Choked by the blue collar

Eric Gonzales is sick of being asked what his parents do

When a college application form asked for my parents’ occupation, I was at a crossroads. What if my admission hinged absolutely upon my answer, would it be weighted equally to my own academic and co-curricular merits? With hesitation, I awkwardly labeled my dad as “Production manager”, hoping its capitalisation could conjure illusory prestige. But what did that even mean? It was probably just a glamorous euphemism for “packing syringes into a box and pressing a few buttons”.

Yet my hesitation, especially the way I’ve just dismissed manual labour – the bedrock of Australia’s industrial economy – perpetuates a subconscious stigma I hold towards the blue collar. It is one that I am only just bringing to the surface. Sitting down in a classroom for circa three quarters of my life has cultivated my internal hierarchy of intellectual rigour over manual labour, compounded by parental adages of a good degree guaranteeing ‘prosperity’. Indeed, the rat race privileges the white collar as the only commendable expenditure of energy.

Only now am I starting to question society’s dichotomous associations with the white and blue collar: the first corresponding with success, and the other apparently overpopulated by the unintelligent dregs and so-called failures of society. Dad isn’t just a production manager. He graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. Both parents thrived academically in a country that wasn’t so kind to them. In the mythical “pursuit of happiness”, they migrated to a country more socially vicious towards their predicament, more skeptical of their qualifications. Mum chose to do it all over again, synchronously learning this mysterious thing called ‘English’. Dad was paralysed, and shied away from starting from square one.

Insecurity lingers outside filling out forms, seeping into contemplations of the future. When I fell in love with someone whose parents’ illustrious corporate epithets eclipsed my parents’ humble history, it felt like some strange socioeconomic miscegenation. Imagine us seated at the same table come Christmas time, only for my dad to confess that he works at the very production line owned by my maybe-not-now father-in-law. Throughout school, I silently resented my ethnic upbringing when my parents couldn’t offer me the type of cultural literacy that is so cherished in Australia’s education system: my parents aren’t versed in Australian law, nor are they academics.

Dad used to be an architect – I’ve seen some of his blueprints. Perfect. Precise. But I understand why he may have chosen not to build his life up from scratch. Immigrating here would’ve meant both parents giving it their all to give my family a fresh start. Alas, the line on the college admission application wasn’t long enough. But if I could tell them my whole story, I’d be proud to wear my parents’ tenacity like a badge of honour – something that isn’t adequately expressed in the two words “production manager”.