Anthropological and linguistics articles from University of Western Australia

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I'm an Australian Marcia Helene Hewitt

Anthropology 2219
Australian Society Facts and Fantasies.
Marcia Helene Hewitt
October 2007

“I’m an Australian but,
my mother/father is...., so I guess I’m......(Greek, Filipino, American).
Australian children with one migrant parent and one fifth generation Australian parent: a short study of eugenicist notions, multiculturalism and Australian Identity in the last 28 years.

“But where are you from REALLY?”

"Since each of us are multiple, we are already quite a crowd" - Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.

Al Grasby was mostly correct when he stated that in 1973 the White Australia Policy was now “dead and buried” (Grasby, 1984.). However it appears that the ghost of racism has started haunting us once again. The ghost shows itself not only in eugenicist notions in Australian discourse but also in the issue of national identity, multiculturalism as public policy, and ethnic self descriptions of young Australians. I have interviewed 13 people in my own family system in order to gain some data on what people with one Australian parent and one migrant parent feel about their ethnic identity.

In this essay I will provide examples of racist abuse in Australia and make an attempt to analyse what is taking place between the years 1979- 2007 in Western Australia. I’ve chosen that time frame because that is the birth year of my first child. I will discuss racism & multiculturalism in an autoethnographic methodology using my own nuclear and extended family. I will also discuss how multiculturalism as a political debate has influenced the general community and impacted on the lives of people with one migrant parent.

National Identity and multiculturalism
The assumed National Identity in Australia of two Anglo Australian parents now excludes about 40 in a hundred people. (ABS 2007) 1 out of 4 people living in Australia is born outside of Australia. Since one quarter of the population is born outside of Australia it is clear that the multiculturalism debate as public policy is seriously flawed.
It is flawed mostly because of the inconsistencies with a national Australian identity.(Zevallos, 2003.) Multicultural policies have arisen in the first place because of perceived deficiencies in earlier assimilationist policies. The justification for having multicultural policies over those of assimilation is partly symbolic, providing public recognition of the inclusion of many culturally diverse groups within the Australian community. The large numbers of Australians who support multiculturalism would also appear to favour public support for tolerance, and to social policies that are perceived to be genuinely universalistic. If these policy goals are worth continuing, then multicultural policies are a publicly acceptable way of achieving them.

There is a problem with the misleading nature of the term ‘multiculturalism’ itself. Jerzy Zubrzycki, a strong advocate of multiculturalism for more than 20 years, refers to the term as a ‘clumsy, pompous polysyllabic noun.” (Zubrzycki 1996. ). It is relatively easy to grasp that Multiculturalism means many cultures” but far harder to discern what multiculturalism has to say about the relationship between such cultures. Does it mean cultural separatism and policies that magnify social division or does it mean inter-cultural tolerance within some set of general rights and obligations that apply to all groups? A second related weakness, identified by Zubrzycki, is that politicians of all parties have seen multicultural programs as a way of wooing the ethnic vote. This has helped to associate the policy with sectional advantage and social engineering. Anderson, W. 2002).

The interview that I have prepared for family members was designed to see whether their self-description was Australian or “Australian and...” Although all members of the family can claim 6th generation status with English, Scottish and Irish ancestry and were born within Australia and all speak English, some family members did not relate to the Anglo Celtic side of the family at all.

There are three groups of people who the questionnaire was sent out to. 1) The American-Australian Hewitts, all fair haired and blue eyed. 2) the Greek Australian Hewitts, fair haired when young but now dark haired. 3) The Filipino- Australian Hewitts, all very brown skinned and whose typology does not fit the Anglo Celtic archetype.

The interview I have used is included in a page at the end of this essay.

The interviews came back with varied answers but had one thing in common; the children of migrants even with an Australian parent and growing up in Australia often don’t feel like ‘Australians only’ but ‘Australians and something else’.

Eugenicist notions are not far from the surface either. In family gatherings the migrant parents are (jokingly) referred to as ‘herd improvers’ by the ‘core Anglo Celtic family.’
Some of the children from these family systems also report feeling like ‘outsiders’ in their own country or outsiders in their parents’ country eg the Philippines:

The interfamilial “jokes” (eg“herd improvers”) used for the parents born outside of Australia, and the term” hybrids” is reminiscent of the words of Karl Pearson, a scientist convinced that the state should intervene to encourage the breeding of the ‘fit’ and to limit the reproduction of the “unfit” during the 1920’s among middle class women. The birth rate at the time was falling in Britain and Australia and breeding good sized families was seen as an issue on which the entire future of the race depended. (Anderson, 2002.)

These same eugenicist notions can be seen in Howard’s views on national identity. The central role of the Anglo Celtic heritage in Australian identity, the most privileged form of whiteness, has been reinstated by him as a policy. Even Europeans take a secondary place in this national identity. (Johnson, C. 2007).

The following are statements from some of the interviewees. Other participants did not want to be named or included specifically, although I have included their data in a general sense.

Marco Hewitt is the winner of the Berndt Memorial Prize from the Anthropological Society of Western Australia in 2002; the Grace Vaughn Award for Human Rights Scholarship in 2007, and the Iain Brash Prize for article of the year in the journal “Limina in 2007. Marco’s self description is as follows:

Yobbotopia, Australia

I am a black jaguar, prowling through time and space in search of new constellations of experience; a cultural saboteur, troublemaker, and intellectual insurgent. I'm throwing poetry grenades into the encampments of established thought and order. My project is to foment counter-cultures, plant dream-seedlings, and cultivate individual and collective imaginations with a view to a more socially and environmentally just future. Always to the horizon!

Peter Hewitt:
I am an Australian. What is an Australian? It is someone who lives in Australia. Australia is a long way from a lot of places. Australians want to know more about other places. They want to see themselves as citizens of the world. They travel a lot, but they always come back. People also come to Australia from other countries, and become Australians. I am married to a former Californian. My brother is married to a former Filipina. My sister is married to a former Greek. Our children are all Australians, but the half-Filipino boys are a bit ambivalent about it. They have been on the receiving end of a lot of racism. My father used to be a racist. He thought the white race was the best. In fact, there were only white people around when I was a small boy. There were hardly even any aboriginal people. If we were driving along and saw a dark face, we children would stare, until our parents told us it was rude to stare. But when his grandsons were victims of racism, my father was outraged. Blood is thicker than water, he would say. The blood is pretty mixed up these days. My kids could be Israelis or Americans if they wanted to be. I wish Israel would become part of the European Union, then I could become a European, then I wouldn’t feel so bad about having been so slack about applying for British citizenship when you could still do it if at least one of your grandparents had been born in Britain, as my mother’s mother was. If I had been smart enough to take out British citizenship then, I could be a European now. Why do I want to be a European? It’s not that I want to be a European, it’s just that I want to be able to travel anywhere and stay as long as I like. That’s what Australians expect from the world. Everyone is an Australian, only they just don’t know it yet.

Marcia Hewitt: Well I was born and raised in Southern California. I used to think of myself as an American but have lived in Australia for 35 years. It is difficult for me to think of myself as “an Australian’ because to this day it is not clear to me what an “Australian” is. I mean I think of the Aboriginal people in my life as Australians so in that sense I could identify with Australians. But they aren’t considered ‘Australian ‘ either. Aboriginal people have to constantly state their Aboriginality and aren’t even in the debate as far as the definition of the word ‘Australian’. Since others are constantly identifying me as ‘other” (the American accent, what’s left of it) one never feels exactly like an Australian. But
I’m the parent of three Australian children...stereotypically looking blue eyed blondes. So that fact ties me to the cultural meme.

Saskia is a published author in The Weighing of the Heart and UWA Magazine.
She writes:


Saskia Hewitt: I always say I’m an Australian. Sometimes in conversation it comes up that I have an American mother, so I say that. I sometimes say that I have been back to the States and met my mother’s side of the family. Actually sometimes I fill out forms and say I’m an American Jew on one side of the family.(laughs) A few times I have mentioned that my parents were ‘hippies’.

Gabriel Hewitt. “ I just say I’m Australian but yeah, sometimes I mention that I have an American mother, like if someone else says, yeah, they have a father or mother from somewhere else then I tell them.”

Marco Hewitt: “In actual fact, we have grown up with very little Filipino culture, apart from the food my mum cooks. None of us have ever lived in the Philippines or speak the language. The emotional ties I have with the Philippines I have had to build from scratch...yet I am still as much an outsider in the Philippines as I am in Australia. As such, I have chosen the cultural identity of a ‘global citizen”.

Marco also writes:

”My memories of my school years [1986 - 1998], from Year 1 right through to Year 12, are filled with constant racial abuse. Many of my white friends fail to understand the extent of what non-white kids go through at school.

Let me start with my primary school in the North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I remember being pushed to the dirt by an older child and called names like ‘ching-chong’. One time in the playground at school, I had a bad fall on the gravel and my knee was grazed and bloody. I went to the principle’s office crying and he ignored me. I later found out that the same principle had muttered something racist to my older brother. I started to make the connection that I was somehow ‘different’ from everyone else, which is a hard lesson to learn for an innocent kid. Also, when I used to play Aussie Rules football in the little league, other parents racially vilified me on one occasion. Around the neighbourhood, there was a bully who used to pull faces at me and call me racist names.

At eight years of age, the whole family relocated to Jakarta, Indonesia, due to my father’s work. I attended the Jakarta International School there, which was run in accordance with the U.S. educational system, up until Year Seven. My first year at the school was hard, because again I was the ‘new kid’. Again I was the ‘outsider’. Actually, I think I have felt like an outsider all my life, which is also due to the fact at being of being a brown Australian and never really being accepted as a ‘real Australian’ and being constantly asked ‘where are you from?’ Anyway, in my first year at the new school, where most of my classmates were American, I was teased quite often for my Australian accent. In the following years, my coping strategy was to fake an American accent, just to fit in. I did this every day at school for years. So when I had friends over at my house, I was caused considerable distress should my parents hear me talking differently to my friends.

I completed Years Eight through to Eleven at a private co-educational Anglican school in Perth called All Saints’ College. Once again I was the ‘new kid’ in school and I took some time to find a regular group of friends. For the first few weeks at school I would hide in the bathroom at lunch-time, terrified of appearing like a loner. From day one, I experienced racist abuse at this school.

I was at highschool during the rise of the One Nation Party and anti-Asian sentiment was fashionable, long before Middle Easterners ever became the scapegoats. Peers at school regularly made anti-Asian remarks. My strategy to deal with this at the time was to hide the fact that I was half-Asian. Instead I tried to pass myself off as half-Polynesian, believing this to be more acceptable to the anglo-Saxon majority. Nevertheless, the racist abuse continued. It ranged from having fruit thrown at me by older students, to being called a ‘black cunt’ and pushed around on the rugby field, to being told to ‘go back where you came from’ on the basketball court. In this latter incident, I retaliated with my fists and the school’s response was to expell me from the basketball team, even though I was their star player and even though I was the victim of racial vilification.

I also had a fight with a good friend at school who I found out sympathised with One Nation. It hurt to find out how he felt about Asian immigrants (since my mother was one) and also to lose him as a friend. On yet another occasion, when I was wandering around at lunchtime trying to find some people I could sit with, I went and approached the ‘cool group’, one of whom told me to “fuck off, we don’t want black cunts around here”. I replied “But I’m not black, I’m brown” believing this colour to be more acceptable. “Well then, we don’t want brown cunts either”.

The racist nature of the school caused a lot of the Asian students to stick together and they all sat together at lunchtime. People made fun of them and labelled the part of the school grounds where they gathered as ‘Chinatown’. I did not associate with them as it was my ardent wish to be accepted in white circles. Nowadays, my ideas are very different.

Naturally, incidents such as these deeply affected me as a teenager. Not only did I have to grapple with all the difficult issues associated with puberty, but also had to grapple with a sense of belonging. These experiences only served to exacerbate my feeling as an ‘outsider’ everywhere I go and which I have carried with me all my life.

The one positive that I can draw is that I have been heavily politicised and radicalised through these experiences. And today I have a fire in the belly and a passion for social justice because of it. For that I am a better person.”


The National identity of Australians with one migrant parent is tenuous, complex and compounded, even in the case of those who could claim 6th generation status. Bhabha’s notions of hybridity and interstitiality help to explain some of the identity of first and second generation Australians with 5th generation Australian parents. Another aspect comes to the fore in looking at the data, and that is the notion of multidimensionality in identity. That is, participants “felt” Australian or “felt” something else. The “something else” was something they did not always want to volunteer.. (Bhabha 2005).
Although all members of the family can claim 6th generation status with English, Scottish and Irish ancestry and were born within Australia some family members did not relate to the Anglo Celtic side of the family at all. Whilst the participants feel themselves to be Australians, they don’t feel as if they are only Australian, and are hesitant to volunteer this information. (2) Some of the participants have been racially vilified for having dark skin and others for looking European ( eg the Eurotourist , “my name is Jon Johnson I come from Wisconsin sung as a mocking ditty) Some of the participants feel that it has not affected them at all except they are aware that their own parent has an accent that is different than the mainstream. The Greek children have not participated in the Greek community in Melbourne but have been back to Greece to meet relatives. The Australian-American children (2 of them) have been back to the United States on one occasion but do not associate in Australia with the American society or any American cultural group. The Filipino Australians have been back to the Philippines on many occasions, met relatives, and one participant says: “ Actually, I don’t feel Filipino either. I am an outsider here in the Philippines, too, especially seeing that I don’t speak the language. I consider my identity to be that of a global citizen. That is why I am studying transnational activism, because I am interested in the types of discourses (like global citizenship, cosmopolitanism, etc.) that are informing global activist work; discourses which might supercede and bury narrow nationalism once and for all” (10 Sept. post from the Philippines). Marco in particular has studied Filipino people in Berkeley and in the Philippines, and has made ties with Zapatistas and other resistance groups of colour. His experiences with white Australians have been very traumatic despite the fact that he has a very supportive white father and supportive family of 3 brothers and a devoted mother.

One participant would like to return to a restricted immigration policy after being bashed by what he believes were a group of Lebanese, requiring stitches all over his face and hospitalization, a random attack in Fremantle. The same participant was also arrested from his family home in Jan. 2001 at 11 at night, taken to the East Perth lock up for 48 hours (put into a cell where an Aboriginal man had hung himself the night before) and when his parents arrived in court on the Monday, the magistrate dropped all the charges. In that case there was correspondence with Noam Chomsky who assured us that something like that ‘would only happen in the ghettoes of America”. (Chomsky, 2001).

The children with one Australian parent and one migrant parent all have dual identities such as “I’m an Australian but my father is Greek” “I’m an Australian but my mother is Filipina” I’m an Australian but my mother is a second generation American with Ukranian Jewish grandparents. Europeans, even Northern Europeans with blonde hair, are identified and singled out as not part of the ‘blood clan.” The ghost of racism is still haunting us.

Photos of family


Admission Impossible, Film Australia 1992. director MORGAN, ALEC.

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Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Personal communication via email. My daughter emailed Noam and told him that her brother had been arrested from our home. He immediately responded with words of comfort and that “this would only happen in the ghettoes of America” i.e. bench warrant arrests from homes at 11 at night.

Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, no. 48, 1962.

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Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis. Continuum International Publishing Group.

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[accessed 15 August, 2007].

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Howard, J. 1995.National Identity develops in an organic way over time.‘Grand Hyatt Hotel Melbourne. 13 December 1995.
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