During my near-decade of responsibility for policies on migrant settlement matters for the federal government in Australia, I was like Earth, our home. I rotated busily on my daily responsibilities, and revolved around those who were seriously linked to me, as I was influenced and guided by forces substantial or ethereal. Unlike a rolling stone which allegedly gathers no moss, I observed, gathered impressions and information, and sought patterns. I had no choice in this. I was born thus and (perhaps) significantly, in a Year of the Dragon. Fortunately, I am able to balance being with doing, thus keeping me sane. Age does bring wisdom – to some of us.
Some of the most satisfying experiences in my life occurred when I was responsible for childcare in migrant hostels. The federal government in Australia had established these hostels to ease immigrants into the community; for, what an immigrant needs most on arrival in a new (and possibly strange) country is a bed for myself (and any family who had travelled with him). In time, refugees and humanitarian entrants also benefited from the availability of fully-catered hostel accommodation, while they searched for jobs.
Humanitarian entry, unlike refugee entry, was essentially political in intent. The result, in my day, was a contrasting collection in the hostels of East Asian (Vietnamese), East European (mainly Polish) and Latin American (mainly Chilean). In childcare, the children’s age groups were: up to about 2 or 3 in one cluster, and about 3 to 5 in the other. The motherly child minders could have been of any ethnicity; they were wonderful.
What I noted in all 3 hostels about the younger children was not surprising. They were usually seated in a circle. Often they eyed off a neighbour’s toys. Any attempt to reach out to the other’s toy soon led to loud complaints, often progressing to mayhem. Indignation vs. ambition ruled – and associated with (I felt) some uncertainty. This may have been their first experience of institutional childcare.
It was the older group I enjoyed more. Children whose mother tongue was only Vietnamese or Polish or Spanish would ‘talk’ to one another, smile, and even exchange toys! They tended to be gregarious. It was fantastic to observe. What did that say to us? Here was humanity at its best. Here was the future of a truly, multicultural nation-in-the-making displayed.
A unity of urban community from diverse cultural origins, and a national unity from immigrant and host communities integrated with one another is, I believe, an achievable aim. We need to learn from little children who have not been taught prejudice!