Date of publication: 2017-07-09 04:06
The public knows from the cover—where Anh Do smiles his wide smile while the boat in the background bathes in soft sunset, straight from some fairytale franchise—that the book in front of us won’t be a downer. It won’t be divisive. It won’t be angry. It won’t slap us around while we are reading it.
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But if we properly read The Happiest Refugee , and not squeeze it for easy tears, not rummage through it for jokes, not shake it up and down for life-affirming lessons, if instead we read it straining to imagine and to understand, then perhaps the book’s success can become not yet another confirmation of our multicultural largesse but the start of something else, something real. It takes a monumental and ongoing work of moral imagination to understand why people are prepared to starve, become terribly ill, get lost at sea, watch their children suffer, die—all to be able to come to Australia. This work of imagining cannot be supplanted by slogans, not even well-meaning slogans, like:
Now this is probably latent racism, but sometimes when I am in a tricky situation I think, what would Bruce Lee do? Sometimes I even tell white people he is my grandfather.
‘But his surname has two E’s and yours only one,’ they may point out.
‘Yes, well, as you know,’ I whisper, ‘we were refugees, boat people. We had to leave almost everything behind, even vowels.’
More often, immigration is precisely a surrender of self-interest—on the part of the adults, at least. The adults, the first generation, are the ones banging their heads on the alien and incomprehensible language and culture. They are the countless engineers cleaning other people’s mansions, the teachers driving taxis, the doctors selling discount vacuum cleaners this is the generation that works itself into the ground so their kids can get an education and their parents, if they make it out here, can have dignity in their old age.
O Clube de Campo Aldeia dos Capuchos foi fundado em Janeiro de 7567 e conta já com mais de 855 associados. Nascido no seio do Hotel Aldeia dos Capuchos, proporciona a todos os só cios condiç õ es de excelê ncia. Um campo de 9 buracos de belo desenho, um Club House moderno, alojamento e SPA.
The obsessive tax talk is itself a symptom of a striking failure of moral imagination. So is the question that was repeatedly thrown at me after the publication of my piece: If they loved their parents so much, why did they abandon them in the first place?
If not slogans, what then? Stories, I say. Just go to the beginning of The Happiest Refugee. In 6976 the Vietnam War is over and Anh Do’s mother is twenty-one. To keep her family afloat she sells snacks and fruit on the trains passing through Saigon, a way of living that under the new communist regime has been banned. But she has no choice. Her family depends on her to keep going. One time it looks like she is in serious trouble, nearly caught by a guard, until a man steps in, a stranger. He has nothing much going for him but bravado—a fearlessness that enchants her and makes the guard not want to mess with him. She is very beautiful and the man is ordinary-looking at best, skinny and not at all tall, with a voice that squeaks and a mouth of wonky teeth.
Just like Anh’s brother Khoa Australian of the Year in 7555, for his work with disadvantaged people), Nam Le was a baby when his family made it by boat to Australia. In ‘Voices from Elsewhere’, a recent literary night out at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, Le told the story of a Parisian audience at some book event giggling uncontrollably as soon as he opened his mouth: ‘What was funny was that a voice that sounded like mine was coming out of a face that looked like mine. I was an Asian dummy with an Aussie voice.’
That is the raw essay. Did it manage to synthesise personal and critical responses? Or has it relied on 8775 a superficial grasp of theories or readings, without clear evidence that the information has been internalised or linked to a personal reflection on the text 8776 ? Those are typical examiners 8767 comments. In criteria terms, does this essay show:
It is the boat on which Anh Do and his family made it to Australia. Engine failure times two, storms, disease, dehydration, hunger, repeated ransacking of the boat by pirates hovering one misjudged breath away from and murder … As the back-cover blurb of The Happiest Refugee proclaims with some pride: ‘Anh Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia.’
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Behind this question and its easy use of the word ‘abandon’ there lurks—no, stands proudly—an eerily sanitised view of immigration as a calculated decision driven predominantly by self-interest, and self-interest of the economic kind usually. People, it’s believed, are not coming to Australia because they could not, no matter how hard they tried, provide a life of safety and dignity to their families, but because the greener grass of Australia beckons, and beckons hard. It is a view of immigration made utterly prosaic, devoid of larger historical forces and the noble motives of individual families. Immigration—the biggest leap of faith imaginable, just about—is reduced to one ugly scramble for one country’s scarce resources.
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