This piece is a reflection on Jessica’s earlier article about the Express Media workshop held earlier this year for young culturally diverse writers.
At the start of this piece, I raised the idea of targeting a specific racial audience for opportunities. I remembered the embarrassment this kind of program made me feel as a teenager but in the rush of applications I forgot to ask myself where this embarrassment might have stemmed from. Today I tried to think. I had my second shower in 6 hours and while the skin around my fingers shrivelled up, I tried to remember some things about my adolescence.
The first memory I remember happened in year eight. I was sitting in the school library with my best friend, Eliza.
I loved Eliza. I loved her meat and three veg family dinners and her attempts at cooking butter chicken. I loved her mum, Sandy and her dad, Rob. Most of all I loved Eliza for being friends with me despite my abject uncoolness.
Me and Eliza sat in the library and discussed the latest Harry Potter book. An Italian boy in year seven joined into our conversation about Horcruxes and spoilers. We disagreed. It got heated. Me and Eliza got up to leave. As we were walking out of the library he said scornfully to me,
“Can you even read?”
I opened my mouth but only air came out of it.
“She was born here,” Eliza retorted angrily.
She pushed open the heavy door for me. Then she turned and looked back at the boy.
“And she’s the best at English in our class,” she added with cheeks that looked like they’d been slapped.
The second memory happened at Melbourne airport on the way “back home”, to Malaysia. I was still a child.
My parents and I went to the counter to check in and a lady with a perm the colour and texture of two-minute noodles served us.
“Do…you….have…your…passports?” She asked in slow motion, making me think irrelevantly of a fish talking underwater.
“Yes, we do,” said my dad as if nothing had happened.
I think when I was a teenager, as these kinds of incidents sometimes cropped up in my everyday experience of things, I grew embarrassed of my race. I wished I could play netball, live in Essendon, buy things that weren’t on special, eat spagbol once a week, barrack for a football team and basically be as much like Eliza as I could.
Throughout our high school years, we stuck together like glue and sometimes I wished we could have swapped places. I wished I could have been the defender and she the victim of minor incidents of unsubtle racism. As I got older, I put those things behind me. I got used to them. And didn’t mind so much. I forgot to think critically about them. So by the time I was accepted into the Global Express program, I had forgotten what it was for.
As I re-tell these stories to myself, I realize that this is why the Global Express was such an amazing program to be involved in. It is the telling of stories from voices that are silenced, talked over, assumed to be illiterate and intellectually null.
It is the taking back of our stories from the voices that did not listen. It is what I am doing now: going back and telling my adolescent self and others like her that one day she will be allowed to speak and she will be listened to.
The Global Express edition ‘Dialect’ is being launched at the Melbourne City Library on the 18th of September at 6pm.