Growing Up And Growing Into Multicultural Australia

26/02/2016 4:37 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Just this month, Australia surpassed the 24 million population milestone, and with overseas migration a key contributor to our population growth, debate over successful multiculturalism is more pertinent than ever.

According to research, young Australians are consistently more accepting of immigration and cultural diversity than older generations. For example, 65 percent of respondents aged 18-29 years agree with the provision of government assistance to ethnic minorities, compared to just 31 percent of respondents aged 60-69 years. Similarly, around 60 percent of young adults 'strongly disagree' with discrimination in immigrant selection based on race, ethnicity or religion, compared to 38-39 percent of middle-aged respondents and 30-35 percent of older respondents.

So what is it about us youngsters that makes us more supportive of multiculturalism? Is it that we're less concerned with the distribution of our taxes? Are we too young to comprehend the complexities of governing an ethnically diverse nation?

On the contrary, I argue that the advancement of globalisation, including technological innovation and convenient international travel, has given rise to a generation of young people who are more connected to the rest of the world than ever. Their eagerness to interact with different cultures means they're less tainted by the discriminatory theories of the past and are able to see the benefits of supporting a multicultural nation.

Growing up, I often grappled with the question: who is considered Australian? With my printed headscarf, Arabic first name and Kobali Palow, a traditional Afghan dish, in my lunchbox, I wasn't too sure if I ticked the identity boxes. Although my parents would rightfully and relentlessly encourage me to respond to questions of "where are you from?" with "Australian", it was the long-running stereotype of the blue eyed, board-short wearing, barbeque addict that had me worried.

I had almost no connection to my parents' birthplace, apart from the almost mythical stories they told of a pre-war Afghanistan, and I didn't resemble what seemed like the ideal image of a fair-dinkum Aussie. Nevertheless, in my heart, it was this country that I valued.

As I outgrew the longing for Caucasian looks and became comfortable with my own ethnicity, it became clearer that Australian identity was not based on biological traits. What made me, my family and the many communities like us Australian, was our values and hopes for the nation's prosperity.

While the distinctively "white" notion of Australia might still be over-represented in soap operas and advertising campaigns, the truth is, multiculturalism is more a reflection of our society than the legendary image of the Aussie beach bum.

For us young people, multiculturalism gives us the opportunity to thrive as many peoples of one nation, strengthened by a diversity in skills and capabilities, yet bonded by like-minded values. More than just 'tolerating' our fellow citizens, it it is to see our differences as virtues, to accept ourselves as global citizens originated from the same beginning, and embellished by a variety of ethnicities and cultures.

Our elders may have perceived fears about multiculturalism, but the Australia of today has largely been a result of working migrants, from the first colonies to the Chinese farmers. They all helped build this nation, which they cherish as home and have enriched it with their own flavours and spices.

They say wisdom comes with age, but there's a thing or two to be learned from youth, and multiculturalism is one of the areas we can and should be leading the way.

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