To recognise International Women’s Day, Eugenia Flynn looks back on her inspirations.
As many other mixed race people would know, there are times in your life when others want to see you as more one race than the other. Not looking typically Chinese, quite often this falls on the Aboriginal side of my identity, although growing up as a child of the 80s in suburban Adelaide, I do not remember feeling more one than the other. Going through puberty and becoming a woman in the 90s, though, meant that I was very often sexualised as a Chinese woman, something that has stayed with me throughout my twenties and well in to my thirties.
Here is a collection of memories: I remember my mother being accused (because it was such a terrible thing) of being a boat person, of my father being accused of having a mail order bride. I remember listening to a white woman on breakfast radio performing skits as Rose Porteous, complete with fake Filipino accent and exaggerated Asian gold digger stereotype. I remember being yelled at on the street to ‘go home’ during the height of Hansonism. I remember my sister being approached by white men speaking to her in Chinese, then being ‘disappointed’ and shaming her when she responded in English.
A craving to see strong Chinese women in the public eye was, in part, answer to this ignorance and, at times, outright hostility. I sought to combat the stereotypes that Chinese women are either soft and submissive or aggressive gold diggers by identifying strong Chinese women to look up to. Beyond the incredible tenacity and humour of my own mother, these women have all contributed something different to my ever-growing identity as a Chinese woman.
A staple on the television show Good Morning Australia, I loved watching Elizabeth Chong share her culinary skills and knowledge. Her position of power in the role of teacher to the white hosts of Good Morning Australia made her a giant in my eyes, while her tours of Melbourne’s Chinatown were a recognition that the Chinese had been in Australia far longer than White Australia was ready to admit.
Lee Lin Chin
SBS was a staple on our family’s television and Lee Lin Chin was my
newsreader of choice. With her amazing outfits, brightly coloured lips and groovy glasses, Chin fed my fashion-imagination. However, her most memorable attribute was her ability to read the news with stern authority. With perfect annunciation and a slightly British accent, she was a career role model for many young women, myself included.
In the 1980s Claudia Cream was a trailblazer, the first Asian-born lawyer to be admitted to the South Australian Supreme Court. She went on to establish her own law practice, where we eventually met when I began working as her legal clerk in the early 2000s. Servicing much of Adelaide’s Chinatown precinct for many years, she has become an Adelaide icon and is involved in everything from annual Chinese New Year celebrations to the Adelaide Zoo’s panda program. As an incredibly active member of the community, she has the kind of edge to be emulated.
There is a particular honesty to Kylie Kwong that has always appealed to me. The food she cooks is unashamedly Chinese in a way that neither panders to non-Chinese tastes nor exotifies or belittles. Coupled with an unwavering frankness in the way she presents her food on television, Kwong is the perfect celebrity chef in my eyes.
Even if you do not agree with Labor party politics, you have to admire Penny Wong for her career as first lawyer, then policy advisor and finally Federal politician. Being the first Asian-born member of any Australian cabinet, Senator Penny Wong has been outspoken on marriage equality and open about the racism she has experienced. She may have started out playing party politics, but I admire her attempts to create change within the system.
Is Margaret Zhang the perfect Chinese daughter? She is a model with a fashion career that goes behind the camera as well; stylist, photographer and creative director for such high fashion publications as L’Officiel,
Harper’s BAZAAR, NYLON, Marie Claire and ELLE. Despite flying around the world working for brands such as Swarovski, Clinique, Lexus and Louis Vuitton she has still managed to find time to complete a double degree in Commerce and Law at The University of Sydney. Rather than envious, I stand in admiration for all she is able to achieve and double-tap on all her Instagram posts.
Although not technically Chinese, Rose Porteous was a figure that loomed large in my formative years. Portrayed as a vulgar and promiscuous gold digger, Porteous was harangued by a media that used her to peddle stereotypes about ‘Asian brides’. The way she thumbed her nose at all and sundry whilst continuing to live life exactly as she pleases makes me her number one fan.