Anoop Nair: Calling Australia Home

18 / 04 / 2013

Sheilas is pleased to reproduce this speech by Anoop Nair, given at a February public forum conducted by Moreland City Council for community planning and safety. Anoop’s speech followed  that of Victorian Women’s Trust (publisher of Sheilas) Executive Director Mary Crooks. We thank Anoop for sharing his story about migrating to Melbourne. If you missed last month’s debut, our new First Person section will include personal and creative stories from a variety of perspectives. Email us for more information or to submit a piece for publication.

Grace Lee Boggs, Chinese-American Author, Feminist and Social Activist said, “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbours. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.”

I am honoured to be given a chance to speak about my story and relate it to the community safety aspect. We all have stories. Some of you might relate to my story, while some might not …

I came to Melbourne as a student. Away from home, from my comfort zone, from my family and friends to a place which is new, where people are new, culture is new and currency is new and costly. I arrived here on a Friday evening. I stayed in a backpackers [hostel], I thought vegemite was chocolate spread and put a lot on my bread, and ate it all because I couldn’t throw it away in front of other people, plus I was hungry.

I didn’t know in Melbourne the water from the tap is clean and you can drink it – I was drinking apple juice for two days, thinking apple juice is cheaper than bottled water before someone told me the tap water is good. I was afraid, I didn’t know my rights. I was afraid of police. I was afraid of people. I was afraid of local council. I was afraid of the Department of Immigration.

I wanted to go to my uni, go to my work, and then come back home and that’s it. I always thought I am not safe here.  Now I look back and realise I was afraid of the unknown. I came with a preconceived notion that I am alone here, and that I was inferior in some way to other people.  I only interacted with people from India. I only had Indian friends and most of them were students so we were all in the same boat.

 

Anoop delivering his speech in February

I faced some other challenges. I was picked upon sometimes on public transport. I used to sit terrified in trains and not look at anyone; I used to walk fast to my home from the train station. I couldn’t tell this to anyone as if I told my family, they would ask me to come back home – and I didn’t want to. The stigma of going back was too much.  

In my first job people used to say discriminating things to me or say rude things about my culture and the country I came from, and sometimes I couldn’t even understand it. Then there was this big news about Indian students being assaulted.  But for every discriminating person there were 10 people supporting me, helping me, reassuring me and caring for me. 

Seven years down the track and I reflect and think ‘Wow! I have a family here – I have a community here, and people know me here’. I have Turkish family friends, Italian family friends, Jordanian friends, friends from Syria, Africa, Colombia, technically friends from a lot of other backgrounds. How did this happen?

I know how it happened, I came out of my comfort zone, I met with people, I went ahead and introduced myself. When I had problems or issues rather than believing on rumours I went and talked directly to the people concerned – like the council, the Department of Immigration, Police, and other places.

I got married to someone I fell in love with in Australia. My wife comes from Italian and Sri Lankan background.

I took all the opportunities that came to me and studied hard. I came into the Neighbourhood House, offered to volunteer when I was working somewhere else and this turned into part-time work then into full-time work.   

I introduced myself to the neighbours. I talk to them and invite them over. I take part in community forums and gatherings. Every time I meet someone, I feel confident – and as a migrant I need to be reassured that I belong to this place. I don’t know how many other migrants feel this way, but I do.

I want to feel safe and secure, and for me safety and security is associated with what people think of me, how people react to me and how many people care for me. I don’t feel safe when people on public transport stare at me. I don’t feel safe when people drive past when I am being intimidated on the street by someone. I don’t feel safe when I see people under the influence of alcohol in a big group behaving rudely.   

I feel safe when my neighbours say hello to me. I feel safe when my colleagues at work help me understand Australian slang. I feel safe when people on public transport smile at me.

In all the examples I have given I wanted to show how feeling safe for an individual is not just a matter of his or her own feeling, but it depends on society and community attitudes towards the individual. For me, everyone plays a role in community safety – the Neighbourhood Houses, Council, Police, various cultural organisations, GPs, and above all, the general community plays a very big part in being welcoming and respecting people.

I go out and when people know me, I feel confident. I feel this is my country and I can proudly say I am Australian and I love Melbourne. This is the place where I want my daughter to grow, this is the place where I will raise a family. And I would like to play a part in making this place, this community more safe for my family, friends and community, and last but not the least, for myself.

 

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