By Sosan Rahimi
My name is Sosan. I am 21. I have black hair. I have brown eyes. I am Muslim. I am Afghan-Australian.
On 20 September 2000, I arrived in Sydney from Pakistan on a humanitarian visa. I was 5 years old at the time. Humanitarian visas are granted to people who, whilst not specifically refugees, are subject to discrimination and/or have experienced an abrogation of their human rights in their home countries. For those unfamiliar with the turbulent socio-political history of Afghanistan, the nation has survived several conflicts ranging from attempted invasions by British India during the 1800s, a communist administration, civil war and an ongoing battle against the Taliban. The US invasion in Afghanistan alone has seen over 26,000 civilian deaths and 100,000 injuries since 2001. Essentially, war has been an ever-present part of the lives of Afghan people for many years. My parents fled Afghanistan soon after the end of Soviet occupation in 1989, following the collapse of the Union.
Travelling across the world and relocating in a vastly different country was not easy, to say the least. The first few years were very difficult. My parents—a paediatrician and an ophthalmologist—couldn’t find work despite their qualifications and experience. Our family of seven were living in a two-bedroom home in Parramatta. We didn’t know very many people and we didn’t travel very far or at all. My parents tried to make the transition easier for us by cloaking our daily lives with every bit of culture that we had become so accustomed to by that stage. We had Afghan meals everyday and only spoke Dari at home. Everything was familiar, but not for very long.
I entered year one in 2001. I couldn’t speak English, but class was easy enough that it did not impact my ability to participate. I was quiet, but observant. I managed to get through the better part of the year by mimicking the other students and smiling a heck of a lot. That same year, I began to comprehend the extent to which I differed from my peers. My 9-year-old sister was approached by her classmates, and they told her that she was responsible for 9/11. Kids can be mean.
I had always been cognisant of the fact that I was different, but it had never occurred to me that people made judgments about my family, friends and me, predicated upon the actions of others. Over the last 16 years, public perceptions of Islam, terrorism, Middle Eastern and South East Asian nations has led to chronic misinformation and a lack of understanding, which has manifested in the way Australians treat individuals of non-Anglo Saxon descent. Unfortunately, since that incident I’ve witnessed similar acts; local police officers making fun of my father’s facial hair and pedestrians crossing the road to avoid walking past my brother. Fortunately, these incidents were far and few between, but that doesn’t deter from the unacceptability of each of these interactions.
My family and I were naturalised on 5 March 2003. I vaguely remember going into the CBD and sitting through a long ceremony. We were given our certificates of citizenship and an Australian flag. Funnily enough, I didn’t feel any more Australian afterwards. In fact, I recall another moment when I sincerely began to feel an attachment to a country that I had grown to call home. It was the 2006 FIFA world cup and Australia was playing Brazil. My brother and I had huddled around our TV at an ungodly hour to watch the Socceroos play. I remember screaming every time Brazil stole the ball and ferociously shaking my fists at the final score of 2 to 0. I remember feeling proud. I remember feeling Australian.
I can appreciate that we can’t get rid of racism and xenophobia in one day. Although I hope that people soon become aware of the fact that in this globalised world and multicultural society, it is virtually impossible to segregate yourself. It goes without saying that we are all prejudiced to varying degrees. However, the extent to which we can maintain a check on our prejudices will determine whether we regress or progress to become the multicultural society we allege to be.