As I sat waiting for the room to fill up, my emotions were mixed.
I watched people come in to the Council’s main hall and thought about their stories – where they were born, their lives before this historic day, their journeys to arrive here. Were they having the same thoughts I was? Did they have regrets? Had they shed tears? How had they left their home country? Happily? With sadness? Fearing for their lives?
I felt sad turning my back on my birth country.
I was born and raised in the Philippines. It was where my parents started the dreams that allowed me to be educated and find opportunities to jump start my life. I was part of a society that shaped my view of the world. It was my very first comfort zone. It was in one of those 7,107 islands where I had learned to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
But in 2007, when I first landed in Sydney, I thought, “I think I could live here”. Soon, I upgraded to, “I could live here”, then “how can I live here?” I had worked outside of the Philippines for projects previously, but Sydney was love at first sight. Then began the planning, re-planning and decision-making that eventually led myself and my partner to get one-way plane tickets and move permanently to Melbourne in 2013. There were many tears shed, painful goodbyes, we put our lives into boxes and shipped them over the ocean.
Almost 12 years later, here I was, about to recite my pledge, to receive official validation.
I didn’t expect to feel sentimental. This was the Finish Line – finally, the end of paperwork, shelling out thousands of dollars, certifying documents, continuously taking exams to prove I could speak acceptable English. This was the ceremonial end point where I, the migrant, would be officially welcomed into the Australian fold.
I had always felt a sense of pride when the Philippines’ national anthem was being played, when the flag was raised and flying with the wind. Sure, it was just symbolic, and it didn’t necessarily define patriotism. But, as far as symbols went, the meaning behind it was valuable for me. I felt Filipino. Was I now really Australian?
I was happy that my voice could now be heard in this country. I would be able to vote. Australia was my ray of hope. Here was the chance for a new beginning where I could be less fearful to be who I am. Where my partner and I could pursue lives, careers, and friendships without having to be vague about what we are to each other. Where the laws acknowledge our relationship and, at least for the last two years now, allows us to marry.
The Australian in me fights for equality and fairness. The Australian in me can be critical of our leaders and applaud their achievements, too. Australian me consciously celebrates diversity and the uniqueness of each person, acknowledging the responsibility that comes with free speech. Knowing we are part of a global community and that being united gives power to change.
But is there really a me of “Australia” and another me from “before”?Maybe I’m not really turning my back on anything. At the very base of any society, there is an inherent desire by its people to live a better life. We vote for leaders because we believe that they can deliver services, infrastructure, social services that will benefit the majority and the marginalised. We want to dream and have the means to pursue them. We want to tell our children that they have a good future to look forward to. We want a working justice system, effective public safety and services, efficient transportation. I wanted those things as a Filipino citizen, just as I want them now for Australia.
No matter where I am or what citizenship I hold, I will always identify as a Filipino. My citizenship status isn’t what gave me that identity. But still, on that cool day of January, I made the symbolic gesture to call myself an Aussie too.
In some ways, I have the best of both worlds. I have my Filipino resilience, tenacity, and resourcefulness. Of making the best out of seemingly hopeless situations. Of being able to smile and laugh in the midst of destruction knowing that the only way to go is up and rebuild. But Australia is home, just as much as the Philippines is. My passport sums it quite well: Birthplace Manila, Citizenship Australian.
Now I might think about finding an AFL team to support.