’re reading this, and goodness knows he might be, bless him, I'm ok.   I'm not scarred by it.  I've never discussed it in therapy, but it's something I've never forgotten.
 I should note that in this instance it wasn't the belt (reserved for the worst of offences and largely kept in abeyance) but the faithful old wooden spoon that was utilised, but again what's etched in my memory is the tongue lashing that essentially involved the phrases who the bloody hell do you think you are, that word is racist, we aren't racists in this family and you girlie are one generation removed from being a wog so you'd better think twice before you say it about anyone else.  And I have, and for that I'm profoundly grateful.
We knew that our father's grandfather was from Sweden, and we knew that our last name had been changed to Youngein and then Young because Australians couldn't, and it was always intimated to us that wouldn't was a factor, say Ljunggren.  Our grandfather was called Dutchy, not Jim (he was James) by everyone.  His kids called him Dutchy, Nana called him Dutchy, their neighbours at Oatley called him Dutchy and as we got older us grandkids referred to him as Dutchy, although always the respectful Pa to his face.  The 'old members' we ran into when we went to Hurstville shopping with he and Nana called him Dutchy (he spent many years as an official of the then Waterside Workers' Federation).  When I was older and a union official myself, I learnt that judges and the politicians who had been his contemporaries called him Dutchy.
It wasn't until after he passed away and we read some transcripts of interviews that Unions NSW had done with him as part of an oral history project that I found out why everyone called him Dutchy.  He said in an interview that when he was a little kid growing up in The Rocks (you can buy postcards at the tourist shops there that show a group of 'Rocks children, c 1900' with his cheeky, smiling round face peeking through) a kid asked him what country his father had come from.  When he replied, the kids said "you're father's a bloody Dutchman, he's a Dutchman" and that was that.
Like many people who had experienced prejudice and racism in Australia in those days, my grandfather and his siblings were very quiet about their background.  We learned more from the interview transcripts than we did from Pa, and it hasn't been until recent years that we've pondered the economic downturn, or depression, that impacted on the world in the 1890s but especially Sweden that forced massive immigration, mostly to the US.  Knut Ljunggren, from Kalmar, wasn't an immigrant, however - he was a seaman who jumped ship and stayed in Sydney.
I'm grateful for the impact of multicultural policies that now allows Australians to be out and proud about our backgrounds.
I'm grateful that our parents taught us Young kids that difference is interesting, good, fun and worth cultivating.  I'm glad that our family got to know the family from Belgium who lived next door very well.  I found out that some people from Belgium spoke Flemish before I was five (in retrospect, I suspect the parents - mine would have been in their late twenties at this time -  all thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, the men a cold beer on a hot day and the ladies a drop of plonk, and my parents would have LOVED their food and cooking) and many other things about a country I've still never been to.
 I'm glad that because of multiculturalism our father insisted that my sister and I went outside our Puberty Blues world of Cronulla (as fun as it undoubtedly was) for high school because, in his words, we “had to learn how to mix with people who aren't like you, that's who you'll meet when you go to work, we live in a multicultural bloody country you know".  And I'm very, very glad and grateful that when he and mum heard us say something about 'Spot the Aussie' after a day at the beach as teenagers with local friends they went off.  And I mean off.   It didn't help that we must have also said something about what people chose to do at the beach, and who the beach belonged to, ie us Cronulla locals.  
As I recall, the response included, but wasn't limited to:
"Nothing but rude, ignorant girls the pair of you, who are you to say who's an Aussie or who's not, christalbloodymighty, did you know that people in Europe (where neither of them had been at the time) don't just lie there like stunned mullets getting a bloody tan like you ignorant pair they do things like play games and eat and have picnics at the beach and aren't we lucky to live in a country where people can bring their customs over and we can share them and you pair of racists are lucky enough to see it even if you don't appreciate it, the bloody beach doesn't belong to you or any of your mates, it belongs to everybody and you should just be grateful you live in a country where you don't have to pay to go to the beach and furthermore you're bloody lucky to live here and one more word out of you pair and you'll be barred from the beach and barred from those bloody mates of yours, who do these people think they are the don't own the bloody beach we all do, Jesus this place is bloody changing, it's full of bloody racists, we're bloody moving etc etc etc.”
I'm grateful that the presence of Australian multiculturalism as I was growing up has meant that I was raised to embrace all of the experiences I could that were about what was, and is, different to me.  This is the person, and the Doris, that I am.
And finally, I'm grateful that an understanding of the assimilationist attitudes that meant that we lost language, culture and identity on the Young side has helped us to understand why we lost language, culture and identity on our other, Aboriginal side.  I think we Young siblings are among the luckiest of Sydney people, descended as we are from both its original inhabitants and immigrants from all over the world who Sydney has embraced.  I love our multiculturalism, and am profoundly grateful for it.


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