Compare and Contrast Asian and Australian Culture
Since time immemorial, there have existed two scholarly and political controversies in Australia about the role that a person’s culture, origins and identity play in determining their societal standing. As a consequence, the presence of non-indigenous populace in Australia, as well as the cultural diversity and ethnic politics that they bring with them, has been of increased interest in the contemporary day. Joppke (2004) asserts that despite the predominance of the western culture in many Australian cities, a majority of the Chinese migrants settled in Australia have indicated a strong allegiance to the safeguarding of their cultural and social ways of life. This is due to the fact that they have a deep seated desire to preserve their identity. This is despite the fact that some of the customs that they practice have already been abandoned in their homelands. There are several discrepancies, therefore, between the Asian cultural practices and those of the Australians. According to Fletcher and Olekalns (n.d) the term culture can be defined as a collection of values, mindsets, traditions and beliefs that a certain group of people ascribe to. Different people from different parts of the world tend to have discrepant cultural systems; if the members of a multi-cultural society are to interpret and appreciate each other’s conduct and objectives, it is important that the differences that exist between their different cultural groups be identified and understood. Culture plays a very significant role in an individual’s life in that it guides the individual on how to form relationships with others in society as well as how to resolve interpersonal conflicts in the event that they occur (Stephenson, 2003).
The populace patterns in Australia have for a long time been composed of a people from varying culture, languages and historical backgrounds; as a consequence, a rich variety of languages and cultural orientations are to be found in Australia. The first group of Asians, particularly Chinese, migrated into Australia in the first three decades of the 19th century as workers in the pastoral and gold mine industries. By the year 1861, 3.4% of Australia’s populace was made up of Chinese offspring, the second largest migrant group after the British Isles. In the modern day the greatest number of Asian migrants in Australia is of Chinese origin with the 2001 Australian census depicting an approximate 142,720 Chinese born individuals who have settled in major Australian cities especially Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. This group of Chinese has, over the years, come to be referred to as Chinese-Australians. An individual’s country of origin tends to greatly affect their financial standing, proficiency in the English language as well as their contact with and acceptance of western culture, and the Asian-Australians are no exception (Diversicare, 2006).
As stated by Lo (2006), one of the first differences between the Asian and Australian cultural orientations is the fact that, while the Asians are ascribed to a collective kind of culture, most Australians are more inclined towards an individualistic type of cultural orientation. Collectivism is a term used to refer to societies whose affiliates are incorporated in an in-group which is very dedicated, cohesive and interconnected. In such a cultural orientation, there tends to be a greater dedication by the group members towards the achievement of collective group values and objectives as opposed to individual ones. The Asian-Australians also place a very high value on the formation and maintenance of cordial social associations and they have no qualms sacrificing their individual aspirations for the sake of the larger group. Australians, on the other hand ascribe to the most common western cultural orientation, that of individualism; this refers to cultural set ups where the ties that exist amongst the society’s members are very weak or non-existence. Such a society is comprised of members who put their own personal interests and aspirations ahead of the communal ones; as a corollary, they tend to prefer being different from the other members of the cultural group and place a great importance to their own mindsets and standpoints.
Gor and Hong (2004) assert that many Asian-Australian migrants tend to have a culturally discrepant identity to that cultivated by the Australian nationals. Identity refers to the manner in which an individual perceives or describes themselves either as a unique person or as a member of a society; a person’s identity defines the manner in which they perceive themselves as well as how the rest of the society recognizes them. Unlike national identities which are dynamic and constantly revised by the nationals of any country, ethnic identities tend to be transmitted from one generation of people to the other. In a nation made up of people from a variety of national heritages, it is very difficult to come up with a singular national identity. This is more so in the case of the Asian-Australians who have for decades felt that they have been the targets for isolation, inequality and unwarranted segregation from the Australian deliberations about identity and patriotism. A majority of the Asian-Australian migrants tend to perceive the characteristics of being Asian as very divergent to those of being Australian. The Chinese, for example, are convinced that one cannot claim to be authentically Chinese if they do not portray characteristics such as respect for the aged, perseverance, hard work as well as high scholarly achievements. According to Joppke (2004), despite the fact that the Asian-Australians have been present in Australia for quite some time now, they struggle to self-identify as they still feel marginalized and left out. The Australians on the other hand, through the efforts of the Australian government, have for a long time been in pursuit of a common national identity which will set apart the country from all others. This has however been a very difficult feat to achieve due to the assortment of transnational cultural ways of lives that are currently present in Australia. For a uniform national identity to be endorsed, it is mandatory that the dynamic of identity be rid of all substance.
Clark (2007) brings out another cultural divergence between the Asian cultural group and the Australian one. This is in the language commonly used to communicate; many of the Asian transnational inhabitants in Australia have maintained their birth language. The Chinese Asian-Australians, for example, feel that their language is a multilayered on that is a significant part of their person as well as their artistic nature. According to the Chinese-Australians their Chinese language transcends the confines of the written and spoken word and extends to the language of art, color, spiritual rituals and visual descriptions. As a consequence of maintaining their original language, the Australian government considers the Asian-Australians as acting contrary to the requirements of the Australian national identity. This has prompted the Australian government to make it mandatory for all Asians, and any other migrants that want to be granted Australian citizenship, to be presented with an English proficiency and Australian history test that they must pass before citizenship is granted. This has however, according to Pakulski and Tranter (2000), not done much to increase transnational allegiance to the Australian national identity due to the fact that rather than the first group of Asian-Australian transnational who first settled in Australia, it is the educated, English proficient and trained new generation Asian-Australians who have the lowest desire to ascribe to Australian cultures and national identity since they have a wide range of opportunities, both economically and socially, in Australia as well as other parts of the globe. It is worth noting that while some of the Asian-Australians are indeed very good in the English language, their ‘proficiency’ is perceived as falling short of the intellectual and linguistic expertise that is mandatory if they are to work in the conventional Australian linguistic sector. A majority of the educated Asian-Australians feel that the monolingual culture that is emphasized by the Australian culture brings about the unfavorable situation in which the English language is overemphasized in a multilingual society; as such the Australian nation is perceived by a majority of the multinationals as being superficially multilingual. Nevertheless by the second or third generation, the Asian-Australian migrants have already lost their proficiency in the Chinese language. This implies that while proficiency in English is very important for the Asian-Australians, their cultural heritage does not necessarily impose on them to learn their original languages.
Gor and Hong (2004) assert that another point of cultural difference between the Asians and Australians is depicted in the culinary lifestyles that are adopted by the two groups. After language, food is a very important indicator of a people’s culture. Many of the Asian-Australians are on record as having a special preference for their traditional culinary delicacies as opposed to the western food which is preferred by many of the original Australians. Those who choose to diversify their culinary choices tend to opt for foods that come from other Asian nations; the Chinese-Australians, for example, are more likely to settle opt for Mediterranean foods rather than the ‘Australian’ meals. There are discrepancies evidenced in the cultural food preferences between fresh Asian-Australian migrants and the more diasporic ones. The new Asian migrants into Australian tend to be very enthusiastic of savoring Australian foods and may prefer the Australian meals if they like their tastes. The more established Asian-Australians, on the other hand, tend to perceive food as a very significant indicator of their culture and traditions; as a consequence, they are rarely as enthusiastic as the new migrants when it comes to forsaking their traditional diets. As a matter of fact, this category of Asian-Australian migrants is very inclined towards the promotion of food diversity in Australia so as to preserve their traditional.
According to Stephenson (2003), religion is another cultural aspect in which there exist noticeable discrepancies between the Asians and Australians. While a majority of the Australians are predominantly Christians, albeit of varying inclinations, the Asians are culturally predominantly Muslim or Buddhist in some cases. Regardless of the fact that a majority of Asian-Australian have been born and brought up in Australia, many a times they are perceived as the ‘other’. Although this reference does not necessarily have to be evil or prejudiced, as a consequence of the recent terrorist activities believed to be funded by powerful Islamic nations, the Islamic Asians have found themselves on the receiving end of religious and political propaganda. On the other hand, despite the perceived victimization as a consequence of their cultural spiritual affiliation, there are a variety of Islamic doctrines and ways of life that segregate the Asians from Australians. These are mostly the Islamic principles that guide the interactions between men and women, choice of careers as well as the mode of dressing.
Clark (2007) mentions that apart from the pronounced differences in the cultural manner of greeting, manner of dressing, familial structures, religion and culinary preferences, there are notable discrepancies in the art of Asian-Australian in contrast to that of original Australians. Despite the fact that the input made by Asian-Australians to the issue of cultural exchange between Asia and Australia has been quite restricted in the past, the modern day has witnessed increased participation from this group in certain exhibitions for example Transit (1998), Rose Crossing (1999) and the Asia-Pacific Triennial (1999). Many migrant artists produce pieces of art that reveal the experiences and harsh realities that they have gone through as migrants such as family fragmentation, racial and economic prejudice and war. According to Chiu (2000), it is surprising that the Asian-Australians who have been in Australia all their lives still produce art that is very depictive of their Asiatic cultural orientation and traditional customs. Any art aimed at the description of Asiatic culture that is produce by original Australians has shown a propensity towards the description of the Asian culture based on a motif of western aesthetic principles. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the two cultural groups even in such exhibitions; while the Australian curators are allowed the leeway of cultural elasticity to curate artistic presentations from whichever part of the globe they prefer the Asian and Asian-Australian curators have always been expected to within the confines of their national frontiers. The increased number of curators of different nationalities in the artistic events is thus perceived as a front to disguise the marginalization of the Asian-Australians.
Conclusively, in the modern day Australia, there exists a strong sense of disloyalty amongst transnational inhabitants due to feelings of non-acceptance and fear of losing their individual cultural orientations for that of the westerners. This has in turn translated to an atmosphere of domestic disintegration in the nation as well as escalating the trepidation of international and state insecurity. The discrepancies between Asians and Australians range from their different languages, religions, dietary patterns and artistic productions. Nevertheless, despite all these differences between Asians and Australians, the Australian government has made efforts to identify and culturally engage with the Asian originals, both in the country and outside. For instance, Art has been used in the modern days to try and rid Australia of the prejudice and discrimination that it has been accused of classically meting out on Asians and other Aboriginal populations for a very long time. A very good example is the Asia-Pacific Triennial which was set in 1993 by the Queensland Art Gallery. Such galleries have opened up forums for the unbiased exhibition of Asian art and enhanced the relationship between Asians and Australians. Despite the fact that it is very difficult to reconcile the ethnic and cultural differences that exist between the diverse peoples of Australia, since the abolition of the White Act the Australian government has been in pursuit of a common national identity which will set apart the nation from all others. Nevertheless, for a uniform national identity to be endorsed in Australia, it is mandatory that the dynamic of identity be rid of all substance and that all the involved peoples be allowed into the deliberation process that will serve to unite all the diverse and cosmopolitan peoples of modern day Australia.
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